Wedding dance flash-mob, viral vicars and the law

As Digitalnun noted in her blog, “unless you have been living in monastic seclusion for the past few days, you will know about the excitement generated by a Church of England vicar’s flash-mob dance routine”.  Quite so, but for those unaware of this news story, Vicky Beeching’s piece in The Independent contains a link to the video and summarizes the event:

“The viral video of Reverend Kate Bottley, a young and energetic vicar from Nottingham, set the social media world alight for exactly this reason [i.e. how to make religion interactive]; a wedding ceremony attended by people unaccustomed to church or religion was suddenly punctuated by a surprise flash-mob. Kate and the couple unexpectedly broke into a choreographed dance, followed by more of more members of the congregation”.

She continues:

“In this digital age, participation has become our natural way of life; the internet has moved from “1.0” to “2.0” and the formerly passive experiences of reading a static webpage of text has exploded into a multi-directional, fluid exchange of views and user-generated content. We don’t just consume or passively receive information any more; we comment back, we contribute, we change things. We aren’t just receivers; we are shapers of the digital environments we inhabit.”

At this point, it is necessary to clarify a few definitions, courtesy of Wikipedia, which may not be obvious to all [1] [including Frank and myself]:

A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.  Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.

Web 2.0 describes web sites that use technology beyond the static pages of earlier web sites.  . . . . . . A Web 2.0 site may allow users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where people are limited to the passive viewing of content.

A viral video is a video that was created and becomes popular through the process of Internet sharing, typically through video sharing websites, social media and email.

From here, the focus of the discussion diverges, from the straightforward reporting of events as on the BBC site, to Beeching’s analysis of “how to make religion interactive”, and then to Dame Catherine Wybourne’s consideration “Viral Vicars and Roman Restraint”, where she points out that “most Catholic congregational worship is linked to a celebration of the sacraments, there is a certain gravity and purposefulness about it, ‘the noble simplicity’ Vatican II aimed at but did not always and everywhere achieved”.

But what of the law?

Apart from noting a similarity between Gary and Tracy Richardson’s wedding video and the spoof “royal wedding” video made for T-Mobile, (itself based upon “Jill and Kevin’s Big Day”, another viral video from the US), a few legal thoughts sprang to mind:

–        Is it licit within the context of the marriage ceremony?

–        What are the limitations on the music that can be used? and

–        What are the copyright issues?

The choice of music is the easiest to resolve and in the Church of England is specified in Canon B20 Of the musicians and music of the Church.  Although the organist/choirmaster/director of music may advise the minister on the choice of “chants, hymns, anthems, and other settings, and in the ordering of the music of the church”, and the minister “shall pay due heed to his advice and assistance”, “at all times the final responsibility and decision in these matters rests with the minister”. However, under Canon E1 Of Churchwardens, Churchwardens are under a general duty to “maintain order and decency in the church and churchyard, especially during the time of divine service,” which presumably would include the manner in which the flash-mob dance were performed.

Although it does not specifically refer to dancing, the spirit of Canon B 9 Of reverence and attention to be used in the time of divine service is one of participation, requiring that “All persons present in the time of divine service shall audibly with the minister make the answers appointed and in due place join in such parts of the service as are appointed to be said or sung by all present”, and “give reverent attention in the time of divine service . . . .[and] shall have regard to the rubrics of the service and locally established custom in the matter of posture, whether of standing, kneeling or sitting.”

In the case of the Richardson wedding, the music was Everybody Dance Now by C&C Music Factory, followed by Celebration by Kool & The Gang.  The video clip provides a record of the dancing, which was: choreographed; well-rehearsed; and anticipated by about 30 of the 100 strong congregation.

But was the flash-mob dance actually part of the service?  Digitalnun’s reference to “the whole congregation breaking out into dance during the celebration of a sacrament” highlights the issue of liceity – i.e. to what extent does a so-called “flash mob dance” constitute part of the liturgy or more broadly part of the celebration of a sacrament.  While in the Roman Catholic Church marriage was acknowledged as a sacrament at the Council of Trent, there are different views within the Church of England on the interpretation of Article XXV (of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion) on the sacramental nature of marriage;

However, taking the narrower consideration, as it did not appear to comprise any part of the formal liturgy, it could be argued that coming at the end of the service, the dance was no different from any other recessional music.  The Press Release Church of England wedding web hit on the CofE website and the reported support of the bishop suggest a degree of official approval.

Copyright is addressed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, and from 1 January 2011 some of the exemptions that were applicable to not-for-profit organizations such as churches were removed.  The complexity of copyright in relation to weddings is evident from the overview on the web page of Church Copyright Licensing International, (CCLI), which indicates that whilst a PPL Church Licence and a PRS Music for Church Licence [2] are not required for acts of worship/weddings/funerals, a Church Copyright Licence (CCL) may be needed, and also a Limited Manufacture Licence (LML) when the service is recorded, whether by professionals or amateurs (i.e. using mobile phones).  Recording also requires permission to be given by all participants in the service, (musicians, readers etc.) where these are to be recorded. Then there are the issues relating to use on the social media.  Copyright is an area which is currently outside the comfort zone of this blog, yet one in which expert guidance is needed.


The events at St Mary and St Martin, Blyth, raise two issues. Firstly, is when other couples requesting similar events at their own wedding.  Clearly there will be less of the novelty element, but equally they need to balance the element of surprise with a sufficient number of the congregation who are expecting it and are prepared to participate.  Whilst the bride and groom need to prepared to address the logistic problems associated with the delivery of the event, a church will need to be aware well in advance of exactly what is planned, whether this is acceptable, and if it is covered by its existing licences

Secondly is Vicky Beeching’s point about making religion more interactive. This is perhaps a more important issue since it extends beyond the “occasional office” of marriage, to the re-imagining of day-by-day worship within the church.  Referring to the Fresh Expressions movement, Beeching ponders moving from a “front-led, classroom style experience” to a “’church 2.0’  . . . . where leadership is more open-handed and every attendee shapes the experience and collaborates.”

Perhaps deliberately, she refers to the model of “worship services”, since the celebration of the Mass necessarily presents fewer opportunities when the priest is considered to be acting in persona ChristiCanon 1008 CIC and Ominum in Mentum in the Roman Catholic Church, and less prescriptively, Article XXIII. Of Ministering in the Congregation and Canon B12 in the Church of England, although in the CofE, there is a more relaxed approach to the administration of communion.

Similarly, a move to “a far more interactive seating plan” is possible, but governed by the size and dimensions of the existing building, and for the CofE, by the faculty jurisdiction.  Nevertheless, the Ecclesiastical Law Association web site contains numerous examples in which churches were re-ordered to provide more flexible worship arrangements, here.  However, we will leave the matter of the music, the impact of Vatican II &c to another post.

 [1] However, important components of a “flash mob” – “seemingly pointless”, “quickly disperse” – do not the match facts, and perhaps coup de théâtre would be a more accurate, if pretentious description.  Likewise Tim Berners-Lee is said to query whether Web 2.0 is substantively different from prior web suggesting that the term is merely jargon.  At least we are left with the alliteration of “viral video” in combination with “vicar”.

[2] Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL) Church Licence, for playing recorded music; PRS Music for Church Licence for public performance of live music and sound recordings during church activities, [PRS Music was formerly the Performing Right Society)].

One thought on “Wedding dance flash-mob, viral vicars and the law

  1. Pingback: Wedding dance flash-mob, viral vicars and the liturgy | Law & Religion UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *