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The Vicar writesJeremy Fletcher
There are more mobile phones in the UK than there are people. 93% of 16 – 24 year olds have a smartphone. 75% of all adults do. My oldest Facebook friend is in their early 90s. Hampstead Parish Church has a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter feed (@Hampstead_PC). It takes a massive effort not to be connected these days, and not to have a digital presence, if you are in the business of community and communication, is, frankly baffling.
The companies which work in this field need us to join in. They are skilled at getting us to do so, and, in many ways, we are the better for it. But a recent article about people who work for Google and Apple in Silicon Valley made much of them sending their children to schools where screen time was banned for the smallest ones, and only introduced very gradually as children got older. Even Facebook and Google and Apple executives know that these devices are both vital and addictive. They cannot be uninvented. But, as one executive put it, we need to run them, not them us.
Advent, like Lent, is offered as a season to stop, to reflect, to re-centre, to gain perspective. I might be tempted to say that this would be a good time for a ‘digital retreat’, and to find ways of connecting with the world, with God, with each other, which don’t need binary code and pixels. In fact I’m going to invite you to pick up your screens and use them more, or at least differently this Advent.
Bishop Sarah has published a small booklet called ‘A Good Advent’. We’ll be distributing them, free, on Advent Sunday, December 2nd, and they will be available in church that week. The booklet is accompanied by a free app, available for Android and Apple devices. Just search for A Good Advent. The app offers reflections for each day by Jane Williams, on a different painting each day. It’s a brilliant use of old and new technology. It may take some effort for this Vicar to concentrate solely on the painting rather than checking Twitter too, and that will be a good Advent discipline too.
This is a noisy month. It is a noisy world. I’ll be looking to find space within the noise and the activity, so that I can reflect on the cry of a tiny baby born in a noisy town in a complex world two millennia ago. The busy-ness did not stop. The census took place. The King continued his scheming. The Romans continued to rule. The shepherds carried on their work. And yet, if they did but know it, everything changed.
I pray that, in the activity and the noise and the effort and the work and the screen time you will look out for and listen for the call of the Christ child. May we know that everything has changed, and that we can therefore change what needs to change, put right what is wrong, love the unlovely, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger and offer salvation to the lost. Otherwise Christmas is just noise. And we know it is much more than that.