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Easter egg row shows that churches need to preach the faith more clearly

By Alf McCreary

This week's story about Cadbury and the National Trust leaving out references to Easter in their great British Egg Hunt publicity was a bit of a storm in an egg cup.

On closer inspection it transpired that even though Easter was apparently re-instated on the National Trust website, there had been several references to Easter in other parts of their promotional material.

In the event, no harm was done. What impressed me, however, was the thoughtful response from our church leaders.

The Methodist President, the Reverend Bill Mullally, said: "It is important to acknowledge that neither Cadbury's nor the National Trust are charged with upholding Christian values or the promotion of Christian Festivals.

"Perhaps in some way, this debacle has revealed a worrying deficit in people's understanding of the true meaning of Easter that we, as the Christian Churches, must address."

A similar point was made by Canon Ian Ellis, the editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette. He underlined that an egg is an important symbol "because it represents life itself".

He added: "In that sense, the words 'Easter' and 'egg' go together. I do think that the increasing secularism is not all the fault of society at large.

"The Churches are responsible for communicating the Christian faith, and clearly there is always room for improvement."

The Very Reverend Dr Norman Hamilton, Convenor of the Presbyterian Council for Public Affairs, said that the row had shown that "large sections of our society are religiously illiterate, for they cannot handle religious symbols and practices in any public space".

He added: "They must realise that people will simply not allow their religious history or current practices to be regarded as only for consenting adults, or children, in private. Humanity cannot live on chocolate alone."

David Smyth, of the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, kept everyone's feet on the ground by advising us "to be careful in moments like these not to lose perspective or miss the bigger story of Easter itself".

These comments show that the Churches are now quick to respond to any attack, real or implied, on the Christian faith.

This is a step forward from the time when they were too slow to defend themselves, partly because of the Christian command to "turn the other cheek".

The comments of the Church spokesmen on the Easter egg issue have also shown that they are aware of an even bigger danger - namely that many people today do not have a clue as to what the Christian festivals are about.

Yet it is ironic that some of the most lucrative commercial trading seasons are based on important Christian festivals, including Christmas and Easter.

The immensely profitable Festival of Halloween has an historic Church connection, though you would hardly think so because of the images of skeletons and witchcraft which are the money-making images of this dark period.

The Churches work hard to convey the Christian message but in a period of growing selfishness amid rampant consumerism, many people no longer feel the need to believe in God.

The other difficulty facing Christianity is that it is very difficult to live by. The standards are high, almost super-human, and people find it hard to realise that in the end they cannot "serve God and Mammon", even though many try to do so.

Yet to eradicate the Christian content from Easter, Christmas and other Church festivals is to begin to deny and overlook some of the bedrocks on which our Western civilization is grounded, like it or not.

Christians are too often dismissed wrongly as spoilsports, and while millions of people will once again be inspired and renewed by this Easter's message, they will also, like me, hugely enjoy any Easter eggs their loved ones will give them.

Yet it is important to remember, as Dr Norman Hamilton has so wisely said: "Humanity cannot live on chocolate alone."

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