CLUBS / Lord of the dance: Rave in the Nave is packing them in to St Margaret's Church, Uxbridge. Emma Cook applies God to modern dance culture

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The Independent Culture
Gone are the days when church discos were synonymous with orange squash, the Bee Gees and furtive snogging. The advent of rave culture has changed all that. Now strobes and techno beats are de rigueur for many church events.

It's Sunday night at The Nave, St Margaret's in Uxbridge, Middlesex and Communion is in full progress. This is no ordinary service. Most of the pews have been removed. Billowing dry ice obscures a large wooden crucifix full of nails, surrounded by flashing lights and television screens. Video screens 8 ft across project obscure messages: 'The Time Has Come', 'Can You Feel It?' Four mixing-desks at the back of the hall pound out hardcore techno - the hundred or so congregation dances to the beat. Reverend Alastair Cutting, looking out of place in a traditional flowing gown, passes among the crowds to administer the bread and wine, accompanied by the hypnotic ambient beat of The Orb's 'Little Fluffy Clouds'.

At first glance, the smoke- filled hall looks like any normal rave. Yet, despite the usual ingredients such as acid house rhythms, sweating faces and flashing visuals, something is missing. Perhaps it's the absence of dubious young punters asking if you're 'on one' or 'sorted'. 'The ecstasy doesn't come in tablet form here,' assures Mr Cutting, which may explain the lack of apparent hedonistic pursuit this evening. In a religious environment, rave music suddenly seems respectable and sanitised.

Parents drop off their children at the church gates, safe in the knowledge that the only coke they'll consume will be in cans. Two teenagers sit near the refreshment bar - selling tea, coffee and soft drinks. 'I'd like to get to a hardcore rave, 13-year-old Charlene says wistfully. 'But my parents won't let me.' Her friend agrees. 'They think it's full of drugs. I feel left out, but this is the nearest I'll get to a proper one.'

The Reverend's rave worship evenings began last year as part of a programme of alternative events (including a series of talks and lectures such as 'What makes God laugh?', 'Not Just Wacko in Waco' and 'Bishops and comedians'). The past three raves have all had religious themes: 'heaven and earth', 'Pentecost', 'creation and harvest'. Mr Cutting explains, 'If God's any use, he's got to be applied to modern dance culture.

'Religious ecstasy has been talked about since 5OO BC. The drug culture nicked the name from us, now we are redeeming it. The drug Ecstasy is about running away,' he says. 'We're trying to say 'enliven the senses God has given you'.'

With attendance figures for the Church of England in steady decline, this may be a pragmatic way of attracting a younger crowd. But Mr Cutting argues that his services are not an attempt to widen the congregation. 'This is another way of expressing God,' he says.

If the energy and euphoria were in keeping with a normal rave, so was the brief presence of drug-style paranoia. As I was leaving one church raver approached me and exclaimed, 'You're a witch. You're reporting about us for a Coven.' And they say Ecstasy has some serious side-effects . . .

Rave In The Nave, St Margaret's Church, Uxbridge, Middlesex (0895 812193)

Nine o'clock Service, 3 Mulehouse Road, Sheffield (0742 668254)

The World Service, St Luke's, West Holloway, London (081-340 2060)

Holy Disorder, Christ Church, Gloucester (0452 410022)

(Photograph omitted)

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