Kate Bottley, who trained at St John’s five years or so ago, has been getting her fifteen (or more) minutes of fame as a video of her leading a ‘flash mob’ dance routine at a wedding she was conducting. If you haven’t seen it yet, enjoy!
Predictably, there has been a range of reactions. From what I can gauge, the overwhelming responses have been positive—though of course there have also been the ‘shocked of Canterbury’ responses too. ‘How improper!’ But it seems to me there are some important things to learn from this.
For one, the video suggests that church can actually be fun! This might seem like a trivial point, but in fact it is deadly serious. One of the two main reasons people give for leaving church is that it is dull and boring. As a lifelong churchgoer, and having been ordained nearly 20 years, I have a lot of sympathy with this. On the rare occasions when I have tuned into the Sunday Service on Radio 4, I have found it for the most part dull, dull, dull, and turned off. The last really high profile church service to catch the attention of the nation was William and Kate’s wedding. And what was the lasting impression (apart from the obvious)? That church services are stuffy and boring. Boring liturgy, boring sermon, dull prayers.
Whatever other impression we have from the New Testament, one thing is clear: being with Jesus was never dull! You wouldn’t believe that from some of the ways we do church. How on earth have we managed to make following Jesus seem dull or predictable?
Secondly, I think the flash mob wedding makes some interesting connections and breaks down some barriers. It breaks down the barriers between the solemn and the celebration. It breaks down barriers between the timeless and the timely. Importantly, it breaks down barriers between the culture of ‘church’ and the culture of the contemporary world, which is no bad thing.
Of course, as many have commentated, the whole media event is addressing stereotypes which are actually a long way from the reality of how church actually is in many local congregations of many different traditions. When I was in ministry in Poole, I remember one of those on the fringe of our church saying ‘This isn’t like the experience of church I grew up with’, and there are many lively, engaging, connected congregations around. (That’s why I though Vicky Beeching’s comment about what we can learn from druids and such was just rather silly and off the mark.) BUT the perception that church is dull, out of date and irrelevant is there in the public arena, and it does need addressing.
As others have pointed out, this was just a three-minute clip from the service, and we have little idea from this what else was going on. Watch the interview with Kate and the couple, Gary and Tracy, on the Breakfast Show to learn more. (I will embed it if someone can show me how!)
When I watched this, I was impressed with how aware Kate was of the danger of misinterpretation, and although there was little opportunity to raise questions of faith, Kate communicates well the importance of other aspects of the service. But I was also struck by both the awareness of the issues on the part of Gary and Tracy. Even more, it was really clear that Kate and the couple seem to have developed a good relationship and shared understanding of what was going on.
A high profile event, a positive media impact, a message that church is fun and relevant—and all undergirded by some strong and responsible pastoral relationships.
What’s not to like?
(Andrew Brown adds his ever-so-slightly-cynical comment here.)