Participatory ‘Church’ – am I missing something?

A creative and fun Vicar did something creative and fun at a wedding. This has gone viral on youtube and led to said vicar appearing on telly and also led to commentators on such things commentating. Vicky Beeching in particular . . .

The Vicar is Kate Bottley, and as far as I can see is doing a great job. I have not had a chance to watch the video as I am bashing this post out on my mobile and the video is not enabled for mobile devices. I will watch it, I like dancing and I especially like to see a bit of movement in church worship.  I have now watched it – good moves, especially as the vicar boogied up the isle at the end . . . . 😉

In fact, I (and others I know) have frequently led choreographed dance moves from the front of church – (as far as I know it isn’t a ‘flash mob’)- I also became aware that the Harlem Shake was occurring all over the place in churches – yet neither my choreographed dancing, nor these churches having a crack at the Harlem have hit the news like the wedding thing with Kate.

My own moves are part and parcel of what children’s and youth workers do week in week out in churches. Whether it is called leading action songs, choruses or the kids bit – we are up the front, as part of our jobs, creatively trying to engage the congregation (not just the kids!). I don’t think I can remember someone ever saying that what we are doing in leading songs this way is ‘irreverent’ (which apparently, some burks have said to Kate Bottley), what we are doing is worship -but I guess it is only for the kids, so I can loon about at the front of church to my hearts content and to within an inch of a vicars tolerance level because, well – frankly, because I don’t have a collar!

Yes, there, I said it.

Creative and crazy and fun and hilarious stuff is done by children’s workers and youth workers every week as part of their jobs (for some it is a key feature of their personality and they couldn’t do their job without being slightly off the wall), but – as part of her job – a vicar does something a bit creative and different and its headline news.

I walk past people giving their cars a wash, but grab a local vicar in his or her collar and have them wash the car, or abseil down a steeple, or (as a Vicar did in Chichester, put an ice rink in the middle of the church . . . ) and it is NEWS!

I am sorry, but what does this say about Church?  It says to me, if Vicars are doing something it is “happening” and if others do the same, or similar things – well, they are invisible, only lay workers, not ordained people . . . it just strikes me as very weird.  Obviously, doing ministry isn’t about getting in the NEWS, it is about sharing, living, laughing, joyously being a loon for Jesus and bringing good news into peoples lives and into our communities.  Surely though, we are ALL called to do that aren’t we?

Maybe it is just me.

Nobody should be dissing Kate by the way, what she did was great!  It just wasn’t that unusual . . .

The Christian commentators on it, and those looking for “hope” in our churches have jumped on the story though and seem (to me) to have enhanced certain views about what church is that also, I just don’t get!

Maybe it really is me.

Anyway, one of these was about Church being a place where we can participate (Vicky B writing for The Independent) – and I kept seeing the words attendees and congregation and a focus on the building being the church . . . and I felt a bit depressed.  In the CofE we continue to gather what we call “mission statistics” about church attendance on a Sunday – as if this is what determines our effectiveness at making disciples.  I don’t know how many times I have taught and explored faith questions with young people over the last 25 years, but – 1.  The Church is not the building.  2.  Turning up at the building on a Sunday does not make you a disciple of Jesus.  Yet, in our communication with those who are not yet part of a worshiping community our focus continues to be, it seems, “getting them to church” and “how can we increase attendance”.

So, we still have – it seems –

1.  a clerical and hierarchical church (whichever way you cut it, people in collars doing very similar things to people who are not appears to be interesting – not just to other Christians, but also to people looking “in” at the church) . . .

2. a message we reinforce that being “church” means turning up “at”one and being a congregant or an attendee.

Seriously?  IF we keep doing this (and part of it seems to be a response to the interest we receive from those who aren’t Christians – so any positive interest is jumped on) what exactly are we communicating to the next generation?

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2 thoughts on “Participatory ‘Church’ – am I missing something?”

  1. Interesting thoughts, Ali – but you do seem to have a bee in your bonnet about the clergy, or clericalism. Maybe the clip of Kate Bottley caught the public eye simply because here was an example of the Church letting its hair down and having a bit of fun – and that can be initiated by any kind of leader, whether ordained or lay. There are plenty of dull, boring, unimaginative, moralistic, non-creative, judgmental youth workers, Readers, deacons, priests and bishops out there. We need to communicate that the Christian faith – and the Church, as the people through which the Gospel is principally proclaimed – is truly worth discovering by people of all ages. And the leaders in this enterprise can be both lay and ordained. There’s nothing special about either of them. It’s the message they convey, and how (well) they do it, that is special!

  2. No not a bee about clergy or clericalism – but I do have a bee about media representations of what happens in church and who does it. I would love to see greater balance in reporting and greater breadth of those who represent the church being reported. I said in my post that Kate seemed to be doing a great job, what she did was creative and fun – just that in my experience of the church, not that unusual to warrant the kind of attention it received.

    Dull and boring and judgmental people are in every walk of life that is true. However, there is a bias in our own church around training and support for training and how we understand vocation – not withstanding our own recent broad and appealing vocations day! “Recognised” lay ministry continues to not extend beyond Readers and Church Army Evangelists – GREAT though those callings are, we have 40 salaried youth, children and families workers across the Diocese . . . with many churches wanting to employ one, but without the resources to do so – not to mention the 2000 volunteers engaged in this ministry week in week out.

    And no, I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve – and in some cases, not much support from their own churches . . . .

    I agree with everything else you have said above . . .

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