Christmas is one of the few times of year when those unaccustomed to attending church feel prompted to join their local congregation for a few carols. But what will they find when they walk through those church doors? In the Christmas issue of the Spectator, Damian Thompson profiles Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton. HTB pioneered the Alpha Course, which has now been taken by 20 million people across the world, both in the Anglican and Catholic churches. Thompson also visits HTB, writing:

At the 11.30 service at HTB last Sunday, the Christian rock anthems were performed by professional musicians. They sounded nothing like the disgusting racket of ‘folk Masses’ inflicted on Catholics throughout Britain; in security of intonation, if nothing else, they had more in common with the Palestrina and Victoria sung at the London Oratory, the giant neo-baroque church next to Holy Trinity which also falls into the category of doing Christianity well rather than badly.

HTB, like the Oratory, now has a multi-ethnic congregation. On Sunday I sat next to an obviously prosperous Chinese couple on one of the sofas that the church reserves for latecomers. (Incidentally, I can’t recommend the service-on-a-sofa experience too highly, though it’s hard to see how it could be made to work at the Oratory.) The worshippers were mostly well-off — and the sermon, by a young curate called Miles Toulmin, was artfully tailored to yuppie temptations: shopping, social media, internet porn and ‘the biggest idol of all’, the craving for success at work. Toulmin employed the split-second timing of a stand-up comic: that is, a professional expertise rarely displayed by the hand-wringing mediocrities who become archdeacons or monsignors simply by turning up to committee meetings.

Gumbel also explains how it was surprisingly easy to tailor Alpha for Catholic congregations, and offers an insight into the character of Justin Welby, the next Archbishop of Canterbury. You can read the full feature here.


The Spectator Christmas double issue is out now. To read for free, download the all-new Spectator app for iPad/iPhone or sign up to a Kindle free trial.


Tags: Alpha Course, Catholic Church, Church of England