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.
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.
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.
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 @
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.
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