5:41pm Sunday 23rd December 2012
By David Wiles
CHRISTMAS is a busy period for the Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield, the Bishop of Swindon, but he still finds time to spend with his family on the big day.
After presiding at three large services in Swindon and Bristol on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Dr Rayfield will then join his wife, Liz, at home to host their extended family, as they have done on December 25 for about 20 years.
And despite his public duties keeping him busy through the morning, the father of three grown-up children says most of his afternoon is spent in private at the bishop’s house, Mark House, in Field Rise, enjoying Christmas traditions like a festive dinner, unwrapping presents under the tree and watching the Queen’s message.
Dr Rayfield, 57, said: “A bishop’s Christmas is a bit different to the average vicar’s. “As a bishop I don’t have quite the same number of services leading up to Christmas that maybe some local clergy have, but at Christmas time it’s the same as everyone else.
“I’m a pretty normal person and we will have the Christmas lights around the house. We have the Christmas tree.
“Christmas in both of our families – my wife’s family and my family – has always been a very special time. And we will do most of the things that other families will do.
“After we’ve had our Christmas meal, we open our presents around the tree. “We try and listen to the Queen’s Christmas Day broadcast. We don’t always make it first time, we sometimes hear the repeat over the Christmas period, so Boxing Day or the day after. And we have little Christmas traditions so we go out to the cinema to see one of the films and this year we’re hoping to see The Hobbit.
“And probably some of us will go for a walk, not on Christmas Day but maybe on Boxing Day.”
This bishop’s main celebrations for Christmas start on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, with him presiding at a service of lessons and carols at Bristol Cathedral. This is because Swindon is in the Diocese of Bristol.
He then comes back to Swindon to take the midnight communion at a church in the area, which this year will be at St Augustine’s Church, in Summers Street, Even Swindon, starting at 11.30pm.
On Christmas Day, he takes a morning service in a church that has either invited him or might be shorthanded for clergy. St Sampson’s Church, in Bath Road, Cricklade, has been chosen this year.
After this he visits homeless people, and volunteers, at the Christmas Care project, in Queens Drive Methodist Church, which provides shelter for homeless and lonely people from Christmas Eve to morning of December 28. He then goes home to join the family at about 1.45pm.
Dr Rayfield, who became Swindon’s bishop in 2005, said that the number of people attending church services over the Christmas period had increased in recent years, and a lot of people found time to contemplate the true religious meaning of Christmas, despite the ever-increasing commercialisation.
He said: “I think there are huge numbers of people for whom going to church at some point over the lead-up to Christmas and Christmas Eve, maybe Christmas Day, really makes Christmas for them.
“They want to be in church at some point and it may not be Christmas Day – it’s usually something on Christmas Eve, it could be the Sunday before Christmas."
“I would say it’s increasing. In the time I’ve been in ministry, I think I’ve seen more of that than before.”
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