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Dancing in the aisles

28 June 2013

IT IS not yet the silly season. For one thing, Parliament is still sitting, debating gay marriage, among other topics. For another, the General Synod has yet to pronounce on women bishops. Perhaps because of these, the most talked-about church story this week was the wedding video from Blyth, in Nottinghamshire. In it, the Revd Kate Bottley initiates a flash-mob disco dance, joined, in the end, by the whole congregation, bar the two elderly aunts who left in the middle. Questions have been raised on Twitter and elsewhere whether this was a correct interpolation into divine service: "I hate to be off-message, but I really don't think that flashmobs in the liturgy are a good thing;" the Church's "job is not to connect with people simply for the sake of it, but in order to engage people with the message of the gospel;" "Cringeworthy, inappropriate, just felt all wrong."

Criticising services is, of course, an enjoyable pastime for many. To a judgemental eye, schooled by The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, a service can rate as very poor entertainment: sermon weak, music poor, readings inaudible, that sort of thing. The clergy often invite criticism, going off-piste in the liturgy, failing to respect, or overdoing, the traditions of the place. There are many factors that can exclude members of the congregation from the central drama of the service, turning them from participants into observers.

To introduce any form of congregational movement into the marriage service was, by this score, risky; yet it was what was needed to engage those whose attention might have been slipping, and to involve them in the couple's happiness. Wedding officiants will have to be on their guard against future would-be YouTube stars. But the fact that the Blyth wedding dance was good-hearted, energetic, and popular with the congregation ought to silence the critics. After all, a typical liturgy has people standing up at various intervals, but goes no further. Why not give them something to do while they are on their feet? 

'Losing can happen'

IT IS Wimbledon season. The first day's play produced an example of good sportsmanship which will be hard to beat. Tennis players are renowned for their fanatical desire to win: it is an essential part of the mind-games they play on court. It was thus a pleasure to hear Rafael Nadal reflecting on his defeat by the 135th seed, Steve Darcis. "I know that losing can happen, and it happened. That's all." He declined to blame an injury, instead praising his opponent. "He deserves not one excuse." Magnamity in defeat is harder, and therefore more laudable, than graciousness in victory.

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