Melodies or Mayhem

4th March 2024

When you put yourself forward for ordained ministry you have to attend a Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) – a three-day selection process where you are being watched and assessed by 6 selectors at every moment when you are outside of your room. It is rigorous, demanding and exhausting. Alongside formal interviews there are tests, pastoral problems to write letters about, and presentations to give which involve chairing and facilitating a group discussion.

When I attended my BAP I chose as my subject, ‘Music to die for?’ I discovered the top ten tracks of music being requested at crematoria for funerals and thought it would be interesting to consider if they could be played in a church setting. By the way, the then top three tracks were, (1) Smoke gets in your eyes by the Platters (1959), (2) Highway to Hell by ACDC (1979) and (3) My Way by Frank Sinatra (1968). I have heard recently that ‘This Girl is on Fire’ by Alicia Keys (2013) has had more than one playing up and down the country.

Are they in good or bad taste was the question and would you allow them in a parish church? We had a good a lively debate and I was selected which probably said more about the process I followed rather than any views that were shared on the substantive issues.

This issue about what happens in a church or holy settings is one we face today in our Gospel passage from John when Jesus overturns the money-changers’ tables and cleanses the Temple. What was Jesus doing and what provoked such a reaction?

In the light of this, I wonder what Jesus would have made of the recent events held at Canterbury Cathedral and others, including Winchester Cathedral which have been venues for themed 90s silent discos? At Canterbury over 3000 tickets at £25 per head were all sold within an hour giving revellers the chance to dance in England’s oldest cathedral to the sounds of the Spice Girls, Vengaboys and Eminem. It raised over £75,000 plus the drinks and other refreshments on offer.

Of course it provoked a severe backlash from protesters both beforehand and on the night – they even used a Bible passage in a letter to Justin Welby writing, “It will not bring young people closer to Christ, rather it will send the message that Christ and his church, and all the truth, beauty and goodness it has to offer, are unimportant. That entertainment deserves our attention more than God. That Christians do not take their faith or their holy places seriously… make the cathedral a house of prayer once more‘.

The dean, as diplomatic as ever, responded “Our 90s-themed silent disco will be appropriate to and respectful of the cathedral – it is categorically not a ‘rave in the nave’ – but I appreciate that some will never agree that dancing and pop music have a place within cathedrals.”

Of course there are different rules that apply to parish churches than to cathedrals but nevertheless it does raise some interesting and knotty problems. We welcome classical concerts but why not these things, especially if they are silent? How far would we go? I heard recently of a vicar who had installed a facility at the back of his parish church which was known colloquially as the ‘Rector’s Bar’ and served alcohol at any function that they held!

I don’t pretend to have any real answers but it is something we will consider together during our Sunday talk.

Revd Paul