600-year-old German church organises Taylor Swift Church Service to attract young people, concludes with 'Shake It Off'


Monday, 13 May 2024 (10:48 IST)
Heidelberg's famous Church of the Holy Spirit, a 600-year-old edifice in the town's historic city center, was the scene of an unusual religious service on Sunday, where some 1,200 congregants came together to pray and contemplate (and enjoy) a performance of US pop star Taylor Swift's songs as part of a special liturgy.
Staged under the name, "Anti-Hero — Taylor Swift Church Service," organizers at the Protestant church said the event was conceived to attract younger people, as well as to focus on the profound religious convictions expressed in many of Swift's songs.
Swift — who was not at the service, but rather on her latest European tour — was raised in the American "Bible Belt," and has never hidden her Christian beliefs, often integrating these into her music.
This was what inspired church organizers. "The Church of the Holy Spirit has always been a place of encounter and exchange. That's why a pop-music religious service fits so perfectly," said Heidelberg Pastor Christof Ellsiepen. "With it, we are giving space to the questions and issues that occupy the younger generation."
A contemplation of the gospel according to Tay-Tay
Though the idea might suggest a wild concert atmosphere, it was largely one of quiet devotion.
Parish Pastor Vincenzo Petracca quoted numerous lyrics and traced Swift's biography, emphasizing her attachment to and understanding of Christianity in everyday life.
Petracca acknowledged that Swift's songs are open to numerous interpretations but highlighted the strong Christian — and political — messages she integrates into her songs, which address the subjects of women's rights, racism and gender equality, among others.
The pastor noted, however, that such topics have made Swift the object of criticism in conservative Christian circles, especially among Evangelicals in the US, who have branded her "anti-Christian."
Swift herself has chastised "hypocritical faith" that puts dogma before people. The pastor emphasized as well, that, "her faith knows doubt and inner-conflict."
"Theologically speaking, she points to the justness of God," says Petracca, adding, "For her, faith and action are inseparable."
A congregation moved to tears and dancing in their pews
Throughout both Sunday services — two were staged in order to accommodate the large number of people who attended — the congregation, which was notably younger and and more female than is often the case, were treated to live performances of six Swift songs.
These were performed by Tine Weichmann — a singer from Hamburg and now a professor of popular church music in Heidelberg — and her band. Behind them, a rainbow-colored sign reading, "Everybody is welcome!"
One of the most emotionally stirring moments of the service came when Weichmann and her band performed, "Soon You'll Get Better." Swift wrote the song for her mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer.
The lyrics she penned speak to desperation and the healing powers of medicine — and of prayer: "Holy orange bottles, each night I pray to you / Desperate people find faith, so now I pray to Jesus, too."
Pastor Petracca, who admitted the Church of the Holy Spirit was "built for Gregorian liturgical music and not for Taylor Swift," said of the service, "I stared into beaming faces — and during the song that Taylor wrote for her cancer-stricken mother, many had tears in their eyes."     
But no Swift-themed service would be complete without an uplifting communal outburst of joy, which is exactly what happened when the band struck up the concluding hymn, "Shake It Off!" This brought the entire congregation to their feet, singing and dancing before breaking into furious applause.
"Anti-Hero" was just the latest in a series of "City Church Rock 'n' Pop" services started in 2015.
This June, the Church of the Holy Spirit has invited guests from across Europe to take part in a street dance service that will be held at the same time as its "Church Battle" dance competition.

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