At St Bride’s we host 25 carol services and concerts in the three weeks before Christmas Day. Two of the most moving this year have been those in aid of Adfam, which works with families coping with drug and alcohol addiction; and in support of St Mungo’s, a charity working with homeless people in London.
At both of these events the sweetness of the singing and the beauty of the building collide with the starkness and pain of the stories people tell about their struggle to survive addiction or homelessness. And every so often, the light of love and hope peeps through to give a powerful reminder of real Christmas joy.
For journalists, this year has brought a similar combination of light and darkness. Good scoops, exiting technological advances, but also job losses, uncertainty about where the industry is going, loss of advertising to the internet, and the increasing targeting of journalists in war zones.
2007 has been the most lethal year for journalists ever. At least 171 news media staff have died, the majority murdered because of their jobs, 64 in Iraq alone.
2007 has witnessed the death of Anna Politkovskaya, murdered because she spoke out against President Putin’s abuse of power Chechnya: and the murder of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-American reporter assassinated in Istanbul in January. There are many others.
A lot of darkness to cope with. But then a ray of light: Alan Johnston, BBC foreign correspondent in Gaza, held hostage for 114 days, was finally released on 4 July and brought safely home.
This autumn he spoke in St Bride’s about his time in captivity, turning to our Journalists’ Altar with the words ‘This Church stood by me in my darkest hour.’He quoted Brian Keenan, himself a hostage for more than four years in Lebanon in the late Eighties, who uttered these words of hope: ‘We shall not walk away”.
Christmas is God’s ‘we shall not walk away’to his broken and embattled world. The message of Christmas – Emmanuel (God With Us) – is one we all need to hear, especially journalists in hostile environments, those facing danger every day simply for speaking the truth and calling to account those in authority.
Through our Journalists’ Altar, Memorial Book and other services, St Bride’s can sometimes give a voice to these courageous witnesses and remind us unheeding of the price some writers pay for ‘showing the interested people and shocking the uninterested'(Larry Burrows).
The festival of Christmas, this potent mix of darkness and light, is a good time to recognise the true value of news-gathering and reporting in an increasingly dangerous world.
As we celebrate the ‘Word made flesh’ we acknowledge the power of human words and all who use words as part of their craft. At St Bride’s words matter, as do those who work with them.
‘We shall not walk away’is our contemporary take on the age-old Christmas story of ‘God with us’. In dark times and in light, may He go with you at this festive season and into the New Year of 2008.