This is the time of year when we get more than our fill of reality television. As the nights draw in many of us tune into shows like 'Strictly come dancing', 'The Apprentice', 'X Factor' and 'I'm a Celebrity get me out of here' - to name but a few.
Though it's not my usual taste in evening viewing I have to admit that as my family watch these popular shows I tend to be drawn into them as well.
The Oxford Dictionary defines reality television as 'programmes in which real people are filmed and are designed to be entertaining rather than informative.' It seems that the British viewing public can't get enough of it at the moment.
But reality TV isn't really reality at all. This is especially the case in shows like 'The Apprentice' and 'I'm a Celebrity'. Here the producers bring together people of very mixed social stereotypes and place them in an artificial situation where controversy and argument are inevitable. The entertainment value comes from seeing how the contestants react to each other and to the bizarre challenges that come their way. It's as if the producers light the blue touch paper so that we can watch the fireworks.
Recently a few shows have featured Christians and, in particular, members of the clergy. The Revd Kate Bottley has risen to fame since appearing on 'Gogglebox'. These days she's often seen on 'Songs of Praise' and, last Holy Week, presented an excellent documentary on Judas Iscariot. In a similar way the Revd Richard Coles has appeared on 'Celebrity Masterchef' and was the second competitor to be voted out of this year's 'Strictly come dancing'. He was one half of the pop duo 'The Communards', which rose to fame in the late 1980s, and is now a Church of England Vicar and broadcaster. Both TV reverends, rarely seen without their clerical collars, have been bringing the Church to a very wide audience indeed.
At the moment I'm particularly enjoying a new reality TV series on Channel 5 called, 'Bad Habits, Holy Orders'. It features five young women who are unashamed party animals and who enter the Convent of Divine Charity in Norfolk for a two week 'spiritual journey'. The first of the four part series showed the girls failed attempt to smuggle vodka into the Convent, but nothing escapes the watchful eyes of the nuns. It's clear that the experience is life changing for the ladettes and for the sisters of the Order too. One of the nuns described the experiment as a 'rollercoaster ride' and said that the honest portrayal of the religious life would be good for the Church.
Though most of us would never aspire to celebrity status or dream of being part of a reality TV show we do experience the reality that is our daily lives. In work, at leisure, at home, with family, in the community and in Church we live out our relationships with others.
For Christians there is always the added calling to be ambassadors for Christ. Our actions can sometimes come under close scrutiny from those who do not share our faith. This is especially true in our so called 'secular age' and in a nation where more than half of the Welsh population now claim to have no religion at all. Members of the Church are often caricatured as 'fuddy duddy, judgemental, holier than thou' people who have little to contribute to an advancing and modern age. We, of course, know that image is far from the reality of being a Christian today. To be a follower of Christ is to know life in all its fullness.
It's often claimed that the great Saint Francis told his community of friars to 'Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, to use words.' The reality is that our lives, as followers of Christ, are sometimes the only Gospel others encounter. People can be drawn to the life of faith when they meet Jesus in us. It's the way the Church has always grown.