JUST as in other households across his diocese, Christmas for the Bishop of Burnley means spending treasured time with his family.

The only difference is that the Right Rev John Goddard has two -- his own beloved wife and sons and his extensive church family.

But as a man of the cloth who has become accustomed to squeezing a long list of commitments into a short day, both will be at the heart of his seasonal celebrations.

"Christmas is a time to rejoice in the love of the family, when we remember God sent his Son as a token of His love for us and that must be the essence of our celebrations," said the genial bishop, who could double for Santa.

"I am saddened for those people who miss this Christmas message, and worry about those who are pressurised into things they cannot afford, so they can have a 'good' Christmas, when God's love is what it really is all about."

The family Goddard will come together on Christmas Eve, when eldest son Michael will drive up from London, where he is a social worker, to join his parents and brother Gareth, who has just returned home from a teaching post in Japan.

The bishop and his wife Vivienne, who pursues her own career in the Church of England, have been married for 32 years, after meeting on their very first day at Durham University, where they both studied theology.

Rather than follow her husband round the 125 churches within his diocese -- he knows every incumbent's name and their families -- Vivienne is a regular worshipper at St Andrew's in Burnley and will attend Christmas services there.

The bishop, on the other hand, will be at nearby St Matthew's on Christmas Eve to celebrate midnight Eucharist and at St Cuthbert's, Darwen, on Christmas Day. And he is steadfast in his view that those who come to worship will do so with a real commitment to the faith, rather than move from the pub to the church because it's the "thing to do."

Relaxing in his book-lined study with his dogs, he said: "I believe there has been a subtle change in the church today; worshippers are committed in their search for spirituality, although we do not judge and welcome all through our doors."

He admits it used to be so very different and relates the story of one Christmas Eve in Middlesbrough shortly after he was ordained.

"It was a fact that people attended church on Christmas Eve the worse the wear for drink, and on this particular occasion the vicar decided to confiscate all the bottles of alcohol being brought inside.

"At the end of the night we had collected so many, we didn't need to buy any more for the parish party -- we had enough!"

It will be after 2am on Christmas morning before the family get back to their Padiham Road home, but there will still be time for "a glass of something invigorating" and to open just one present before bed.

Added the Bishop: "We open the rest of our presents together around the tree after church on Christmas Day and then it's a traditional lunch with all the trimmings and on to the phone to offer festive tidings to friends and relatives."

It's a scene repeated in homes up and down the country, but the bishop is constantly saddened to think about the people who feel isolated and alone at this time of year.

"It is so easy to sit down for lunch and forget others who have nobody, so I do rejoice when I hear of places that bring people together on this day and provide the true spirit of this time."

Bringing people together is a subject very close to the Bishop's heart and, as a member of the Task Force set up in the wake of the Burnley riots 18 months ago, he has been instrumental in building bridges between the town's different communities.

"Since those dark days, the town has moved forward and is gaining in confidence, but there is still a long way to go.

"What we need to do is encourage people to share in each other's religious and cultural activities; it is important in a multi-cultural society such as ours that people have the confidence to learn about each other, particularly their different faiths."

In this context he has been heartened by the news that joint Eid and Christmas celebrations are being organised at St Stephen's Church in the Burnley Wood area in a move to integrate the multicultural households within its parish.

"Moving forward together is the aim for a united town and all our lives will be enriched, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year, if we learn to respect other people's traditions and faiths.

"I believe that the youth of the town have a lot to show us in this respect and while the disturbances were caused by the minority, it is up to all of us to ensure that the majority are not passive."

And as he prayed for peace, both at home and abroad in the months ahead, the bishop urged everyone to remember that the Christmas declaration of peace, love and understanding, is an essential part of our lives every day.