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Historic Cathedrals Across UK Host ‘Tacky, Boozy’ Disco Events, Sparking Protest

By Josh Shepherd
cathedral disco
The historic Chester Cathedral in Cheshire, England, hosted a "silent disco" event on May 6, 2023. (Photo: Facebook)

Tonight, an historic cathedral in northwestern England will host a “punk rock night” where participants will drink cocktails and dance to raucous music. The event is one of several rock and disco events being held in cathedrals affiliated with the Church of England, which have prompted protests by thousands who see the events as “profane.”

The organizer, Silent Discos in Incredible Places, has hosted events with live DJs, LED lights, and fully stocked mobile bars in museums and other landmarks. Leaders of several historic cathedrals view the disco events as a means to attract younger congregants and help cover rising maintenance costs.

But for many of the faithful, holding discos in cathedrals goes too far. They especially objected to a disco held at the nation’s oldest church, Canterbury Cathedral, founded in 597 and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Canterbury Cathedral held a ‘silent disco’ on Feb. 8 and 9.

Despite an online petition launched prior to that event, the sold-out disco at Canterbury Cathedral proceeded as planned. Revelers danced on the graves of saints to hits by Eminem, Spice Girls, and Britney Spears. Ten more events are planned at historic UK churches, including tonight’s punk rock bash at Manchester Cathedral.

Currently, more than 2,700 people have signed a petition to the Church of England, with some signees concurrently holding prayer vigils outside the church disco events.

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silent disco canterbury
The historic Canterbury Cathedral in County of Kent, England, hosted a “silent disco” event on Feb. 9, 2024. (Photo: Facebook)

“Dear Anglican Deans, please stop the discos and make the Cathedrals houses of prayer once more,” the petition states in part. “We the undersigned oppose all desecration of our historic holy places, and especially their use as nightclubs.” 

Covering the Canterbury disco event, Catholic journalist Edward Pentin shared video footage and wrote: “Canterbury Cathedral, where St Thomas Becket was martyred just next to the nave, is hosting a ‘90s Silent Disco’ (in the) Anglican cathedral, originally built by Catholics and consecrated in 1070. Alcohol was also on sale from makeshift bars at the side of the nave.”

London-based evangelical author Tim Dieppe, affiliated with public policy group Christian Concern, called the disco event a “desperate attempt to attract people” that reflects “lost confidence in the gospel.” 

He added: “Christians laboured and gave sacrificially for years to build awe-inspiring places dedicated to the worship of God. Yet today, the Church thinks an alcohol-fuelled rave is the only way to get people into the building.” 

Similarly, Tom Alberto, a former University of Kent student who prayed outside the disco event, told local outlet KMTV that many believers object to the dance events.

“Music that is the very opposite of holy—profane—is being played,” he said. “It’s definitely going to bring people into the church tonight. But they will not be here on Sunday morning.” 

History writer David Christian, who runs the Hidden History channel on YouTube, admitted that he is “not particularly religious” and enjoys dance music. But he said in a video recap, “This just doesn’t sit right . . . (having) partygoers dancing on graves.” 

“To have a tacky and boozy 90’s disco with poorly executed singing and the waving of plastic light sticks is not just anachronistic but insulting,” said Christian. “(T)he current custodians of this transcendent national treasure either do not know or do not care about the weight of history and spiritual magnitude of this place.” 

disco canterbury
“Silent disco” event at Wells Cathedral in Somerset, England, (Photo: Facebook)

Initially, the historic cathedral promoted the disco event and pushed back against critics.

“It is categorically not a ‘rave in the nave,’” said the Very Rev. Dr. David Monteith, dean of Canterbury, in a statement to The Guardian. “But I appreciate that some will never agree that dancing and pop music have a place within cathedrals.”

Since then, church officials have not addressed a growing chorus of criticism. Multiple social media posts with video clips of the disco event at Canterbury Cathedral were quietly removed. 

A spokesperson for Silent Discos in Incredible Places stated to media that the group has “utmost respect” for historic cathedrals. It described silent discos as “an innocent, feelgood event focused on bringing people together to sing the songs they love in spectacular surroundings.”

Yet the group’s social media posts strike a different tone. “THANK YOU Peterborough for coming to boogie with us on the weekend at the spectacular Peterborough Cathedral,” reads one post

Petition organizer Cajetan Skowronski, a medical doctor in Sussex, has written at length about the prayer-centric protests outside cathedral disco events. He lamented the majority of Christians “expressing their approval by their silence,” while noting the prayer vigils have united Christians across multiple traditions. 

“We pray simply because we must glorify God outside His temple when He is profaned within.”

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.



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9 Responses

  1. I’m old enough to remember the song “This disco used to be a cute cathedral” by Steve Taylor. Good call, Steve.

    1. Instantly came to mind from decades ago the moment I saw the headline! Now I won’t be able to get it out of my head:

      “This disco used to be a cute cathedral
      Where the chosen cha-cha
      every day of the year
      This disco used to be a cute cathedral
      Where we only play the stuff
      you’re wanting to hear”

    2. That song immediately came to my mind the moment I read the headline. I’m old too. I saw Steve Taylor perform live in New Jersey in 1985.

  2. The church’s commission is not to attract new people. The church’s commission is to preach the gospel.

  3. reminded of the Muppet Movie, where Fozzie and Kermit come across the Electric Mayhem practicing in a church:

    Fozzie: They don’t look like Presbyterians to me.
    Scooter: Yeah, we’re taking this old church and turnin’ it into a coffee house.
    Janice: Yeah, with real good music and organic refreshments.
    Dr. Teeth: Boy, it’ll be so fine and laid-back and mellow and profitable.
    (Everyone agrees)

    That was in 1979.

    I’ve always chuckled at how precscient that was as I walk through the foyer’s of most US churches w/ their coffee bars, sofas and baskets of ear protection for the impending concert…er…worship.

  4. I’ve learned there’s a class of people that takes great pleasure in desecrating and perverting anything others deem sacred or holy. It’s more than just the iconoclasm of warring sects or religions.

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