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Ministry and Media: an interview

TTtZ3dMDKate Bottley is Vicar of the churches of Blyth, Scrooby and Ranskill and Chaplain to North Notts College. She trained at St John’s, Nottingham and served her curacy in Skegby, in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham. She hit the headlines in 2013 when she led a ‘flashmob’ dance at a wedding that she had conducted went viral on YouTube; you can find the link at the end of this article.
Kate kindly agreed to be do a virtual interview for the blog. This is what she said.

What are your current involvements in the media?

I take part in Channel 4’s BAFTA winning show Gogglebox; I also write for The Radio Times, The Guardian and The Independent. I am part of the team for ‘Pause for Thought‘ on Radio 2. I also take part in local media and am regular on BBC Radio Sheffield, Leeds and Nottingham and NottsTV.

Gogglebox usually has an audience of 4 million on the Friday night when it goes out with the largest audience share but the accumulated figures (those watching it on catch up) make in one of the biggest shows on UK television. It’s all rather daunting! I am a parish priest of 3 rural churches in north Nottinghamshire (central tradition) on 3 days a week and the rest of the time I am a chaplain at North Nottinghamshire college in Worksop, helping with pastoral care.

How did media involvement come about? Was it something you chose?

I’ve always done bits and bobs of telly and radio since I was a child. I went to Youth theatre as a teenager and did plays for Radio 4 and ITV. After I was ordained more and more opportunities to engage with the media arose and it’s something I very much enjoy doing, I think I’m good at and I believe is part of my calling. Gogglebox called because they saw a flash mob I did at a wedding that went viral on YouTube.

What do you enjoy about media involvement? 

I really enjoy my media involvement. Of course it has its dangers and pitfalls, but I have a great support network and lots of folk who hold me accountable and ask the difficult questions. I enjoy surprising people that Christians (and vicars) can be so ‘normal’. They don’t think we are! I like talking to people and being recognisable means lots of opportunities to chat—though it does mean a trip to the shops can take a bit longer these days. The media stuff for me is an natural response to the part of ordinal that says  ‘preach the Gospel afresh to every generation’; I call it my ‘other parish’. The media opportunities I’m currently involved in offer an unlikely pulpit.

Kate-BottleyWhat demands does it put on you?

Apart from the practicalities of managing 3 churches (3 days a week), a college chaplaincy and family life, the criticism and abuse is difficult sometimes. I am happy to be accountable and to ask difficult questions of myself but what hurts is when there is a presumption that I haven’t thought this through. I don’t think people always understand what a risk putting yourself ‘out there’ can be and accuse me of ‘just trying to be famous’. Of course ego is a factor and as natural extrovert I’d be kidding myself if I said I didn’t get a kick out being recognisable. But the decision to say ‘yes’ when I’m asked to do telly is never taken lightly and it comes with a cost and a risk. I’m not sure this is always understood.

In what way do you understand this as ‘ministry’? 

I see the media stuff as part of my calling. I don’t believe as a nation we have lost our faith—but I suspect we might not be prepared to sit in a cold building and mumble anymore. I hope by being ‘normal’ it helps people to see that faith might just be possible. Lots of people say to me what lots of people say to lots of vicars ‘If more vicars were like you the churches would be full’. Well, I am like me and my church is half empty! Clearly the personality of the priest does not have as much to do with it as we might think. They might come to church for the ‘Kate Bottley’ show but they will quickly see through that—and then what? The hope is that people might meet Jesus.

How do you relate it to your calling to ordination, and to other aspects of what you do?

I get a real kick out of people wanting to talk to me. I regularly have large groups of young people asking for photos in restaurants, shops and train stations (I’m there anyway I don’t just hang about waiting for it). Often I’m the only vicar they ‘know’ and I think it’s kind of brilliant they want a photo with a middle aged woman in a dog collar, a visible Christian. That might sound like a silly and superficial thing but I think part of the way our culture works now is through the selfie and the tweet. If that’s how people communicate I want a Christian voice to be part of that. We can choose to be dismissive of popular culture or we can chose to try and be part of it.

What does this involvement do to you personally and to your spirituality, positively and negatively?

I have been naïve at times and expected everyone to be supportive. Some of the harshest criticism comes from other Christians and especially clergy. I don’t expect everyone to understand or to agree but I do value prayer. There have been some letters and emails asking for me to be disciplined and taken in hand; my diocese have always been extremely supportive and I am grateful for that. A friend said to me recently ‘Some of us are called to be quiet in the library, others should be shouting in the playground.’ I worry sometimes that the church struggles to understand us play ground shouters! I know I’m trying to understand the folk who would rather be ‘quiet in the library’.

For me there are bigger issues about the prejudice of introversion within the clergy and that being an extravert is seen as not ‘properly holy’. Ask any extravert in the church—we’ve all seen the people rolling their eyes when we walk into a room. I get enormous enjoyment out of media involvement—it is just a lot of fun! It’s what I feel called to be part of, I’m good at it and I enjoy it. God loves to use our gifts and talents; I don’t think having a passion for the popular media and the gift of the gab should be any different.

What advice would you give to others about handling media involvement?

The media has the attention span of a toddler and so often they will ask you to do something the same day. You get very little time to think and reflect; by the time you get back to them they might have found someone else. Of course that might just be what you want but it’s best to think about a ‘media policy’ or plan before it actually happens. What are you happy to do, what don’t you want to do and how might you respond?

It’s ok to say ‘I can’t do this but have you tried to contact X.’ And remember that not everyone involved in the media is a bad guy! Some of them are genuinely nice people who are good at their job and want to help shout about all the brilliant things people of faith are doing. Give them something to shout about! But, like anything, if it isn’t part of your calling find someone for whom it is and release them and pray for them.


You can follow Kate on Twitter @revkatebottley

The flashmob wedding dance can be viewed here:

You can read my reflections at the time in this post.

My own comments about handling the media can be found in this post.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

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16 Responses to Ministry and Media: an interview

  1. David Shepherd April 7, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    Although I’m not a fan of Gogglebox, I don’t think that most of the ordinary churchgoers would take issue with a priest’s participation, or even with developing a high-profile media presence from it.

    So, I’ll assume:
    1. that Rev. Kate is not just trying to be famous.
    2. that (as she says) she is happy to be accountable.

    If Kate is indeed happy to ask difficult questions of herself, I’d be interested to discover why she thinks that difficult questions asked of her by the wider Church amount to what she describes as the hurtful presumption that she hasn’t ‘thought this through’.

    Most people, including Christians, are aware that no-one gets very far in the media without thinking through their ‘media policy’. Unfortunately, this often involves ensuring significant alignment with the broadcaster’s moral imperatives.

    So, with all due respect, I assume that Kate knows that she wouldn’t be showered with the same level of positive media attention if she was an Anglo-Catholic traditionalist who opposed women bishops and the revisionist stance on gay marriage. Her mere association with the latter would relegate her to be cast as the villain on Question Time and pilloried on every talk show.

    It may indeed be hurtful, but the issue isn’t really the comparative introversion of her critics in the church. No, it’s that Kate (I presume unintentionally) represents Christianity for the popular palate: no more challenging or upsetting to the values espoused by mainstream media than the fictitious vicar of Dibley. It’s the sort of ‘no hard sayings’ morality (euphemized as ‘accessible’) that informs every aspect of contemporary religious broadcasting from meticulously inoffensive ‘Thought for the Day’ meditations to the carefully preened personas of ‘Songs of Praise’ presenters.

    Nevertheless, there might still be a slot for a high-profile conservative Christian commentator whose very public contrition over their former ‘homophobic’ stance is captured on live television. Now that would be TV gold!

    • Ian Paul April 8, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      David, I am not sure I agree with you there. Before proclamation comes presence; you cannot communicate a message if you have no credibility.

      Kate is consciously wanting to raise the profile of Christian presence in the popular media, and is painfully aware of the absence of any contact between the church and Christians, and a good slice of contemporary society.

      Her ministry looks pretty important to me…

      • David Shepherd April 8, 2015 at 11:57 am #

        Ian,

        I actually agree that ‘you can’t communicate a message if you have no credibility’. Nevertheless, unless you consider the church to be indistinguishable from its clergy, I disagree with your assertion that there is an absence of contact between the ‘church and Christians and a good slice of contemporary society’. It would help if you could clarify the disconnection.

        As far as I can tell, Christians participate helpfully and meaningfully in every walk of life. Our volunteers demonstrate in practical terms (through foodbanks, clothing exchanges, etc.) what it means to be influenced by God’s love. We form a key component of the Big Society. We just don’t have to have a TV crew on hand to record our lives in minute detail.

        It’s through the social interactions of lay people that Christian credibility is established throughout in the world.

        St. Paul saw this role lived out in the reformed behaviour of the Thessalonians: ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.’ (1 Thess. 1:8 – 10)

        Of course, there’s nothing wrong with showing the world that we can have ‘good, clean fun’ (like anyone else) and voice our subjective opinions about popular culture (as other Gogglebox stars do). As I sought to explain, I don’t condemn Kate’s involvement with the media.

        Nevertheless, past history has demonstrated that broadcasters have little tolerance for high-profile religious figures who voice their espousal of scriptural principles that contradict the dominant cultural orthodoxy on public issues ranging from abortion to euthanasia to gender-neutral marriage. Isn’t that why an outspoken Anglo-Catholic traditionalist would never have the ‘presence’ to survive for long in the UK broadcasting world?

        Just to be clear, I’ve seen enough of Kate’s Twitter feed to recognise that she’s already affirmed her values quite overly on a range of issues. Some are consonant with scripture, some are not. She’s not merely developing her presence.

        The cultivation of ‘presence’ often amounts to little more than a cleverly disguised instinct for media self-preservation and personal advancement.

        In place of Christ’s forthrightness, we are typically fed with the usual ‘inclusiveness’ shibboleths and the all-too-familiar dithering cop-out that every one of these issues involves real people’s lives, making the moral choices far more complex than could ever be addressed in a televised public forum.

        It’s the same old, same old: media survival comes first, the show must go on!

      • David Shepherd April 8, 2015 at 12:12 pm #

        Ian,

        I’m not discounting the importance of public figures and I actually agree that ‘you can’t communicate a message if you have no credibility’. Nevertheless, unless you consider the church to be indistinguishable from its clergy, I disagree with your assertion that there is an absence of contact between the ‘church and Christians and a good slice of contemporary society’. It would help if you could explain where you’ve identified a disconnection.

        As far as I can tell, Christians participate helpfully and meaningfully in every walk of life. Our volunteers demonstrate in practical terms (through foodbanks, clothing exchanges, etc.) what it means to be influenced by God’s love. We form a key component of the Big Society. We just don’t have to have a TV crew on hand to record our lives in minute detail.

        It’s through the social interactions of lay people that Christian credibility is established throughout in the world.

        St. Paul saw this role lived out in the reformed lives of the Thessalonians: ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.’ (1 Thess. 1:8 – 10)

        Of course, there’s nothing wrong with showing the world that we can have ‘good, clean fun’ (like anyone else) and voice our subjective opinions about popular culture (as other Gogglebox stars do). Lay people do that all the time. If anything, the public find it far more difficult to identify with clergy and as I sought to explain, I don’t condemn all involvement with popular media.

        Nevertheless, past history has demonstrated that broadcasters have little tolerance for high-profile religious figures who voice their espousal of principles (scriptural or otherwise) that contradict their domination of cultural orthodoxy on public issues ranging from abortion to euthanasia to gender-neutral marriage. And that’s why I think that an outspoken Anglo-Catholic traditionalist would never have what you call the ‘presence’ to survive for long as a high-profile figure in the UK broadcasting world?

        Just to be clear, I’ve seen enough of Kate’s Twitter feed to recognise that she’s already affirmed her values on a range of issues. Some are consonant with scripture, some are not. She’s not wrestling with these issues and she’s not merely cultivating her presence.

        The cultivation of ‘presence’ often amounts to little more than a cleverly disguised instinct for media self-preservation and personal advancement.

        In place of Christ’s forthrightness, we are typically fed with the usual ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘welcome’ shibboleths seasoned with the all-too-familiar dithering regret that every one of these issues involves real people’s lives, thereby making the moral choices far more complex than could ever be addressed in any broadcast public forum.

        Her ministry may be important to humanising the clergy, but I wonder whether Kate’s as prepared to deliver the hard sayings that will lose her followers as Jesus lost many of his.

  2. Don Benson April 7, 2015 at 8:43 pm #

    At first I thought this was a rather late offering for April 1st but then the light dawned: this is what our struggling CofE has been waiting for all along. Full bodied,extrovert and fun, fun, fun; what better example could there be of the kind of self sacrificing clergy person who will win the hearts of the masses? There’s no embarrassment here, self ridicule will be no barrier in her quest ‘by all means to entertain (oops, ‘save’) some’.

    So yes, I’m impressed and I can hardly wait for the nationwide tour (oops, ‘crusade’): Vic the Thick will appear at a church near you. You’ve seen her on Gogglebox, you’ve seen her at that wedding on YouTube, now see her in the flesh; if you die laughing your friends can book her for free at your funeral (she does a cracking funeral).

    I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry… now HE is a real comedian. (Must lay off the sauce)

    • Ian Paul April 8, 2015 at 8:33 am #

      Don, I don’t really understand what has provoked this unhelpful sarcasm by way of response.

      Kate is articulating a clear case for Christian leaders to have involvement in popular media in an authentic way—something other than bishops on Radio 4.

      And I really don’t understand what justifies descending to insults. Do you think this is appropriate or helpful?

      Do you have something intelligent and substantive to say on the issue?

      • Don Benson April 8, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

        Ian you are a tad harsh here but I shall take it on the chin.

        Kate Bottley is clearly a marmite sort of person eliciting either fondness or the opposite depending on what kind of person is on the receiving end. There’s nothing wrong with this; one could say the same about St Paul but no Christian could deny his utter dedication to his Lord and Master and his effectiveness as a witness to Him.

        My experiences of Kate’s media contribution are from a very few minutes of Gogglebox and then the wedding flash mob, to which you gave a link, and I restricted my ‘offering’ to how I felt about these two things. I chose irony precisely to avoid a negative rant but I accept that any humour escaped you. I dislike personally cruel comments (not least online comments) but would have hoped that what I said would have been taken as banter rather than offensive, especially on behalf of someone who delights in her extrovert personality.

        As I see it, Gogglebox is not serious sociology; its purpose is surely for the audience to have a good laugh at the comments of the characters, some of whom set themselves up as not being at their sharpest moment (hence my ‘Vic the Thick’) but it’s a mutual laughing at oneself because the audience know that they too might not look so bright in that situation. I’m sure Kate would understand this.

        The wedding video is different. This is a solemn moment in the House of God and I simply do not think what was done was appropriate. Indeed I was clearly not alone. I have a lot of experience of weddings; some are a riot at which the celebratory imbibing appears to have started rather early, others are quieter but just as joyful and these are the ones where you sense that God has a space and is not squeezed out entirely. There is a time for quiet dignity and a time for more raucous enjoyment and I think Kate got it wrong. The reception would have been the right time and place. It’s not the end of the world but should not thought be given regarding the pressure this might put on other clergy to allow similar exuberant events at weddings – to the extent that some might view it as an essential high point?

        Regarding the general question of the Media, this highlights the lack of a coherent cultural norm to which everyone in our nation can relate. It simply isn’t there any more, and what makes clear sense to one grouping is gobbledegook to another. This is not only generational as once might have been the case; it is divisions so deep in economic circumstances, educational attainment, race and geographic location that we might as well all be speaking completely different languages. In this context Christians who have a chance to communicate their faith via the Media can only expect to touch a part of the audience depending on their own personality and the gifts which God has given them. But talents should not be buried. Insincerity is the great sin because it comes over as clear as a bell. Dullness is the second great sin and ‘Today’ listeners know all about that.

        More generally I see the promotion of the Gospel as a hard slog, especially at present, and I see little mileage in attempting to make yourself popular or be loved by everyone as a ‘way in’; it simply doesn’t work, isn’t a reflection of Biblical reality and sets you up for a fall.

        Time simply doesn’t allow any more substantive comment Ian so further apology for a far too general comment.

  3. Neil Coleman April 8, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    Well done Kate! She has been a good commentator who is full of authenticity but obviously motivated by the gospel. We love watching Gogglebox and feel Kate is doing a good job in representing Christ-motivated reactions and critique of popular culture and news events, whilst knowing Channel 4 are not going to include much that we would really like to hear expounded on a systematic theology. Jesus talked with humour and playfulness at times with irony without descending into cynical critique (until the Pharisees got put in their place face to face) so I think Kate’s comments have been personable and salty enough whenever I’ve seen her. She has got out of the saltshaker and broken down one aspect of the false sacred/secular divide previous generations of Christians in the public square have got boxed into.

    • ChrisBishop April 9, 2015 at 11:00 am #

      I think that David Shepherd and Don Benson have nailed it.

      In the long term, what Kate Bottley will be known for in the media and public mind, is the flashmob wedding not the message of the gospel. My guess is that people may now ask ‘can my vicar do the same for my wedding?

      A trendy vicar perhaps trying to be ‘with it’?

      The media loves this.

  4. Kate Wharton April 9, 2015 at 8:27 pm #

    Ian & Kate, thanks for this interview. Really interesting stuff. I’ve done a fair bit of radio stuff (mostly local; & Premier; plus Radio 2 with the lovely Clare Balding) & really enjoyed it. No telly, thankfully (the prospect terrifies me!) but I’m glad some fabulous & ‘human’ vicars are called to do so. I’ve never watched Gogglebox so can’t comment directly but it seems to me great to have someone showing that vicars are just normal people! I have watched the flashmob video, it’s great fun – I wouldn’t do it myself cos it’s just not me, but again, why not – the couple certainly seemed to be having fun! We Christians are not all the same, thank God, & neither is the rest of the world – so how great for them to see that Christians too come in all types (of personality, gender, interest, gift, viewpoint etc) – all the better for them to think ‘maybe that God stuff might be for me too’. Kate I don’t know you personally but I’m so sorry to hear people have said crass & unkind things (in other places but also even above!). Please go on doing what you’re called to do & gifted to do, & many people will see Jesus through it! Someone once said to me “gosh I can’t believe you’re a vicar. You’re too colourful to be a vicar.” Here’s to all the colours being themselves!

    • David Shepherd April 10, 2015 at 8:54 am #

      Kate,

      I’m with you in celebrating how media visibility can become a vehicle for demonstrating the immense diversity that exists among the clergy. Perhaps, people will view this as reflective of the wider church: that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ mould into which all who are drawn to Christ must fit.

      At the same time, however much it humanises the clergy (and if I hear it described as ‘incarnational mission’, I will lose my rag) discovering that Kate hates our Eurovision entry, loves to watch ‘Take me out!’ and was shocked by Davina McCall’s kiss on Comic Relief does little to explain the relative merits of Christ.

      If the response to this is that broadcast media place strict limits on this kind of engagement, it only serves to endorse my earlier point about the tacit censorship of those who contradict the dominant cultural orthodoxy (including mandatory hero worship of Claire Balding).

      Nevertheless, I comment on this blog because it’s an open forum for Christian discourse and respectful debate.

      It grates upon my sense of fairness when I hear the less than wholly affirmative, but carefully argued comments here being glibly described as ‘crass & unkind things (in other places but also even above!)’

      It’s far from obvious how a lack of complete affirmation here can be ranked alongside crass and unkind comments elsewhere, but perhaps you can explain.

  5. Kate Wharton April 10, 2015 at 9:52 am #

    Thanks David. Actually I wasn’t referring to your comments, but Don’s, which I thought were unnecessarily harsh. And I think it’s ok that not everything Kate says explains the relative merits of Christ. I’m all for discourse and debate!

  6. Elaine Wykes April 12, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    Wow. So many big words. All I see is that Kate is using whatever means the world makes possible to convey the message of the Gospel, knowing she is a human being reaching out to other human beings in God’s name and carrying out her ministry in an ever changing world.

    I ask this – if Christ had the benefit of digital media to spread the message ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ – WWJD? I like to think he might have used the opportunity to its full potential.

    This topic is not as deep as some of you are making it. It’s actually very simple indeed. No real theological debate is needed here. IMHO.

    • David Shepherd April 12, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

      The antidote for over-complication is not to glibly oversimplify everything.

      Your argument is as facile as claiming that the gospel is indistinguishable from the Beatles’ song: ‘All you need is love’.

      I doubt that the Fab Four ever accepted this solemn charge of God-given ministry:

      ‘In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:

      Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.’ (2 Tim. 4:1 – 5)

      Correct, rebuke and encourage. This is the task of public ministry, however much patience and charm is exercised and whatever the chosen medium.

      Absent any of these from a minister’s public persona and it just becomes an abdication of priesthood in pursuit of high-profile celebrity. It really is that simple.

  7. Bob Stephens April 13, 2015 at 2:52 pm #

    Ian,
    I have a worry about the media, it is a very cruel medium and how you present yourself or even your opinions are noted and very often taken out of context,. What concerns me is that people think that we are all like the ministers we see on TV, Kate is one of the more obvious ones or the Rev Sally Hitchiner, Chaplin to Brunel University often on the BBC presenting a review of the papers gives us another view of a more moderate media vicar, but whose media world is different to Kate’s. Both appear on the media regularly but in different contexts and that gives people a chance to realise that vicars like people are very different in make up and it is a bad thing to try and make them like what they see on the media.

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