English Cardinal Criticizes New LGBTQ-Inclusive Version of Christmas Carol

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

1 reply
  1. Alexei
    Alexei says:

    I wonder what the cardinal would say about this addendum to the Christmas story circulating ?

    This e-message is going around.
    Happy New Year!
    On the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, I’m sharing this thoughtful
    narrative from a
    Facebook post:
    All those nativity scenes, all those plays, all my life, there have only been men
    apart from Mary. And I never really noticed how wrong that is until my friend Sue
    said this year, ‘there would have been women at the birth of Christ’. It doesn’t
    matter what your religious belief is about the story, it is culturally really powerful
    and of course at this time of year it is everywhere. So here is a story to offer a
    reclaiming of the missing part of the story. I hope you enjoy it. xxxx
    Of course there would have been women there that night
    Of course there would have been women there in Bethlehem that night. There is
    rarely a baby born alone in the world when there is a free woman nearby. I
    imagine that the first was the inn keeper’s wife, let’s call her the other innkeeper.
    She would have been dashing from the stove to the bar when she heard her
    husband turning that couple away. Maybe he was a good man and disappointed
    them kindly, but she saw the huge belly, recognised the low-down posture of a
    baby about to drop into the world. She would have put down the plates she was
    carrying and laid her hand on the small of that poor tired woman’s back. Warmth
    and understanding relieving the ache, in that tiny profound gesture.
    It would have been that other innkeeper who led the couple to the barn, made a
    clear cosy refuge and brought blankets to make beds on the straw. Maybe she
    settled them, then went back to the inn and called the kitchen girls to make extra
    stew, it was going to be a long night. Then maybe she called on the old midwife,
    the woman who had caught nearly the whole town in her gentle hands as they
    had each arrived. The old woman would have summoned her daughter, called her
    away from her own children to come and help her greet this new baby, receive
    this new life into safety.

    They would have made their calm and smoothly urgent way to the innkeepers’
    barn, wondering if there was time to move this young about-to-be mother to
    their own small house, or one of their neighbours’. They would have knocked on a
    few doors as they went, asking for blankets, sheets, water, lamps for when the
    darkness fell. There would have been bustling and excitement, laughing and
    calling as the women dropped their usual busy activity to turn towards the arrival
    of new life in their midst. At least one of them would have offered to make up a
    bed. Maybe they arrived at the barn and realised that none of them could offer
    anywhere more comfortable than this spacious shelter. Or maybe it was just too
    late to move this young woman already shouting with labour pains.
    The old midwife would have looked into her eyes, that frightened traveller, and
    told her that everything was going to be fine, that she was there and would help
    her bring this baby safely to birth. She would have relaxed, Mary, the only one
    whose name we know, the only woman recorded to be at the birth of Christ. Even
    a miracle needs a mother in the story.
    I imagine the women settling in for the long and busy wait, sending the older
    children on errands for more food and drink, another jug of water for the
    labouring mother. They would have shared their memories in the quieter
    moments, of the many babies they had birthed and helped to birth. The midwife
    would have reminded them of their own stories, the one who came out
    backwards, the one who arrived before she could even get there. Silent
    exchanges of looks and murmured blessings as they remembered the ones who
    arrived cold or whose mothers did not make it through. Only the cheerful stories
    out loud tonight to offer reassurance through fearful moments. Grief has its own
    Maybe Joseph was there cradling his wife’s head and humming tender sounds to
    soothe her. Or maybe he was passing the anxious time in the crowded bar of the
    inn, being treated to drinks and slapped on the back, or perhaps he was pacing
    backwards and forwards though the familiar town of his own birth, thinking about
    his mother and wishing she was there to see him become a father.

    Maybe she was there. She could have even been the midwife herself.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *