By Kirsty Topping
A MINISTER is filling his church with dry ice, lights and rock music on Saturday nights in a bid to attract younger worshippers.
The Reverend Scott Burton has even installed “pray stations” for the late-night worship sessions at St Matthew’s, Perth.
Saturday night revellers – including stag and hen parties – are welcomed in to the 140–year-old, stone-built church for a taste of sermon-free spirituality.
To complete the effect, songs by artists such as Antony and the Johnsons and Trent Reznor are played in the background.
The Rev Burton decided to throw the doors open on Saturday nights between 8-10pm when he realised some worshippers dislike traditional sermons.
He said: “A traditional service has people sitting and listening to my thoughts but these sessions give people a chance to express their own thoughts instead.
“Regular church members, along with passers-by such as theatre goers, stag and hen nights, tourists and teenagers are welcome to enter our open wide building and interact with our ‘pray stations’ located around the sanctuary.
“Atmospheric music, subdued lighting, candles or incense and a variety of images and are installations all work towards creating a relaxing reflective ambiance, inviting people to engage, though without any pressure to do so.
“Scripture, prayers and Christian education are all very much incorporated, but very much in a ‘take it or leave it’ kind of way.
The “pray stations” are quiet spots in the church where visitors can stop and reflect. Some involve laptops showing a biblical quotation or video. Others can be as simple as a candle which can be lit to remember a loved one or a pile of pebbles which can be arranged in a cairn.”
Traditional church music has also been ditched for the Saturday night openings with hymns giving way to “secular” musicians with “spiritually-laden” lyrics.
American singer Tori Amos has three songs on the St Matthew’s playlist, including “Crucify”. “Everything I do” by Bon Jovi and “What is Love?” by Take That are also regularly played. Johnny Cash’s cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” is popular, along with “Hope There’s Someone” by Mercury Prize-winning Antony and the Johnsons.
The atmosphere is heightened by lighting, smoke effects, and projections.
The Rev Burton said: “I found it’s all a bit like going to a museum or art gallery and absorbing the creativity and inspiration of the works on display, at your own pace and in your own way. People like to wander and take things in.”
He said that as many as 40 people come into the church on Saturday nights.
Rev Burton has also found that by opening the church’s door he has helped a number of people.
He said: “Inevitably there is a missionary aspect to having the church open for such purposes at these ‘out of hours’ times too. A church door, wide open, at a time usually associated with weekend entertainment, has surprised and enthused so many of those who have looked in from the outside.”
Billy Cascarino-McLeish works the technical wizardry at the church on Saturdays. He said: “The first thing that hit me was that the atmosphere was unlike anything I had come across before. It was the first time that I can truly say that I felt God was sitting with me.”
St Matthew’s Top Ten
Heavy in my Heart – Anastasia
Everything I do – Bon Jovi
Hope there’s someone – Antony and the Johnsons
Crucify – Tori Amos
What is Love – Take That
Take me as I am – Mary J Blige
Hurt – Johnny Cash
Playboy Mummy – Tori Amos
Oceans – Tori Amos
Angels – Robbie Williams