How can we offer a message of transforming hope at Christmas?

Pat Allerton became known as the ‘Portable Priest’ during Covid for taking his message out onto the streets of London during lockdown. He has written an accessible book A Pocketful of Hope and I had the chance to ask him about it and his ministry.

IP: During Covid, you become known as the ‘Portable Priest’ in your parish in London. How did that happen, and how has it shaped the writing of the book?

PA: It came about as I was leaving our church building for the final time, realising that we wouldn’t be gathering again for who knew how long! The thought came into my head, ‘what if I just headed to the streets of my parish, playing a well known hymn and leading people in the Lord’s Prayer’, looking to lift spirits and point people to the God who loves them. So that’s what I began to do. I grabbed some speakers and a mic from our church building, selected a beautiful version of Amazing Grace (sung by Judy Collins) on Spotify, and headed to the Portobello Road. 

I didn’t know what to expect, so gently introduced myself over the 1K sound system saying that I was their local vicar and was here to lift spirits and bring hope, as well as pointing us to the Good Shepherd who’s overcome the grave and wants to walk with us through this ‘valley of the shadow of death’. So I encouraged people to their windows and doorways, played the song, held a moment’s silence to pray or think of those who were sick, those grieving the loss of loved ones, those working in the NHS and those who were just living in fear and anxiety, then I invited anyone who’d like to to join in saying the Lord’s Prayer with me. 

When all was done, I was surprised to hear a ripple of applause that grew and increased with whoops and cheers. Better than rotten tomatoes I thought! But more importantly, I sensed God’s presence and that he was meeting people where they were at. From that day on, I proceeded to head out 64 times in all, visiting streets and hospitals (and a prison) all over London on my hired cargo bike. I’d simply say that my thinking was, ‘if people can’t go to church, maybe church should go to the people’, or a bit of it at least! The media, not having much to write about at the time (!) and looking for good news stories, picked up on what I was up to and so a fair bit of coverage followed. Indeed, it was a reporter who renamed me ‘The Portable Priest’ where before I was ‘The Portobello Priest’ due to my parish being in Notting Hill. Rather an apt rechristening!

IP: The aim of the book appears to be to build bridges between the reader’s everyday experience and Christian faith. Why did you take this approach, and why do you think that it is important as part of contemporary apologetics?

PA: I’m from a family of non-believers, having become a Christian when I was 18. So I’m constantly wondering, ‘what would reach my friends and family?’ As Christians, we all know the difference that Jesus makes to our lives, and how he equips us to face anything that comes our way, and also enjoy the journey. I just feel that if we’re to reach this generation and show the credibility of our faith, then that is something we need to help show people. That Christianity works, that it’s got answers. And that it’s beautiful as well! 

We’re all, believer and non-believer, going through this thing called ‘life’ and experiencing what it is to be a human being. And all of us need stories or meta-narratives to help us make sense of life and what we’re going through. In taking on 50 of the biggest questions or issues that we will all go through, I’m simply looking to establish a connection, point to how we often try to find hope or answers but so often fail, and then show the difference Jesus makes. The difference that seeing life through the lens of faith can bring.

IP: You tell a lot of stories through the chapters. Was this a deliberate strategy, or simply a reflection of who you are? How does this shape your approach to ministry and sharing faith?

PA: I think that whilst human beings require facts and data, we make sense of our lives through stories. And we enjoy them! They open up our hearts and help us connect with truth. No wonder Jesus used them so much! So yes, it was very much a deliberate choice. At the same time, it’s probably naturally who I am as well. I think that to win over and persuade folks today, we must capture their hearts as well as their minds. I’ve always loved that quote from Pascal, ‘make men wish it was true and then show them that it is.’ I’d say that principle is always active in anything I do, whether I’m speaking, writing, or dancing. (I’m joking. I definitely don’t evangelise through the latter)

IP: You quite often tell stories where you did not succeed or where you are unsure—this is not an account of faith making life an easy success! Do you see this as an important part of leadership within the church, or sharing faith outside—or both?

PA: Ha, well mainly because I’ve got more of those stories! But also, because I think we’re just living at time now where people can smell the BS (if you’ll pardon my french). They’re not interested in the super polished, picture-perfect façade. In fact I think it puts them off. I believe I quote Brene Brown in my chapter on Authenticity, which as we know, people are crying out for, where she says, ‘we impress people with our strengths, but we connect with people through our vulnerabilities’. And at the end of the day, we follow a Lord who ended up naked on a cross. If that’s not vulnerable, I don’t know what is! And yet look at the connection that it’s brought us. With God, one another and the world. Yes, faith is everything to the one who truly believes. 

Yes it’s a crutch of sorts, or a backbone if we’re honest. But does it solve every issue? Does it guarantee a problem free life? Does it mean we’re immune from suffering, and the lot that faces us all? Absolutely not! So why are we afraid to share that or show it? As the world continues to feel more crazy, I firmly believe that it’s only as we share honestly about our own failures and brokenness, that we’ll have success in reaching and connecting with the broken. Now obviously, if you’re in a position of leadership, then you have to be wise as to how much and what you share, no one wants to see all of our dirty laundry after all (!), but spotless linen garments are only available in heaven, and everybody knows that, so let’s not pretend to be something we’re not. Let’s be honest, authentic, real.

IP: Despite not assuming faith on the part of the reader, you do not hesitate to quote Scripture or refer to elements of the biblical story. Is that part of a deliberate, practical ‘apologetic’ for the relevance and power of Scripture? Should we be seeking opportunities to read the Bible with our non-Christian friends?

PA: That’s a really interesting question. And I’d probably say, why not? My overall hunch is that whilst we might not be seeing revival right now, I believe the spiritual temperature is rising and that people are increasingly open to hearing what we’ve got to say. So why not ask them? 

And beyond that, let’s rediscover our confidence in the word of God! It’s powerful. It’s changed lives and shaped civilisations! So yes, it was very much a deliberate approach and strategy. My hope is that having gained a hearing in each chapter by showing that we’re all in the same boat, stumbling around in the dark and looking for the light switch, that it’s then OK to share what the Scriptures have to say about the issue and the difference that such a perspective or approach can make. If it really is seed, as Jesus tells us, or really is a hammer that breaks a rock, as Jeremiah says, then we’d be foolish not to use it, trusting God’s Spirit to speak to people.

It’s amazing how sticky God’s word is and how if you say a word in season, it might stay with someone their entire life. So all I’d say is be natural, be yourself, don’t force it, but humbly offer to others what you’ve found helpful for yourself.

IP: In the gospels, Jesus does not shy away from making clear the challenge of his message. In fact, his opening words appear to challenge people to turn from their sin if they are to receive the good news of the kingdom. Do you manage to include this part of the gospel message in the book—if so, how? At what stage in the conversation should we be making the cost of the gospel clear?

PA: It’s a good question. So one of my favourite stories in the gospel of John is when Jesus meets with the woman at the well. It’s just the most extraordinary account that details the masterful journey that Jesus takes this woman on from his asking her for a drink of water to her receiving the water of life and telling her village! I mean, talk about a turnaround! But one of the things I find most striking is that despite her having had five husbands and currently being shacked up with someone who isn’t, Jesus doesn’t lead with that or come down heavy on her. No doubt just mentioning it allows the Holy Spirit to bring gentle conviction, but on this occasion, it’s not what he goes big on, unlike other occasions with the pharisees etc.

Now please don’t mishear me, I am not saying that we take this example and apply it to all of our preaching and encounters. There is a time and a place for strong clarity about the need to repent, and a faithful ministry will always contain that element. Indeed, the issue with our world and with ourselves, is often alluded to. But I think it depends on the context and audience. For me, in writing this book, I am targeting those who are far from faith and church, agnostics or even atheists who don’t yet believe or even know what they’re looking for. In many ways, I am seeking to help people realise, like this woman, that deep down, they are spiritually thirsty, and that Jesus is what and who they’re looking for. 

So these are the opening words of the book, which in essence sum up whom it’s aimed:

  • This isn’t a book for religious people. (But by all means read it if you are!)    
  • This isn’t even a book for those with faith, although I hope it encourages you if you have it.
  • This is a book for the seeking ones. The searchers. Those who know there must be more…

So I think I’d say, as the question states, that we should very much see our contact with and outreach to the world as a conversation. And like with any conversation, we don’t need to say everything at once! Rather, the most crucial thing to do first is gain a hearing. We must make Jesus and what he offers compellingly attractive to people who don’t yet know him. Make them want to take a drink of living water so to speak! That’s what I try to do in every chapter of this book. It’s a book to be given away to our non-Christian friends and family, hopefully helping the reader to better understand and glimpse the Jesus we all love, adore and follow.

IP: What response have you had to the book? Would it make a good Christmas present? For whom?

PA: From those who’ve read it, I’ve had some wonderfully encouraging responses. And there are some very kind reviews on Amazon too! We’ve got one new member of our church, J, who turned up because he was feeling completely lost in life and stumbled across the book in Waterstones. He picked it up and could barely put it down. In fact it helped bring him to faith and we baptised him two weeks ago! J’s father is Hindu and the J had stood for Joginder, meaning Lord, in a Hindu sense. Just before getting baptised, J legally had his name changed to Joseph, out of honour for the one true Lord of all. 

It’s stories like that that led me to write the book. But one of the biggest challenges with a book like this, trying to reach the target audience that it is, is how to get it in their hands. After all, why would you pick up a book you didn’t really know you were looking for? So this is where the church comes in. I personally don’t think there are enough books and gently and respectfully introduce people to the faith and begin to sow those seeds. My hope is that this book can meet that need. So in a word, yes! It would absolutely be a good Christmas present! So why not give the gift of HOPE this year…?

Pat Allerton is vicar of St. Peter’s Notting Hill and the author of A Pocketful of Hope. He is married to Kirsty and they have a daughter called Phoebe, whom he is constantly trying to cuddle.

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20 thoughts on “How can we offer a message of transforming hope at Christmas?”

  1. WELL DONE Pat Allerton, you actually did it preaching the gospel on the streets at a time when it was particularly difficult. I too am an adsult convert form a nonbelieving family and think about what might have grabbed me, and am careful to avoid the turn-off words ‘sin’ and ‘repent’ while not compromising on the gospel:

    I’ve also written my own answers to the “questions that come up most frequently at Alpha”, to paraphrase the name of one of Nicky Gumbel’s books. Easily the hardest question is the nature of the atonement, which is so multifacted and deep that it is best done by a combination of analogies, none of which coveys the full struth and all of which convey part of the truth but breask down if pushed too far.

    I deeply agree that telling stories is the way. Nobody was converted by logical argument, and nobody can argue with a testimony, for instance.

    Re Pascal’s comment, ‘make men wish it was true and then show them that it is’ – that is exactly how John Wesley preached by convicting of sin using the Ten Commandments and then expounding Jesus as the answer to sin. Today you have to convince people that a just God exists, as well – difficult, but not impossible!

    • Or should you make people wish for a just God and then show them that He is?

      If we are no long dealing with a nation of universalists or a people who consider Heaven their birthright, isn’t there an opportunity in that?

      • There is vestigal sense in the West that there is something more than this life.
        How many of those grieving over the death of friends and family speak of them looking down on them, being kept alive in their hearts, thoughts and memories? No mention of God.
        It’s even there in the language of “passing” or “resting” without any finality.
        Is it any wonder when God has set eternity in our hearts? Ecclesiastes 3:12.
        Yet for many years as an unbeliever, I thought the after life was a human invention, conjured up from human pride, that life just couldn’t go on without them – a manefestation of humanity’s *pride of life* without God.
        Yet, conversion brought home the reality that an eternal life with God is God’s joyful plan.
        The Church has vacated the terminus of the popularisation of life being a journey, in general holding out;
        1 false hope or
        2 no hope
        But the terminus of this life of the Christian believer is a glorious welcome home party a continuation of eternal life commenced in this life in Him. For this is eternal life:
        John 17

        • Though, Geoff, many today are reasonably content with their lives, but wouldnt want to live forever. Of course they dont know God, but I can understand why they dont necessarily find such an offer that attractive.

          • Very I interesting. I am a supply teacher at present and took an RS class the other day. Class full of 11 and 12 year olds, none of them wanted to live forever. General feeling was it would be ‘boring’.

          • Put in those terms, then it would. Ask them about the most exciting thing that happened to them this week, and whether they would like that to continue, and you might get a different answer!

    • ‘Nobody was converted by logical argument’ – Im not so sure. Two fo the books that lead to my conversion were Basic Christianity and The Day Death Died, which spell out the basics of Christianity, especially the cross and the resurrection. I suppose I would view them as logical arguments. I went on to have an emotional experience, but they were very much part of persuading my intellect. I sneakily bought and left some copies of Basic Christianity in my work mini-library – you never know…

      As for sin, I get the impression many today just dont view much as ‘sin’ anymore, so it is really down to the Spirit to convince people of that.

      • PC1 – I thought that Paul was converted by what were basically logical arguments – in the sense that his violent opposition came from a truth which he logically understood, but refused to accept – until he came to the point (on the road to Damascus) where he could no longer refuse to accept it. I’d say that his conversion was by logical argument.

          • Anton – the logical discussion had been had long before Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Christ appeared to him at the point where he could no longer escape the logical conclusion.

            When one hears the gospel and is conquered by it – that is convinced by the logic of it and ready to submit to Jesus – that is faith.

  2. I still feel a sense of shock when I remember the churches being locked. Each Sunday morning I walked around the outside praying and ending at the East window in a concluding prayer. On Christmas Eve we organised an outdoor Carol Service in the grounds and 100 people turned up. As soon as we were allowed we opened the church for private prayer and ensured prayer notes and candles were available, always manned by one person if someone needed to talk. Closing the churches is a stain on the Archbishop and is a reflection on the divisions now being felt.

  3. Paul has opened wonderful vistas for us.
    Evangelism is an such an amazing experience.
    Very often people just don’t want to listen and at times one feels that there is a” famine of hearing the word of God” And of the prophets, ….their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Or Jesus, He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. etc.
    Paul reference’s the woman at the well. Prior to this meeting John 4 vs 4 And he must needs go through Samaria. It is just so exciting to be led of the Spirit into encounters that see people healed or delivered or coming to real life changing faith; as with J – Joseph.
    My wife is the evangelist, she is an excellent listener; very often especially at checkouts in Supermarkets complete strangers pour out their hearts to her without promptings which results in openings to proclaim, we often joke that she has Tell Me printed on her forehead. People so often say no one listens to me council, landlord etc. Many have no one to talk to,she often closes with We will pray for you or ask if
    they would like our Church to pray for them? “Oh,would you please, they often answere.” We just need to sit still at the well and be a listener to people and God.
    The fields are white unto harvest. May God open more ears and hearts Paul .Acts 16:14.

  4. Sunny uplands seen from the Valley of Vision.
    Where it’s always winter but never Christmas. (Lewis)
    When everwhere is Christmas, but nowhere is Christ.

  5. Perhaps the question to ask is, “Why did God come as a baby?”
    I don’t know what the theologians make of that but the book of Hebrews gives us a pointer HEB. 9:8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:
    9:9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;
    9:10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers’ washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.
    His birth was the beginning of a/the reformation, a new beginning not rituals but a new creation of life and not just a religion. Of course one could then preach the gospel e,g, “except you become as little children; be born again, a new creation etc. Or the example of His life, His entire dependance on His Father, for people on The Way.
    Until we are all brought to a perfect man HEB.12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. [Mature – Complete]
    Instead of the endless recounting of the events of His birth repeated each year it is a great time for a new beginning, a reformation.A sounding forth of the Evangel.

    • Why did God come as a baby?

      As the Nicene Creed says, Christ was begotten not made. He’s fully human and fully God, not a false avatar (think the legend of Zeus taking the form of a swan to rape Leda). Nothing false or illusory was happening on the cross.

  6. Conversely, He is born a king and a priest, Act 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins; after the order of Melchizedec and the firstborn, Levites.
    A King of what? Well, a kingdom, plenty of scope to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.
    Why do we need a priest? Well, an Intercessor. We need a full representation of Christ, Act 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
    Preaching just a Saviour is not the gospel. Yes, Christmas is just for the children —
    of the kingdom. John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
    The Lordship/Kingship of Jesus must be proclaimed not oft time sentimental story presentations.

  7. Sounds like an excellent book. Christ of course famously taught using stories – the Parables. Unlike the legends of Greek mythology, the parables don’t pretend to be anything other than they are – made-up stories to illustrate a point. And Christ was no stranger to quoting useful parts of Scripture either.

    I would add that imagery can also be powerful. Lots of Christians have found the footprints in the sand image important. God, life and creation are big incomprehensible things. Taking an explanation (or part of it) down to an image you can hold in your head, and well-crafted to the point, helps grasp that point but will be memorable at least in part because of the importance of what it’s helping you to grasp.

    The downside of course is that analogies and images are inherently incomplete. The only way to be complete is to longer be an analogy. But some analogies, images and stories are so far from the real point that they mislead. St Patrick’s supposed use of a clover to explain the Trinity is infamously problematic.

  8. Hi! I love the Christmas Season. But wonder why the birth story and the coronation are put together. Plus no one tell about Jesus’ family both earthly and heavenly! And if we don’t teach that we get a totally wrong stories about Jesus’s birth. And what God promises us! But first we need to know the truth about the Christmas Pageant that is so incomplete.
    I’ll start with Mary’s story. Mary here on earth was of a godly conception just like John the Baptist was, of which both mothers concaved in their old age, pass the age of conception. Plus we need to know that the World as well as the Holy Family believed that the Gods of Heaven and the children of men could have children together, was nothing new to them like the Churches would like to paint. And Yes! The Bible tells us so!. Also, the Bible tells us what type of conception and births these children have but no one wants to see it! Also. if we understand that Joseph was in line for the thrown and that history paints Joseph in the court of two kingdoms as record in the History of men and in the scriptures that didn’t make it in the Bible in multiple locations and kingdoms. Yes, Joseph was in the Jews court as the Overseer of Construction for both the Jews and the Romans. And the Roman leadership in Roman promised the local leaders that they could keep their local positions if warranted and Joseph had the knowledge of the Egyptian Mansions and could move large construction stones with out rigging or large number of men, so, he was allowed to keep his position in the local Roman Court. And the Bible hits of it when he was called away to complete the governors home or palace after the Uncommon Bethrowal to Mary and Anna, her mother, as a PROTECTORATE to write marriage contract which was a Temple Ceremony of Lots for the protection of women that promised to be Temple Virgins and work in the temple all of their lives. I should say at this time, that Mary was consecrated to the temple from the age of three, given to the Temple Matriarchs for training in the Temple. And she was know to have conversions with the angels and it was reported that she knew them by name and they would bring food from Heaven that she missed! But more important they called her “Queen of Heaven.” Yes, the wife of Heavenly Father! I don’t understand the order of thing that allowed her to be the Mother of the Messiah, Jesus, in Heaven. And also His mother here on earth. But I do know that the things that are started in Heaven can continue here on earth and the thing sealed by the Holy Ghost here on can continue in Heaven! Also the other writings, scriptures’ that didn’t make it into the Bible also state or tells that Mary had a godly birth presentation that qualify her as an earthly virgin and the Bible and Roman Court records testifies of those event as I noted before!
    Now, Father Assis that did the first reenactment of Jesus’s birth in a mass and reenactment in a cave with the shepherds was good but then through time many things were add including that the wise-men came at his birth also. But we all know the Messiah, Jesus, was almost 2 years old as noted in the Bible. And of course history knows that the Wise-Men, called CONJURES, were not just coming to do a worship service. With over 20,000 men was to Coronated the Messiah as “King of the Jews and the Worlds He Had Made.” They were also know as “the King Makers” and that they came with an Army of Peacemakers, the Priesthood of God, with rites of coronating Kings of the World. Believed to have made many of the Kingdoms of the Deep East, and southward into India and even possibly westward into Africa. And they came with an army of over 10,000 knighted armor type horsemen and horses with a Northern Modern Chinese Army with hand guns, rifles, and arrow rocket that exploded on contact with their target and people from the eastern sea that followed a cell of light. Anyway this second contingence of Wise-Men that came for the coronation the Messiah and sit up camp near Jerusalem. It was larger then the city of Jerusalem and after that King Herod and the Romans sent spies and that included Herod incognito, to find out the intention with the Romans. And they learn that they had come to coronated the Messiah, as King of the Jews! Now on the return of these spies and Herod, Herod asked his religious wise-men if they knew about this new “King of the Jews.” And these spies cause an up roar think that a war was about to start. And Herod’s wise-men came the following day and the told Herod that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And that their priesthood had destroyed the Egyptian Army in the Red Sea and destroy the walls of Jericho without weapons of war and because their numbers were able to over take the city. We need to remember that they didn’t have any weapons of war when departing Egypt nor at Jericho. Yes, they were afraid of the Conjures that had cause the soil to sallow Roman Legions before. So, they let the CONJURES go peacefully to Bethlehem but when they could see that they weren’t go to Bethlehem they sent spies after them being afraid of an ambush. At the return of the spies they reported that they were following a cell of light, that open up space through mountains and waterway entering Nazareth and a Jews spy said; “like the Pillar of Light and Fire that led Moses” and gave the coronation to the Messiah with the people of Nazareth invited. And the event toke a few day, according some writers, others said a week or so. Anyway, at their departure they divided up into 5 different groups traveling northward to the northern trade trout’s going east. Yes, a group of the Conjure, their families that had children a long the way were to a company the Messiah family in to Egypt. About 25 families of conjures. According to their writing never to be known till the END of TIMES! Ho! There is a lot more to their stories but that for another time! How do I know about these stories. Well my grandfather would tell them to me for many years till I was about 10 years old when pass to the other side. Grandfather had two Nativity scenes one for the Christmas and coronating event and another one for birth event. He also had other old scripture books believed to be Gnostic but not with the story like the Roman Church indicated. More like of that of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Anyway when the priest came to pick up some of grandfather cloths they saw the the nativity senses and ask by father to burn them. And Father told them NO! And to get out quite strongly AND THAT a museum WAS COME TO PICK THEM UP ON FRIDAY, BUT GRANDFATHER APARTMENT BURN DOWN THRISDAY! This has away left a mark in my mind! When I went to Europe. I learn a little from where my ancestors live and how the Christian Crusades’ affect them and that it seem to be even going on even today! Then latter in life I got to and see some of the location in the Middle and Deep East were thing were happening which included going to some of the world oldest monasteries and communities yet living like in the time of Jesus ministry, and telling nightly stories for entertainment because their were no electricity for, TV, radio, or phone like we think of them today. And when the translators, translated some of the stories, some were almost the same as grandfathers’ stories. But now in my old age started studding the stories and find that I need to expose these truth so that our children can learn the truth of what really happen during that first Christmas Nativity of which our Westernized Pageant doesn’t tell us! Oh! there is a lot more to Grandfathers’ stories if you want to learn all of it! Just ask and I will send it to you!


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