West Hampstead churches a testament to a new age this Easter

THEY might not seem like your first choice of Easter cinema venues but two churches in NW6 are transforming their image with state of the art audio-visual equipment and controversial film showings.

St Mary with all Souls Kilburn and St James West Hampstead, which together make up the churches’ NW6 group, are bucking the trend of the older church goer by using social networking and technological advances to appeal to younger people in their parishes.

This Good Friday, as well as the traditional Good Friday liturgy, Father Andrew Cain is trying out something a little more divisive – a showing of the notorious, religious epic the Passion of the Christ.

Fr Cain said: “People actually asked us to show it, I have seen it before and I know that it is a very challenging piece of film.

“I am going to be there for the film, so that I am available for people to chat to afterwards, to discuss it.

“It will be very much part of our Easter service, it will be an act of worship on Good Friday.”

While the challenging showing may not suit many a congregation, the NW6 churches both have very young demographics – with St Mary attracting a large number of family groups and St James being attended mainly by young professionals.

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As a result Father Cain has focused on using modern technology to engage with his social-media-savvy flock.

The glass screen that will show Good Friday’s blockbuster entertainment is one of only three of its kind in the country. It is transparent when not in use so the view of the stunning Victorian architecture of the church is preserved – but when it shows the film it turns opaque.

Fr Cain said: “We have 240 children that come regularly to the Sunday school at St Mary – 80 each week. Plus children at our church school use interactive whiteboards all the time.

“Services can be very oral and verbal for them and for adults, it is easy to zone out – we wanted to move away from that and engage more visually.”

So the church now shows gospel readings as videos, uses power point presentation for campaigns and highlights issues using YouTube clips.

St James in West Hampstead has other unique demands – here the congregation is young, busy and questioning with many that have come to faith in the past five years.

It is here that social networks have come into play. The church has its own Facebook page, regularly updated website and even tweets under the Twitter name @churchNW6 – all of which it uses to engage with the community as a whole, many of whom don’t come to church regularly.

Among other things the reverend tweets about is keeping chickens in Kilburn and as a result he says he has become the BBC One Show’s “chicken go-to-guy”– most recently for a segment about Easter chicks.

But it also serves a religious purpose telling people what services and events are happening at the church and spreading academic articles from the religious twitter streams the reverend follows.

“I even have big conversations on twitter with people who only come to church at Christmas,” Fr Cain said. “I have also gone for coffee with a couple of people who do not go to talk about religion, who don’t go to church and I would not normally have met.

“It’s a very simple, very immediate tool.”

Fr Cain sees nothing new in the way his church is adapting to the ways of the modern world, tweets and all. To him innovation has always been part of the church’s role in society.

He said: “In the past the church has always lead in the arts, in science, in innovation. So if we don’t innovate we lose out on that important position as leader. It just makes sense.”