Drop the camera and relax

Simon Harvey writes,

Would you take a picture or make a video recording during worship?

Kate Bush has just taken a stand against people who might be tempted to use their phones, cameras and tablets at her concerts. She wrote on her website, "I have a request for all of you who are coming to the shows. We have purposefully chosen an intimate theatre setting rather than a large venue or stadium. It would mean a great deal to me if you would please refrain from taking photos or filming during the shows."

And she's not alone. A show at a west end theatre was recently halted when an audience member was caught filming the scene, which included naked actors.

Pocketable technology can now deliver great pictures for almost-zero cost. But do we really need to document every experience with an image to prove to ourselves that it happened? The unwritten etiquette that governs the behaviour of most of us has changed very quickly. It would have been unthinkable to carry an old-fashioned 35mm film camera to a restaurant to take a shot of a meal but now that the phone is in your hand, why not snap your burger and share it with your friends?

I love my phone. Now, of course, I know that it's an inanimate piece of technology that will be tossed aside in a few months when I get an even better model. I understand that it can't love me back. I have no relationship with it. But practically, the attention I give it borders on the obsessive. I confess I'm an addict.

I recognise the way that it can steal my attention from the moment. I can find myself slipping into distraction, rather than paying attention to what's right in front of me. That's a problem, especially if what's in front of me is a person. It's a big problem if they're talking to me at the time!

In a recent staff meeting, we noted how it's not so unusual these days to see people pull out phones and tablets to take pictures in the midst of baptisms, weddings and funerals. We see it in schools too - how children performing for their parents are confronted with dozens of phones and iPads, held high by adults who are smiling at the screen, not at their sons and daughters.

This isn't an age-specific problem. At a baptism service, more than once we had to politely ask a camera-wielding older couple to sit down (and even then, we found that the iPad that one of them held above their head blocked the view of a couple of dozen people behind).

I've even conducted funerals that have included people with cameras prowling around the coffin, during the service. It makes me wonder who would actually watch the results.

Brides, at least, are striking back and increasingly following Kate Bush's example. At our last wedding in church, the bride asked me to be very clear to the congregation before the service started: Please put your phones and cameras away, relax and enjoy every moment of the service. It was refreshing this week for me to see the work of their really good professional photographer, who captured the wedding with fabulous pictures. None of them feature anyone holding a phone. It's something I'd like to encourage.

We want people to enjoy worship. We're glad when they want to take pictures of a special family occasion that will help them remember it. But the best memories of worship are those you make when you're actually worshipping. Even discreet photography stops you doing that.

And if your loved ones get a bit annoyed when they want your attention and you're too focussed on your phone to notice, might God not feel the same way?

I'd love to know what other people think. Is it mean to discourage filming during worship? Or do you find yourself put off from worshipping when you know that you're caught on camera? Send me your thoughts at simonharvey@stmaryislington.org.