Anglican Vicar Berates Christians Who Only Want to Hear Him Sermonize at Christmas and Easter December 18, 2013

Anglican Vicar Berates Christians Who Only Want to Hear Him Sermonize at Christmas and Easter

I sympathize with Reverend Steve Goodbody‘s plight. It has to be hard to offer a world view and a way of life that fewer and fewer people want.

From the Telegraph:

A vicar has criticised people who only attend Church over the festive season telling them: “God is for life — not just for Christmas”.

The Reverend Steve Goodbody accused Christmas-only churchgoers of treating God “like an elderly relative of whom they are not very fond.

Writing in his parish magazine Today, he said: “I confess that I do sometimes wonder about what goes through the minds of those who attend church services on such an irregular basis. After all, if we believe that the Christmas message is true — that God really did send his only Son into the world to save us from our sins — then attending church just once or twice a year seems a rather feeble response to God’s amazing generosity.

Some people even seem to treat God a bit like an elderly relative of whom they are not very fond. They go and visit him for an hour or two at Christmas and perhaps at Easter, but they feel at liberty to ignore him for the rest of the year (unless they want something from him of course). An elderly relative would not be very impressed by this level of devotion and nor is God.”

Browbeating people is unlikely to change their minds. Goodbody reminds me of a car salesman who gets pissed off at the lack of consumer interest in a lot-full of gleaming Ford Pintos.

That giant problem is, in Goodbody’s case, compounded by the hurdle that his cars are imaginary: he can see them (or so he claims), but most people in England can’t.

If I had a marketing problem like that, I would be trying to innovate my product, my message, my packaging, and my language — just for starters. I wouldn’t be publicly flaying the people who are unimpressed by what I’m selling. That way lies certain failure.

As long as the Anglican Church thinks that philippics and guilt trips like Goodbody’s are the best way to fill the pews, it will continue to tilt into the sinkhole of oblivion.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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  • WallofSleep

    “Goodbody reminds me of a car salesman who gets pissed off at the lack
    of consumer interest in a lot-full of gleaming Ford Pintos.”

    I was gonna say, you can’t blame the customer for not wanting to buy a notoriously shitty product.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Well of course Terry, you, and many others look at Christianity as a product to market, so of course you make these whimsical analogies. I interpret the vicar’s message another way; “Either you actually believe in and are committed to this, or you’re not.” I add the statement, “If you don’t believe it, then don’t be here.”

    You (atheists, anti-theists, liberals, etc.) assume we care about numbers and “peddling the product”. Many “Christians”, quote unquote, do. Many could give two shits less how many surveys show us as being popular or unpopular. We want to be joined with people who believe in the cause. If you don’t, leave. Nobody is putting a gun to your head to stay.

  • Lando

    “A vicar has criticised people who only attend Church over the festive season” – so, don’t go to church at all? That was my plan anyway…

  • Art_Vandelay

    When being in church didn’t make me physically sick to my stomach yet and I still used to get dragged to the local RCC for Christmas and Easter, we got this sermon every fucking time. Not even just a quick mention of how full the church was but a full condescending rant for the entire sermon about what awful Catholics we were. I swear I’m not making this up. Every single time.

  • WallofSleep

    I bet if y’all only showed up to church one day a year, but showed up with a full year’s worth of tithing, in cash, they’d quickly stfu about your poor attendance.

  • baal

    “Browbeating people is unlikely to change their minds”

    One of the last Easter services I went to had a sermon that was wall to wall insults about CEO christians. My thought at the time was, “you get them 2x a year and you use half your time to tell them how bad they are?”.

  • islandbrewer

    This is where this is to be posted. It’s not a comedy sketch, it’s a true-to-life documentary about the Anglican church.

  • LesterBallard

    Church is for weddings and funerals. Not mine, but for others.

  • When my church is more crowded than usual on the Sunday nearest Christmas and on Easter, we get sermons about how there are no such things as Christian holidays. It’s the same thing, really, because the message is that we are supposed to be there every Sunday, every week, so that we can take the Lord’s Supper, and that the Lord’s Supper is the only celebration authorized by the New Testament.

  • Kingasaurus

    This reminds me of that old story where George Washington was privately criticized by his pastor for leaving church services before the sacraments.

    Looked bad, you know.

    So he stopped attending entirely.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Many would. Not all.

  • LesterBallard

    You got that from David Barton, right?

  • Olive Markus

    Did your priest also berate parents for children who made noise? Or moved? That was quite common in my church.
    I swear, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  • Kingasaurus


    Not sure if it’s apocryphal or not.

  • So he is saying one cannot have a personal relationship with Jesus? I’ve heard many a Christian say those words.

  • Olive Markus

    Either way, spending a large portion of the time criticizing those who did make the effort to come is not going to have a positive effect on their faith and/or loyalty to that church.

  • Pitabred

    Catholics are a profoundly different type of Christian. I should know, I used to be one, but then I got better 😉

  • Pitabred

    Guilt is how the Catholics roll. That’s kinda central to everything about it, from the sermons to the confessions to everything.

  • Stev84

    So why does God need the constant worship? It can’t be that he is lonely, because people pray to him all the time.

    For the church of of course the motives are more obvious. It’s also very important for them that people believe that they can only connect to God through them. Otherwise they wouldn’t need the church at all and live their lives the way they want instead of the way the church wants.

  • pete084

    Hatchings, matchings and dispatchings as we like to call them.
    I’m surprised that the Vicar didn’t have a pop at the people who only attend for the above.

    The liberal C of E may be in decline, but all it seems to be doing is clearing the way for fundies; we seem to see more and more of the loony Christians coming out of the woodwork.

  • I married into a Catholic family so I know all about the differences. Divorced now but I was married long enough to witness the difference.

    I always felt like the odd ball though when cracker and drink time came as I had to let everyone filter pass me.

  • pete084

    Well of course, they’d be out of a job otherwise!

  • LesterBallard

    I’ll have to remember that.

  • Makoto

    Kind of an side, but why is it liberals are always lumped in with atheists? Most democrats (US designation, often considered liberals, or at least called liberals) are Christians of one flavor or another, and can’t do a single speech or meeting without mentioning god. Wish they could, sometimes, especially given all the times they are lumped in with atheists.

    Anyway – if what they mean to say in these sermons is “Please only come if you genuinely believe, or wish to try”, why don’t they say that? Instead, they berate folks for not coming often enough during the “big event” services – as if they really did care about the numbers game.

  • Dave Littler

    The next time I see a church going up for sale because not enough people are attending and donating anymore for them to afford to keep the lights on, I’ll remember that you guys don’t actually care how many people attend, and try not to be too upset on your behalf.

  • WallofSleep

    Well, if it would make the good vicar feel any better, I can promise him that I don’t want to hear him sermonize on any day, including xmas and ishtar.

  • Rationalist1

    I never understood the worship thing either. Heaven is a place with endless praise and glorification of God. If we knew someone who needed constant praise we’d think they had an self confidence problem and try to get them help. The last thing we’d want to do is encourage them, that would make us enablers.

  • Greg G.

    To paraphrase Yogi Berra:

    If people don’t want to come to church, then nobody is going to stop them.

  • And yet people come back for more of the same every Christmas and Easter?

    I am a regular church-goer because I get paid to help with the music. I have heard some comments along the lines of “If you like what we are doing here today, remember that we do it 52 weeks a year.” I think it’s very dangerous to run off the twice a year crowd because their guilt offerings are a major source of funding without which those churches could not operate.

  • James

    That’s been the American experience too – the more rational-types leave and the church falls into the hands of the loonier fringe who see the declining church as proof that we’re living in the End Times. Pandering to the newly dumbed-down majority, the fire-and-brimstone ratchets up, further driving out the more rational-types. That’s what I saw growing up in America’s Bible Belt; strange to think now, but there was a time when my neighborhood Christians didn’t just assume they were living out a Kirk Cameron feature.

  • I never actually thought about it until I realized I didn’t believe. Do you want to sit and listen to people telling you how amazing you are 24/7? Yes, it’s nice to hear from time to time, but honestly I’d be thinking that people ought to have better things to do.

  • Well that might be believable if I didn’t know for a fact that many denominations spend a lot of money on consultants who advise them on how to increase their attendance. Perhaps your church or denomination does not do that, but don’t assume that yours is the norm. Most churches are very concerned about attendance numbers and how much money is coming in.

  • Quite true. Most liberals are also religious in some way. There are also atheists and agnostics who are conservatives. The “liberals are all godless” meme is from authors like Ann Coulter and not based in reality.

  • I guess I must be okay with the good vicar. I am not a Christmas-only church-goer. In fact, I’m not any kind of church-goer.

  • Art_Vandelay

    And yet people come back for more of the same every Christmas and Easter?

    Yes, but here’s the kicker…I don’t think they’re actually listening closely enough to get offended.

  • Scott_In_OH

    Yeah, this has been going on for as long as I can remember. It’s standard fare, and it’s why the term “C&E Christians” exists. I don’t think it’s why church attendance or religiosity is declining.

  • He should be happy he gets to sermonize to them twice a year. Without Christmas and Easter, it would be never.

  • Rationalist1

    May the leader of North Korea needs it, but a deity should be beyond that.

  • The Starship Maxima

    (Thinking) Good point.

  • The Starship Maxima


  • The Starship Maxima

    Really, you shouldn’t. If the Church can’t stay open, then it closes. No need to shed a tear. Happens all the time.

  • LDavidH

    I wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t know anyway, as I don’t see the accounts and have no idea who gives what when. Churches in the UK don’t normally expect tithes anyway; we’re happy with anything we get…

  • WallofSleep

    Hell, I might even get the impression that they were entirely insincere, especially if I had the power to smite them into dust in a nano-second.

  • Neko

    In the RCC the Mass is oriented toward mystical union with Christ. Since Catholics reside all over the planet, it’s like a global piece of performance art. If you grow up with it you don’t think of it as a shocking act of ritual cannibalism. At least I didn’t. I always got nauseous at midnight Christmas Mass, though.

    The Mass can be quite beautiful and otherworldly. But if you get a hectoring priest the whole effect is ruined.

  • joey_in_NC

    If you’re charitable and simply assume that the pastor genuinely believes that attending church services more regularly is for the greater well-being of his parishioners, then what do you expect him to say? I don’t see “berating”, “browbeating”, or “flaying” at all. What type of “innovations” to his “product” do you suggest? Open-mic comedy half-hour following communion?

    Actually, I’ve always been privately critical of the priests who don’t say anything to the Christmas-Easter-only crowds. Are these priests genuinely concerned for the spiritual well-being of their flocks? Will these priests say nothing just to guarantee that their Christmas-Easter bonuses continue to flow in? If you genuinely care for the souls under your guidance and you genuinely belief your faith, then say something to these people! I expect nothing less of a pastor. “Innovations” to the Mass don’t help. In fact, considering all the innovations to the Mass following Vatican II, it can be argued that they actually hurt.

  • paulalovescats

    When I went to church, it annoyed me that on Easter and Christmas the pews were crammed with people who only go twice a year.

  • Rain

    A vicar has criticised people who only attend Church over the festive season telling them: “God is for life — not just for Christmas”.

    Thank you vicar for the constructive criticism. Duly filed in the round file cabinet thingy. Have my secretary call your secretary’s secretary. Have a nice day.

  • Richard Thomas

    Too bad Mass doesn’t generally include a Q&A session. I’d be willing to bet that there would be plenty of smartasses giving us hours of chuckles on this one.

  • allein

    Also consider how many people go shopping for a new church when their old one isn’t working for them anymore for whatever reason.

  • Much to the chagrin of the denominational faithful, the trend now is that people find a church they like and don’t care what brand of church it is. I know a lot of people who changed churches and even denominations because they didn’t like a pastor or various policies or actions of their church. I realize that’s harder for people who’ve been convinced that if they don’t pick the right flavor of the right religion that they’re going to hell. The very idea is so absurd it’s hard to know what to say to such people.

  • Neko

    Joey, if the priests want to fill the pews they could try to be inspiring, or at least interesting, instead of railing against the flock. Being bored to death made leaving the Church on principle that much easier.

  • allein

    then attending church just once or twice a year seems a rather feeble response to God’s amazing generosity.

    I did Christmas/Easter (or, as my friend calls it, The Birth and Resurrection Society) for several years after we stopped going to church on a regular basis when I was 15. Mostly it was out of family tradition, not personal religious observance of any kind. Eventually one year I didn’t go for one reason or another (I don’t recall making a conscious decision to stop) and I just never went back.

  • A3Kr0n

    When I was a kid, It became a game on those dates to note how many people were at church, and if the balcony was filled, which was usually closed most other Sundays.

  • Pofarmer

    Everything. Guilty about original sin. Guilty about the death of Christ. Guilty, Guilty, Guilty. Well, and Gullible.

  • Pofarmer

    “The Mass can be quite beautiful and otherworldly.”

    I liked to say, “All show and no substance.” Good times. Now they are trying to put substance back in, and the substance isn’t good.

  • Pofarmer

    Yeah, but God knows your heart and mind. If you were insincere you already be smited, or smitten, or smote or something.

  • Pofarmer

    Kind of surreal isn’t it? What an arrogant, bigoted, superstitious, whoops, there I go again. I’m still married into it, but wish I wasn’t sometimes. There is only one organization on the face of the earth I truly hate, and the Catholic Church is it.

  • Pofarmer

    What cause?

  • Pofarmer

    Joey, what hurts is the Chruch’s middle ages mind set.

  • Neko

    “No substance” was an ill-advised phrase in this case. : )

    My point was that the Mass is not just about praising the Lord, although there’s that, of course. It’s about a mystical consummation of the Church with its heavenly bridegroom. Some Catholics rationalize the sometimes staggering sums devoted to Church aesthetics by arguing that, after all, a wedding to God should be glorious. Not sure what the peasant Jesus would have made of all this.

  • David Pearce

    Not sure how he gets off on speaking on behalf of god here, or maybe he just hasn’t read his bible properly. Perhaps he should take for his text Matthew 20:1-16, which are allegedly god’s (in the form of Jesus) own thoughts (it’s even in red letters in the KJV which proves it is Jesus’s own words!!) through a parable on those who are not slavishly devoted to him throughout there lives. Another reason it sucks to be a devout christian really, because according to the ‘those who are first will be last, and those who a last will be first’ message of the parable, his god doesn’t give a shit about how devout and regular you are in praising him, as long as you get devout in the last few minutes of your life, god will regard you no differently than those who have lived on their knees before him for 80 years.

  • Gehennah

    If Jesus were the son of god and were sent here, it was barely an inconvenience for him. An all powerful, all knowing, immoral being coming down to earth for a measly 33 years and then gets tortured for a day would probably equate to someone stubbing their toe, hurts for a second but otherwise not a memorable experience.

  • Gehennah

    And many Christians say that we don’t accept god because we don’t want to be accountable, yet in Christianity, you actually are not accountable at all.

    Rape, murder, steal, “I’m sorry god, I don’t do it again,” rinse and repeat, get awarded with Heaven.

  • The Vicar

    On the other hand, considering that conservatism has more or less repeatedly shown itself to be a disastrous, stupid, awful, dehumanizing political movement, I take this as a compliment. “You atheists! You’re just like those darn people who have noticed that conservatives are uniformly stupid or evil and trying to enact policies which never work! How dare you actually pay attention to how the world actually works instead of making things up like the rest of us!”

  • rtanen

    Not all religious centers are like this… The Jewish services my parents used to make me attend didn’t mind people showing up late, leaving early, hanging out in the lobby and reading their newspapers, or only coming for the dinner and skipping the prayer.

  • joey_in_NC

    At least regarding the more orthodox denominations (Catholics/Anglicans/Orthodox), church is centered around the Sacraments, not about the homilies of each individual priest. I don’t go to Mass each week expecting to be completely inspired by the 10-15 minute homilies of priests. I go to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to receive the Holy Eucharist. How much more inspiring can you get provided you truly believe it!

  • Gehennah

    I can get inspired by great poetry or music.

    And if you take the Eucharist literally, then you have some serious mental issues going on.

  • CottonBlimp

    “An elderly relative would not be very impressed by this level of devotion and nor is God.”

    Okay, seriously, how far up your own ass do you have to be to say, authoritatively, what God feels?

  • CottonBlimp

    Actually, kind of the opposite. It’s in a series of sketches about nice-nice, pandering or servile professions “taken back” by the horrible, classist people who used to work those jobs.

    I think this skit is actually complaining about how the current Anglican church is pandering to the dim “spiritual” crowd and taking a cathartic joy in their half-baked self-indulgent musings being abused instead of pandered to.

  • Neko

    I understand that, I was a cradle Catholic. Still a tedious priest can ruin the Mass. It’s a performance, after all, and if the players aren’t good it affects the whole experience.

    Perhaps because I’ve been an atheist for so long it’s hard for me to get past the aesthetics, but my memory of priests is of dull and distant men.

  • joey_in_NC

    It’s a performance, after all…

    It’s not, to practicing Catholics. That was my point.

  • Pofarmer

    I think the Jesus who turned over the money changers tables would be righteously pissed off. Just like I think the one who said, “Those who are not against us are with us” wouldn’t be so happy about the Church torturing and killing those who believed a little difference, Just like……well, this could go on a bit. But yes, the Mass is VERY well designed to be an emotional experience and to get you to develop an emotional attachment to it. See it too many times.

  • ImRike

    But tell me this: Am I not supposed to have a personal relationship with God (or Jesus)? And if I do, what do I need church for? I certainly wouldn’t need to be preached to, if my relationship with the Almighty was a good and close one already.
    I wonder if Goodbody goes to some other preacher’s church to be reminded of his shortcomings, or is he perfect enough?

  • Maybe like the drunken cousin who makes racist/sexist/dominionist comments after drinking a few, but may be nicer during occasional sober moments – depending on the church.

    Twice a year is still too much.


  • Emmet

    Their “internet-assembled philosophy” – nice line. Applies equally to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd and the “Dawkins set me free” bunch.

  • MichaelNewsham

    My mother was that kind of CofE; she used to say Christmas was for the songs; Easter to check out the hats.

  • Ann Onymous

    He supposedly also spent 3 days in hell, but we encounter the same issue.
    Especially when Christians try to say Jesus suffered more than anyone in the history of ever. NO, he was crucified, just like thousands of others, then spent 3 days in hell (aka Eternal Torture Land), where everybody else spends eternity. He did all that with the knowledge that he’s going home to Dad and heaven shortly. I don’t think that’s the ultimate suffering.

  • DavidMHart

    Come for the Christmassing, stay for the criticising 🙂

  • Dan Robinson

    “like an elderly relative of whom they are not very fond.”

    Not a bad analogy really.

  • jdm8

    That’s an efficient way to dump your occasional visitors.

  • jdm8

    The tendency to make a long “call to Jesus” is why I don’t plan to attend funeral services except for very close people.

    The pastors/priests/ministers are using a captive audience that they don’t otherwise reach to push their day job and it’s annoying.

    I think the UK Anglican church gets government funds, so it may be worth doing everything it takes to avoid your money going to them.

  • tsig

    No gun to the head but hell for the soul.

  • tsig

    Come for the festivities, stay for the flogging.:) :}

  • tsig

    Original sin manages to make you guilty of just being alive.

    Good Catholic Rule: If it’s fun it’s a sin.

  • tsig

    I might get bored and do a little smiting just to watch them jump thru hoops to explain it.

  • Pofarmer

    You know Art, the sick to my stomach thing is interesting. Went to my wife’s family for Thanksgiving, and they were doing all the meal prayer with an extra Hail Mary, just for, ya know, good measure, since it’s the most powerful prayer of all, and I actually started getting a little tight in the chest. I think a panic attack was actually starting to come on.

  • Pofarmer

    Well, hell, sometimes if it’s not fun it’s sin. The whole concept of the church as the font of Morality, just, well, argh. Having children out of wedlock, sin. Not having enough children in wedlock, sin. Venial sins, mortal sins. sins, sins, sins.

  • Lando

    Dammit, now I WANT to go to church.

  • Neko

    It might come as a shocker to Jesus that he had been promoted to a co-equal with Yahweh. Jesus may have had delusions of grandeur, but the I-am-God delusion? Doubtful.

  • Neko

    Fair enough.

  • SeekerLancer

    I’ll second this. I’m not sure why this is relevant news either. I was also a Catholic and every Christmas and Easter we received this same message.

  • SeekerLancer

    Catholics don’t really tithe though, so attending every Sunday and tossing cash in the collection baskets is important to them.

    But yeah, I’m sure they’d appreciate a year’s worth of collection money.

  • I know Catholics who tithe.

    Is it a way of stealing the Roman tradition of decimation?


    It is the Season to steal from other cultures.


  • Chakolate

    When I was in college, I took an econ course in which the professor would spend the first 20 minutes haranguing students for not coming to class. He yelled at the students who *did* come.

    Oddly enough, by the end of the semester, people were only showing up for tests and quizzes. Go figure.

    I think if this guy doesn’t want people to come only for the holidays, they should just stay away altogether. Problem solved!

  • guest

    I go to churches at Christmas sometimes. I go for the carols. I enjoy the music, the experience of singing together with other people, the beautiful architecture and the mulled wine and mince pies afterwards.
    I am an atheist and don’t give a fuck about god. This vicar should accept that he is in the entertainment business and put on a good show. He can leave out the bible readings for all I care.

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