I’ve had a summer of travelling, visiting many religious building and places (amongst other places), conference going, and not-writing-the-PhD, but one thing that had a lasting impression was an invitation to join a service in the “rock church” in Helsinki when I was there for the “Holy Crap” conference (no, I am not making up the conference title, as my dad thought). The church is called the rock church because it is blasted out of granite rock, which makes it feel a little bit like a cave inside. It also gives it amazing acoustics (this is important for the metal mass).
So I arrived in Helsinki on Wednesday lunch time, walked myself out sightseeing Wednesday afternoon, and sat down in the church on Wednesday evening, not quite sure what to expect. From the first sounds, I was drawn in. It was actually a fairly standard Lutheran Eucharist service, but every ‘hymn’ was played by the metal band. The band were as professional a group of musicians as I’ve ever seen in church (perhaps except for musicians that have been brought in for a concert). For a group of musicians that are regularly attached to the church and perform there every week, I’ve seen nothing like it. They were playing hymns from the Lutheran hymn book (I could at least follow the music if not the words!), but they had all been ‘metalised’. What this entails musically, I’m not entirely sure – I would guess a lot of power chords, and guitar solos written in before the final verse. From the perspective of someone growing up enjoying two of Finland’s exported bands – HIM and The Rasmus – this took me back to being 16. It also felt very much like a concert, given the standard of the music, and my lack of linguistic ability in Finnish.
It seems to me that this is a perfect example of where popular culture meets religion, each on its own terms, but compromising and open to each other. Rather surprisingly, whilst the band were very young (to be so accomplished!) the congregation did not seem to be of a younger demographic than you might see in any church – it certainly wasn’t noticeable anyway. That is, once I had tried to work out who was a conference-goer and who was a regular member of the congregation. The church leaders also were not particularly young. So if this is an attempt to draw younger people into the church, it may not have worked, or it may just show that metal-lovers come from a wide age range. This was the sort of service where you go away feeling that even if you got nothing else out of it, at least you got the musical experience. The sermon wasn’t bad either, just long since it was in Finnish and English for the benefit of the conference goers.