The 'viral vicar' who led wedding dance flash-mob is a great example of how to make religion interactive

Most activity in Church takes place from the front, like an old-school classroom. Isn't it time we mixed things up to embrace spirituality?

Share

Church is usually assumed to be a dull place and attended like the dentist's surgery; only when utterly necessary and for as short a duration as possible. Thankfully there are no drills at church but for many people the rituals, hymns and collection plate can loom as ominously as a root canal.

The viral video of Reverend Kate Bottley, a young and energetic vicar from Nottingham, set the social media world alight for exactly this reason; a wedding ceremony attended by people unaccustomed to church or religion was suddenly punctuated by a surprise flash-mob. Kate and the couple unexpectedly broke into a choreographed dance, followed by more of more members of the congregation. Something about it captured people's hearts; perhaps it was the joy, perhaps the echoes of Sister Act, but for whatever reason the video has snowballed across social, print and TV media.

It made me reflect on the summer solstice, attended by over twenty one thousand people, at Stonehenge last week. We live in a post-Christian nation, yet spirituality is still very much alive and kicking. People flocked to the pagan stones in search of a transcendent experience, with most describing themselves as  'spiritual but not religious'. This huge solstice attendance brings many questions to the doors of established religion. The latest Church of England attendance figures teeter between stabilisation and continued decline. So why aren't these twenty one thousand spiritual seekers beating down the doors of their local parish church instead of driving to Stonehenge for their spiritual kicks?

My hunch is that it has a lot to do with the style of church gatherings. In this digital age, participation has become our natural way of life; the internet has moved from "1.0" to "2.0" and the formerly passive experiences of reading a static webpage of text has exploded into a multi-directional, fluid exchange of views and user-generated content. We don't just consume or passively receive information any more; we comment back, we contribute, we change things. We aren't just receivers; we are shapers of the digital environments we inhabit.

Yet in Church, besides reading words from a sheet or screen and saying hello at a set time of socialising, most activity takes place from the front, led by one or two people. The style is that of an old-school classroom, with seats or butt-numbing-pews facing the leader who stands at a podium. Even schools have (for the most part) abandoned this old classroom model in favour of something with a far more interactive seating plan, so this set up is increasingly alien to a new generation.

Looking at the thousands worshipping at Stonehenge, it was a far more open, collaborative approach to spirituality; way less old-school-classroom and much more "2.0". Colour, energy, creativity and celebration are words that sum up many of the images of the worshippers gathered around those vast stones. Not terms we often associate with solemn religious practice in church.

The great thing about the wedding flash mob and Rev Kate Bottley's courage in leading it, was that suddenly the whole room was swept up into something participatory. They were jolted out of the boredom that can set in during church. It stopped them from texting or playing Angry Birds under the pews and the element of joy, surprise and energy drew them in. They became participating shapers of the experience, not just semi-passive recipients.

So perhaps the model of worship services is something the church can re-imagine. Some are doing this already; the Fresh Expressions movement, for example. But the majority of churches of a Sunday deliver a front-led, classroom style experience that may need some imagination and creativity. I wonder what "church 2.0" would look like, where leadership is more open-handed and every attendee shapes the experience and collaborates. Scary for the leadership as it means relinquishing much control. But if this could become reality, might it bring the Stonehenge spiritual seekers into the doors?

One thing is for sure - Rev Kate Bottley gives us hope that it's possible to snap a congregation out of their boredom by showing them spirituality doesn't always need to be solemn. It can be vibrant, creative and full of surprises. If the pews are going to have anyone left in them in fifty years, we need more like her; perhaps, I hope, we've just witnessed a female bishop in the making.  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London