Many consumers of social media will have noticed a growing number of women clergy posting photographs of themselves wearing a plain black Marks & Spencer Christmas jumper bearing the simple word ‘BELIEVE’ in multi-coloured lettering. They are calling themselves ‘Team Believe, and superficially it might look like lightweight group-bonding.
That assessment, however, was changed by a simple video posted by Mthr Nicol Kinrade, in which she explained that her Christmas jumper had prompted various pastoral conversations where the topic turned to questions of what she actually did believe.
She answered the question with a simple recitation of the Nicene Creed while standing by a Christmas crib. There will surely be few better expressions of faith simply expressed, bringing a few moments of calm during the latter days of Advent. Her message, or perhaps we should say the message, has caught the attention of Christians across the Church with its simplicity, integrity and directness.
Taking something from the mundane – a jumper surely conceived originally to express secular aspirations of self-confidence and self-fulfilment – she uses it to transform the conversation, and points those who ask her ‘What do you believe?’ to a simple historic expression of her faith which she recites with quietly.
It is good to see the crib beside her. That, too, had its origins in the mundane. St Francis used it as a simple familiar presentation which embodies the gospel birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. It is not offered to explain textual differences, and many have examined them to delve into deeper historic understandings and theological implications. Most recently, Dr Ian Paul has written in detail on the subject. And maybe Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, but that familiar crib reaches a far wider audience and does its job rather like (but much better than) the ‘Believe’ Christmas jumper. Both can prompt questions, and lead to a better understanding of the real essence and meaning of Christmas.
I am pleased that the recitation of the Creed is being shared, with its message of creation, incarnation, suffering, resurrection and redemption. The Creed ends in hope for a Church united across history, for our own reconciliation with God despite our many failures, and also a reconciled future.
The recitation perhaps also keys into our Archbishops’ own topical message, in which they call for a simpler, bolder, humbler Church. It is a good message, and perhaps not so very radical. What could be simpler than this quiet, humble presentation of what Christians believe? What could be bolder than for us than to declare our faith in the public square using all means possible, letting the contemplation of the crib work its magic in yet another generation who look on it, and perhaps ask the age-old question, ‘What does all this mean?’