Silent Disco at the Cathedral

I called at Blackburn Cathedral some months ago. I was meeting friends for lunch and we all agreed that patronising the cathedral’s café was an agreeable prospect. We entered via the main doors and noted that all the chairs were removed. I rather liked this; it gave it an airy, clean look. A chairless space is not very helpful for attending worship though, so I enquired of one of the vergers or caretakers the reason. He informed me that a ‘silent disco’ was to be hosted that very night. Being old and an inveterate avoider of nightclubs in my youth, this was a concept with which I was unfamiliar. Evidently, the attendees are given headphones through which suitable music is piped, and to which each one dances the night away. If discotheques can marry loud music while still allowing some civilised conversation, so much the better, but why is it taking place in Blackburn Cathedral?

Lots of episcopal churches have hosted these events in the past couple of years. A basic web search shows that Chichester, Exeter, Chester, Peterborough, Durham- even Canterbury- have yielded their naves to the delights of silent disco. Chichester’s website lists the benefits:

1: Some of the UK's best 90s DJs playing your favourite pop / commercial / dance / party positive vibes for a feel good experience

2: Chichester Cathedral illuminated like you've never seen it before

3: 100's of like minded 90s fans singing their hearts out whilst wearing state of the art LED headphones

Point number 3 indicates that the event is not so silent as I first imagined, perhaps encouraging an even less tuneful cacophony than the professionally produced sounds which they seek to accompany. Still, my question regarding ‘why’ seems to go unanswered. Doubtless, some simpering cathedral dean will talk about ‘getting more people in’, and a swivel-eyed Canon Treasurer might have a care for the financial rewards such a ‘venue hire’ will attract. I do have sympathy for this; cathedrals are large expanses to maintain and there is clearly demand for large spaces for people to gather. Just as some evangelical fellowships meet in community halls which might host a whist drive the day following and a sewing group the day after that, so a cathedral might become a multi-purpose location. If the cathedral’s pulpit soundly preached the gospel on Sundays, I might be more forgiving of hiring the floor space to a silent disco on the Saturday. Yet how many cathedrals do preach the gospel? Many of their preachers will just twitter on about climate change, liturgical seasons or trite anecdotes. Few congregants will leave a cathedral service feeling their sins are forgiven and Christ has become their living, personal saviour. Much cathedral worship is more concerned with choral pieces and beautifully rehearsed choir anthems than soul-winning and Bible teaching. So let them keep their silent discos; they match their silent pulpits. Their choral evensongs are often just archaic silent discos with congregants mere auditors, listening from afar.

If the church-based silent disco is further evidence of the British Church’s decline, I would suggest it is a symptom, not a cause.

The harp and the strings,

The tambourine and flute,

And wine are in their feasts;

But they do not regard the work of the Lord,

Nor consider the operation of His hands.

Isaiah 5:12