Protests against 'raves in the naves' come from surprising places

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The fuss over "silent discos" held at Canterbury Cathedral has brought some interesting social trends into the spotlight.

It is often perceived to be older generations who value tradition and the ancient history of Christianity in England, while younger people challenge such beliefs and often reject the faith along the way. But it seems this divide is out of date.

While the decision to host an alcohol-fuelled "silent disco" in English Christianity's most significant site has been robustly defended by the Anglican powerful, a small but committed group of younger people have launched a spirited opposition to what they see as an inappropriate use of sacred space.

On the one hand, the Dean of the Cathedral, David Monteith, said in a statement that the event would be "appropriate and respectful" and that "cathedrals have always been part of community life in a way much wider than their prime focus as centres of Christian worship and mission."

Other prominent Anglicans robustly came to his defence. The Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, said on X (formerly known as Twitter): "Let's fill cathedrals with music. When I ministered at Ely Cathedral we organised a 'Rave in the Nave' which was very noisy - and joyful. There was loud praise of the Lord as well as just noise."

He approvingly cited a vicar who believes silent discos are a way of encouraging younger people who might not normally attend church to reflect on God.

However they seem to have been surprised by the resulting backlash on

social media, demonstrated by nearly 2k likes on one report from Catholic journalist Edward Pentin, with most comments staunchly against using a cathedral as a nightclub.

Some in the Church of England hierarchy were dismissive of people upset about these events. Matt Batten, a director of communications in a Welsh Anglican Diocese, said on X: "I've been to see horror films from the silent film era with live music in famous churches and cathedrals but no one kicked off like this ... the snobbery within church culture is ridiculous!"

Fascinatingly however, some of the opposition to these events is coming not from the traditional wing of the CofE or those usually accused of such "snobbery" – though complaints have certainly come from those quarters too – but from what's known as "Gen Z".

The event drew a rain-soaked prayer vigil that included two young atheists who disagreed with the disco. The protest's organiser, Cajetan Skowronski, has launched a petition to prevent a long schedule of upcoming discos in other sacred buildings in the UK.

He told Catholic Unscripted that Canterbury Cathedral had previously been protected from pagan Vikings by Christians who were martyred for their efforts: "It's just so bitterly ironic that a new form of desecration has been thought up by the current Anglican custodians of the cathedral.

"Sacred means to be set apart for God, particularly in this case set apart for the worship of God. That's what the cathedral and the cathedral grounds are for. They've been consecrated for that."

This belief is more accepted in the Catholic Church, as the recent controversy over a raunchy Sabrina Carpenter pop video filmed in a New York Catholic church showed. Even influential US Bishop Robert Barron, best known through his "Word on Fire" ministry, has given his view on the Canterbury case.

Typically moderate and even-handed, Bishop Robert used his Lenten reflection to criticise turning the ancient site of St Thomas Becket's murder into a "bawdy dance hall." Instead, he said, cathedrals are "meant to draw us out of ourselves into the contemplation of a higher world."

It even prompted some Protestants to comment that these ancient buildings should return to the Catholic church. "At this point, despite being a baptised Anglican, I think you should give the buildings back to Rome. You are unfit custodians," said journalist Mary Harrington on X in response to the silent disco news.

The younger age of some of the protesters seems to reflect an interesting trend in society of younger people yearning for tradition and older expressions of the faith. Journalist Esmé Partridge wrote for Unherd: "The boomer rebellion against Christianity and attempts to modernise the church are themselves becoming outdated... young people have had enough of the profane; now, more and more are seeking the sacred."

Catherine Warr, a young historian, said on X in response to Bishop Inge's comment supporting "raves": "You don't speak for my generation of Christians, and from my own experience, Gen Z Christians are some of the most traditional and conservative when compared to Millennials; your reign is over, dude. People desire real faith, meaning, and tradition in a meaningless world."

According to Peter Harris, the reason for this is sociological: younger generations rebel against older sensibilities. The "boomer" generation that rebelled against Christianity and tradition in their own day might revel in activities like cathedral discos, but today's young adults do not: "Whereas cavorting in a cathedral to Eminem is Generation X's subversion of choice, for Generation Z it is to seek and honour the sacred," he argues.

These changes could be just the natural pendulum swing of generational tension. But the extent of the secularisation of England and the West in general has been unknown for millennia. Are younger people observing the effects of all but completely ejecting Christianity from the public sphere, and yearning for what has been lost?