A lecture? On science? For children? At Christmas?
Well, the idea seemed ridiculous. But I decided to try it. After all, it was not a new idea. It had a very significant history.
But there was a gnawing doubt. Could I get the children on my side? The idea that this coming Christmas Day at church at 9.00 am, they would have a lecture – even if it was a very brief lecture – didn′t sound very appealing.
Even if they were won over, what about the rest of the congregation? Would parents and grandparents accept it, I wondered. And what of the rest of the congregation who didn′t have direct family at the service? What would they make of it? After all, a science lecture in place of a sermon on Christmas Day...it sounds terrible, an abomination unto the Lord!
Despite the doubts, I was determined to try it at least this once. I needn′t have worried. It was a runaway success. Dozens and dozens of young children were in Church that Christmas morning. Most brought a present or two to show and tell. We sang the usual carols, read the familiar stories, and then the 'lecture' began.
I set myself a strict time limit. 10 minutes. Would to God that all sermons were that long, irrespective of setting and cultural context. A sermon is NOT the place for oratory.
I set myself the goal of communicating with the ten years old age group, so all the words had to be appropriate to that group. And here is what I did.
I told the story of the young scientist Michael Faraday, who had strong Christian ideals and a powerful faith. He was an apprentice bookbinder who studied science late in the evenings. Eventually he became an assistant to the great chemist Humphrey Davy, but because of the English class structure was often treated as on outsider.
His Christian faith kept him on track. He was a member of a small society called the Sandemanians, a sect which had its origins in the Church of Scotland. His beliefs about God and his trust in the goodness of God′s creation became very important to him. If a criticism could be levelled at the Sandemanians it was they tended to be very intellectual. Well, that is a welcome relief from the rubbish that is pedalled in many sermons today. Long live the Sandemanians!
Faraday′s scientific insights grew stronger and stronger, and in 1824 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He became one of the great experimental scientists of the time, who contributed to our understandings of electricity, magnetism and chemistry.
Yet today he is as often remembered for initiating lectures for children at Christmas, given at the Royal Institution in London: talks on the wonders of science and the miracles of creation.
Today, the most quoted of those lectures is on how to observe the flame of a lighted candle.
And for five or so minutes into the 'sermon' we did just that in Trinity at Waiake – as far removed from Faraday′s London in space and time as is possible - with the Advent candles.
Like dozens of scientists and pastors around the world I re-enacted Faraday′s enthusiastic insights to children. And subsequently, I am sure that, every Christmas, dozens if not hundreds of children will go to listen not just about the gift of incarnation but its resounding echoes in a myriad of scientific insights. The Faraday lectures change the way children think...maybe are more influential in the long run, than the pious hymn of Charles Wesley about gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Maybe...I don't know, but surely I do hope so.
What better time than Advent and Christmas and the summer holidays that follow on, to tell the stories of of Faraday and Newton and Einstein, along with Tawhaki and Tane and Maui. They are parallel insights from the world′s Christmas stocking of wisdom and insight.
© David Bell, all rights reserved