Vicar turns to TikTok to reach young people

time:2023-06-04 11:15:00source:NBC News author:Press center3

A vicar has turned to TikTok to reach a younger congregation - running virtual services and answering some of the "big questions of life".

David Sims, 35, started his account in the first lockdown for a bit of fun, but says he now has a "TikTok family".

His @TikTok_Vicar profile has more than 10,000 followers, and he encourages people to ask anything they want.

"That 15-30s is kind of a missing gap and that's in lots of churches, but lots of them are on TikTok," he said.

The father of three holds a virtual service on a Sunday night after his daily sermons at St Thomas' Church, in Aldridge, Walsall.

Here he live streams to hundreds of people, on what Mr Sims likes to call TikTok Church.

The vicar reads Bible passages, communicates with the audience via the message section and sings classic hymns as well performing primary school assembly classics, a trend that comedian Jason Manford has also jumped on.

Mr Sims said he had found that many people who watch his virtual service see that as the church they go to.

"Lots of them have been burnt by church - they've experienced something that hurt them in church," Mr Sims said.

"Some also have children with additional needs and sometimes church can be hard work when you've got kids with additional needs," he added, drawing on his own experience.

"There is still a sense that we're not allowed to get down or doubt and I think TikTok makes that easier because you're a bit anonymous."

Mr Sims who was born in Suffolk and grew up in Norfolk, used to work as a secondary school geography teacher, and wanted to go on to become a head teacher.

He described driving back from work one day and having a "lighting bolt moment".

"I realised that actually I didn't want this anymore. That was a shock," Mr Sims said.

"I already did a bit of leading and preaching in church, and so that was something I felt led to look at."

Mr Sims trained to become a vicar at Trinity College in Bristol, before coming to the West Midlands as a trainee vicar at All Saints Church in Wellington, Shropshire.

He then started at St Thomas' in 2021.

While Mr Sims has praised the anonymity offered by TikTok allowing people to pose questions without fear, it has also opened him up to angry comments and people that "like to bash the vicar".

"Selfishly, that means my views go up because they're talking to me more," Mr Sims said with a smile.

It was recently revealed in the Census 2021 that fewer than half of people in England and Wales describe themselves as Christian - the first time it has dipped below 50%.

But Mr Sims said he saw this as a positive thing - that people weren't simply ticking a Church of England box because they had been christened.

"I think people are thinking more deeply now about the questions of life and death... maybe as a result of the pandemic," he said.

While some people prefer to listen to Bible passages from the comfort of bed rather than a hard wooden pew, being able to be with people in church was something that was sorely missed during Covid-19 lockdowns.

Mr Sims said he now tried to link people who have discovered him on social media with their local church.

"We've had someone who was baptised in Northampton after finding us on TikTok as well as people joining us at St Thomas'," he said.

Whether or not his audiences are religious, Mr Sims has tried to make his account and church as accessible as possible.

At St Thomas', people are welcome to bring their children to sensory rooms, use the food bank or have a chat and a cup of tea.

He said he delivered about three to five bibles a week from people requesting them on social media.

He added that despite not usually wearing his dog collar in physical church, he does on TikTok as it makes people stop and watch.

"It's quite funny seeing a vicar trying to be trendy when he knows he's not really," he said.

"It's such an easy thing to do, I've been chatting to some of my clergy friends - if you've got a phone you can do it, people want to talk to you, people want to talk to you about these big questions."

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