Dancing to heaven? Mob dance wedding and the liturgy.

This is a video of an English wedding. Not that there are so many weddings these days in England. Especially not in a church. But here it is, cutting edge stuff. A couple wanting to marry after 11 yrs living together, in church,people joined in, they seem happy.

Yet this troubles me. Troubles me greatly. Am I just a kill joy? Is this just too far outside my comfort zone? After all I can honestly say I have never been out clubbing, and the thought of hours of loud music leaves me decidedly unimpressed. Am I just too 'trad', to much encased in my 'English reserve'? Shouldn't I be happy for the reverend vicar that she has brought some joy into people's lives? Wouldn't Jesus have joined in, after all he turned water into wine, didn't He? As the vicar said in a BBC interview, "Jesus's first miracle was at a wedding and God loves a party...I think the right place for joy is in the house of God."

So, is this the 'right place' for a little song and a dance? For all my soul searching and questioning, there is still something else. Something really that grates deep in my being, that says this is profoundly wrong. I would have enjoyed this if it was at the reception, but in the church building, during a sacred liturgy of marriage...it just doesn't fit. I know that this isn't so unusual, browse through YouTube and there are plenty of wedding videos of rocking reverends and bridal parties swinging down the aisles. Its all good fun but... 

 In the end I think it is very simple: this is not liturgy. Different places are for different things: bakery for making bread, swimming pools or swimming, clubs for clubbing... and churches for liturgy. You don't make bread in a swimming pool, and you don't dance like in a club in a church. Its not that baking, or swimming or dancing or liturgy are bad, but there is a 'right time and a right place'. If you make bread in a swimming pool it goes soggy. If you celebrate the liturgy in the middle of a club you get in the way of the dancing. If you go clubbing in a church you stop people being able to pray. 

Compare the goings on in the video with this rather neat summary of what Liturgy is in the Orthodox churches:

“We could take a cue from Orthodoxy, whose priests stand with their backs to their congregation, leading a liturgy that is neither clever nor impassioned, but simply beautiful, like stone smoothed by centuries of rhythmic tides. It’s an austere ritual, in the sense of – there’s nothing new here; it’s sublime, in the sense of – creating a clearer view into Heaven. The priest can be any priest. Who he is, what he looks like, how he speaks, and what he thinks matter little. He hasn’t written the service that he officiates. It isn’t about him or his prowess. He’s an interchangeable functionary draped in brocaded robes, obscured by incense, and, as such, never points to himself, a flawed human, pointing ever and only to the Perfection of the Mysterious Divine. That is the role of every priest or preacher – invisibility, while making God seen.”
from the “Daily Devotion” of the Portland, Maine, TV chanel 6.

Another Anglican vicar in his post approving of the mob dance wedding explains liturgy in disarmingly similar words, but with a profound difference.

"A Christian service is about ritual and interaction.  It is not about people sitting down, mindlessly reciting stuff.  It is where all of us together participate in words, music and action.  If this is done well we catch a glimpse of the divine.  The barrier between this world and the next is thinned and we see the glory of God reflected in the love shown within the couple."http://www.thesillyvicar.com/2013/06/some-thoughts-on-that-dancing-vicar-on.html

In the first quotation, the priest is an invisible role, that reveals Christ and the heavenly in a ritual where nothing is new and is austere, ( perhaps ascetic would be a better word). In the second it is all about engaging between people, where novelty and newness dominate, where people are woken up and engage.  According to this vicar

"More and more now people are, after a little encouragement, being creative at their weddings. But most of all I think that doing creative things like this goes to the heart of what a Christian service is all about.  A wedding or a funeral is a way of expressing the unique nature of the relationship, it must speak of that relationship in a way that is beyond words. For a service to express that it must be personal.  There is nothing worse than just doing “the usual”.

This is totally anthropomorphic, human-centred. God, in so far as He is even acknowledged  is simply the facilitator of what human beings need and want. Religion has been emptied of God as God, Lord of Lords, King of Kings and is simply an appendage to the human project. 

Cardinal Ranjith, a Catholic from Sri Lanka, spoke about the same time the video went viral, at a conference in Rome on the Liturgy.  He made this comment: liturgy is “an instrument of communion with the Lord, allowing the Lord to take hold of you, and the Lord absorbing you into his divine mission, and making you experience what a great and privileged moment of communion this is.” His comments are very close to those Orthodox ones. He was speaking partly as a reaction to the state of the liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church over the past 50 yrs. He is reasserting the essence about how Catholics understand what the Liturgy is. This is partly because Catholics have a similar challenge about the way liturgy as we can see the Church of England has.

The Roman Liturgy of the Catholic Church has gone through some pretty horrendous 'modifications' at the hands of clergy and female religious, people being creative and wanting to get into communion with each other. I remember being in a novitiate programme in Dublin during the early 1990s, and experiencing a 'creation spirituality' weekend which included a 'mass'. There was no altar, just a cloth on the ground, with lots of rainbow candles. No cross but some paintings done during the week. We all sat in a circle, the priest wore just ordinary clothes, no vestments. The reading from the psalm was accompanied by  a guy...doing free ballet dancing. Earlier in the week we were invited to dance around the trees in the garden, having prayed to the great spirit of the north, south, east and west. Yes, all very creative and being in touch with something or another but not... Christ centred prayer, not the ultimate communion with God which comes with our intimate relationship, communion, with Jesus Christ, Pantocrator, Lord of All. It is not TRANSCENDENT. 

And just in case you thought that Catholic liturgy had been nicely salvaged by Pope Benedict, who really did do magnificence in liturgy, last Easter Vigil I attended in Jerusalem included elderly nuns dressed in denim skirt and flowery waistcoat skipping down the aisle to one of the psalms, swinging a rather nice golden urn aloft, presumably expressing joy at the waters of baptism. Then the baptismal vows we were to renew were re-written, and when it came to being sprinkled with the waters of baptism by the priest the nuns stopped him and instructed us to all come up and bless ourselves!

This sort of thing drives people to a reaction. Some love it. The Easter liturgy had a lady from the USA in tears she thought it was just so meaningful. On the other hand, another American guy there was just bored to tears, and shook his head at the banality of it all. It ruined Easter for me, and left me feeling deprived, abused spiritually, having witnessed the reduction of something so sacred and special - Easter Vigil just metres away from the place Christ had actually risen - to a delusive shell, that was all so expressive of a few but ended up excluding the rest of us.  Of course, it is all done with smiles and hugs and niceness, but that just makes it worse because then you just feel so mean spirited, and there is no recognition of the violation that has taken place to your soul.

Of course if you don't really get transcendence and the holy and communion with the Divine, if you don't want to focus on the veil between heaven and earth becoming thin and enabling people to glimpse the sheer Beauty of God, then you won't feel spiritually bereft. If you don't have a relationship with Christ then transcendence is exclusive. Church worship will not engage you if you don't relate to Jesus. The temptation for a priest or a vicar at a service such as a wedding or a funeral, where you know most of the people won't have that relationship is to substitute it with something else they can engage with, so that the service, ie. the time spent in church, is 'meaningful'. 

I guess this is the nub of the problem. Vicars with a congregation who don't believe in Christ as true God and true Man and without a relationship with Him are going to be bored if you 'do religion', so you end up trying to hide the religious bit, or hiding it with nice music or a folksy sermon. And if the vicar him or herself doesn't believe this about Jesus then they aren't going to be too happy with transcendent worship either, which ensures that everyone will feel uncomfortable. So... you dumb it down, strip out anything remotely religious and... hey everyone can relax, relate and enjoy. And hey presto, people say how cool the vicar is, and they smile at you, want your opinion, want to talk to you. And so you can say, hey, see, it works... its effective mission, opening the Church up and enabling people to engage. Except that all that is happened is they see you as a nice human being, doing fun stuff DESPITE being a vicar. Its the vicar lite, vicar entertainment, vicar in drag, vicar in pantomime, vicar without God... because the God bit is boring unless you break it down, dilute it, hide it behind the wonderful wedding flowers.

So coming back to the viral video, the vicar in this video is more of a 'vicarette', an eccletically dressed Pam's People (yes, I am showing my age), prancing to entertain, to be seen, to be interacted with in a very voyeuristic way. It hey, look at us,aren't we fun even in our old fashioned vestments, join in with us, let's have fun. The vicar is there as the MC of this humanistic entertainment, the focal point of amusement. And yes people are smiling and laughing, but  out of frivolity, laughing at what is going on, not through a welling up of the Spirit within as the soul glimpses heaven and gazes on the Face of Christ.


  1. Thank you for your words and insight Ian. I am sorry to hear Pascha did not turn out quite so well for you. Were you Catholic before the reforms of Vatican II? I can also understand your disdain for the aberration of the Mass. It doesn't do the beauty of the Latin Rite justice, or God, I think.
    In Christ, your servant
    Michael Ramey

  2. Thanks Michael. In the end I had a great Pascha, just had to wait until early Easter morning when I ended up at Holy Mass in the Edicule itself just as the city of Jerusalem was beginning to stir... God always has a nice surprise for us if we have the patience to wait and not let our disappointments become anger and resentment. :)


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