The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

How Dolly's show echoes the church at its best

Dolly PartonglastoThe church could learn a thing or two from 68 year old Dolly Parton's triumphant performance at Glastonbury says Rev Suzanne Cooke.

It seems that no self respecting city, trendy village or field in the middle of nowhere is without its own summer festival these days.  Who knows if the recent popularity for camping or ‘glamping’ has sparked the rise in festivals or in fact whether the rise in festivals has encouraged the popularity of camping – who can say?!  But the fact remains that despite the ever growing number of festivals vast numbers of people are spending hundreds and hundreds of pounds on tickets to spend around 3 days camping in a field, with no guarantee of good weather, to see selection of today’s big news and yesterday’s forgotten heroes. 

Of course as Christians we are no strangers to the concept of festival going, Greenbelt (despite the mud bath of 2012) is going strong, with a new venue and strong emphasis on music. 

Glastonbury is one of our biggest and most successful festivals and this year like others in the recent past, saw an eclectic line-up.  Metallica an 80’s heavy metal band headlined on Saturday evening and Dolly Parton (really who’d have thought it!) drew the biggest crowd for many years on the Sunday.  She has since gone on to cement her place in the hearts of the British public by agreeing to adopt a dog that was abandoned by its owners on the festival grounds. 

I have to admit that I am slightly baffled as to how she has managed to become such an unlikely pop sweetheart.  In an interview earlier this week she said she believed people saw her as a kind of, ‘big sister, cousin or aunt’ and that they had known her so long they felt ‘comfortable’ with her.   Maybe so, but what might the phenomenon of Dolly Parton appearing at a cutting edge festival like ‘Glasto’, and being overwhelmingly warmly received, tell us about the climate of modern culture at this time?

Well, certainly the popular belief that modernity hates anything that is not new and innovative, that it despises all things ‘old’, might need to be re-thought.  At 68 Dolly Parton certainly isn’t young and the music she offered wasn’t what might normally be thought of as cutting edge.  And just to be clear the audience she attracted was so vast that it would have been nearly impossible for it to have only consisted of those over 50!  Anyway the Twitter crusade the following week, for her to be interviewed on the Radio 1 breakfast show, proved that she had appealed to a younger audience. 

But reading all the comments and newspaper articles about Dolly a few things seem to stand out.  Firstly people seem to really appreciate what they see as her authenticity; despite the rhinestones, wigs and botox (which she jokes about herself), it seems that she is perceived as someone who performs from the heart and as a performer knows exactly how to deliver a good show.  Despite the window dressing it appears that here is a person who is determined to think carefully about putting together a carefully thought through quality performance. 
I don’t know about you but in the past I might have considered Dolly to be a bit of a joke - despite the fact that she has her own theme park in Nashville, Tennessee and is clearly a woman with considerable talent as a songwriter and of some business acumen!  I don’t think I shall be even smirking in the future. 

I’m always on the look out for interesting happenings or cultural phenomena that might help us think differently about how we do church or that maybe reveal to us what we might already be doing well.   For me the more unexpected the happening the more interested I am in it. 

Clearly the organisers of Glastonbury thought that Dolly would be a big hit, but I wonder how many of us might have predicted it?
My sense is that if we look carefully at what Anglican worship does, at its best, it echoes some of what people loved about Dolly at Glastonbury.  I know that sounds like a crazy thing to say, but my sense is that it’s true!  We just need the imagination to see things from a different perspective.

Picture of Dolly Parton copyright Timothy Wildey
Suzanne CookeRev Suzanne Cooke is the priest-in-charge of the Upper Tas Benefice in South Norfolk and the founder of Soul Circus, a regular creative, experimental service supported by the Diocese of Norwich and the Youth Task Force.  You can find out more at www.soulcircus.org.uk

The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users. 
We welcome your thoughts and comments, posted below, upon the ideas expressed here. 

To submit a story or to publicise an event please email: web@networknorwich.co.uk