England’s top prelate has criticized an LGBTQ-inclusive version of a traditional Christmas carol that was sung at an Anglican church over the holiday season.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster objected to new verses being added to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman” that were sung at an Anglican church in Loughborough, England at Christmas. (The verses were originally written for a U.S. Methodist church by Jeffrey Wilsor.)
The new verses in the carol focus on welcoming LGBTQ+ people and women, reading, in part:
“God rest you, queer and questioning / your anxious hearts be still / Believe that you are deeply known / and part of God’s good will / For all to live as one in peace; / the global dream fulfilled. . .
“God rest you also, women, / who by men have been erased, / Through history ignored and scorned, / defiled and displaced; / Remember that your stories too, / are held within God’s grace.”
Express reported on the cardinal’s response to the hymn:
“However, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, rejected the rewrite of the traditional Christmas carol.
“The Archbishop told Times Radio: ‘I think what Christmas does, and many other moments, it tells us the importance of ritual. Ritual helps us to step outside of our own little bubble and connect with something we have received, inherited and that we hope to pass on.
“‘Those values are the continuation of musical repertoire, of the ability to sing together, of looking at the rituals that have been fashioned over centuries.
“‘Those are probably for me more important than particular sensitivities which come and go.'”
Facing criticism from not only Nichols, but some other religious leaders, the Anglican priest who posted the carol lyrics from the Christmas service, Rev. Rachael Brind-Surch, defended the new verses, saying, per the Daily Mail:
“My faith informs my politics and I will never be sad or mad or apologise for attending a church which challenges me to think about them more and the policies being legislated for in our name.”
Cardinal Nichols’ intervention in this Christmas carol controversy is a bit unusual for him. First, the cardinal rarely intervenes, particularly in a critical way, on the internal happenings of the Church of England.
Second, in terms of the Catholic Church, Nichols has a generally-positive record on LGBTQ+ issues. As early as 2011, he supported civil unions for queer couples, and said he “rejoiced” at growing LGBTQ+ equality. In 2018, he restored ties with the U.K. LGBT Catholic group Quest, and has shown personal support for London’s LGBTQ-friendly Mass, which his diocese sponsors. At the Synod on the Family in 2015, Nichols commented on the Synod’s failure to seriously address homosexuality. In 2019, he said the church must expand its thinking on what “home” and “family” mean, including around LGBTQ+ families.
The cardinal’s remarks now about a queer-inclusive, feminist version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” ignore that music and the arts are constantly evolving in light of societal developments. Indeed, there are multiple versions of that song through the centuries since it was first introduced. Moving forward, given Nichols’ longer-term openness to LGBTQ+ pastoral care, he might consider how musical adaptations that recognize and celebrate LGBTQ+ people help advance the very welcome to which he has shown commitment.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 5, 2022