What can Harry Potter teach Christian preachers?

The Harry Potter movies and books continue to enthrall people of all ages.Warner Bros. Pictures

Should Christian ministers be studying Harry Potter – alongside their Bible studies – if they want to preach Christ to this generation?

Just eight miles separate two very different places of pilgrimage in Hertfordshire, north of London, where I serve as a Christian priest. One is St Albans Abbey. The other is the Harry Potter studios, where the eight blockbuster films were made.

Both declare the power of 'the story' – but which, I wonder, resonates more with our 21st century culture?

St Albans Abbey stands where Saint Alban was executed around 1,800 years ago. It recently opened a new visitor centre telling the story of Britain's first Christian martyr.

The Harry Potter studios, in Leavesden, opened in 2012. Since then, tens of thousands of visitors have toured the Warner Bros site.

Both places offer the chance to 'get closer' to narratives that have inspired and enthralled people around the world.

Alban gave shelter to a Christian priest hiding from Roman persecutors and disguised himself in the priest's cloak when soldiers came searching.

Having been introduced to the faith by the priest, Alban gave himself up in his place and was executed. The site of his death first became a shrine and later a church dedicated to Alban's memory.

By the Middle Ages, the church had grown into the Abbey of St Albans. It is now the cathedral that bears his name and a popular place for pilgrims.

Harry Potter fans have been flocking to the nearby studios to look at the amazing film sets, props and costumes.

Collectively, the seven Harry Potter books have sold around 500 million copies, making it the bestselling fiction series of all time.

Stories have power. Alban's martyrdom has inspired generations of Christian believers. It underlines the cost of being a follower of Christ and being willing to suffer for him. Christians regard Jesus's death and resurrection as the greatest true story ever told.

The Harry Potter stories have entertained and entranced millions. Some Christians, initially suspicious, have traced the themes of sacrifice, of the struggle between good and evil, and other Christian parallels in the books. The author, JK Rowling, has talked about her faith.

In these days, increasing numbers of people are sadly unaware of the Bible and the stories it contains. They may have only a vague knowledge of the story of Christ's life, his death and resurrection. Few could explain the deep and lasting impact of his death on the cross.

As Christians, we are encouraged to keep telling this story, to stay rooted in the Bible – and to illustrate it in ways that connect with modern people.

Many millions are familiar with the Harry Potter series. A recent BBC radio programme looked at the religious symbolism in the books. It concluded: "What makes the Harry Potter series so universally lovable is the way that, regardless of our cultural or religious experience, readers can draw their own messages of hope, love and goodness from the books."

I recently heard a leading Christian speaker having to explain carefully the story of Legion, the man who, in Mark's Gospel, had demons exorcised from him by Jesus. And yet she referred easily to the Dementors in Harry Potter, "preying upon young people, sucking out their joy and hope."

This seemed a clear indication of which story would be most familiar to her listeners, and I reflected on what this might mean for other preachers. Just now, I'm studying the Harry Potter books – with a renewed interest in seeking out the Christian parallels and what they say to today's generation.

When it comes to story, each of us has our own unfolding story to tell. As Christians, we believe that God guides us as we try to live our lives day by day, and to share our faith with others.

Our individual stories may not involve martyrdom or magic, but they can have a deep and lasting impact on the people around us. And make a difference in our world.

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, UK, and the author of 'Responding to Post-truth' (Grove Books)