Swedish Lutheran church hosts 'techno Mass'
STOCKHOLM (AP) - Simon Klemenjak does some street dance moves and throws his hands up in the air to cheer on the crowd before he starts singing to the techno beat in front of the altar in the Church of All Saints in Stockholm.
Instead of praying silently and singing gentle hymns, the congregation inside raves to techno sounds in ultraviolet lighting at Friday's "techno Mass" - more like a disco at a youth center than a service conducted by the Lutheran church.
"It was an awesome feeling," an ecstatic Klemenjak, 21, said after his performance of the song "Never Leave Me", which has been independently composed by youth at the church in Swedish capital's hip Sodermalm district.
It is the church's latest attempt at attracting young congregations in a country where attendance at services has been dwindling for decades.
Olle Idestrom organized the Mass for the second time, and says the feedback has mainly been positive.
"There is already a hip hop Mass, there is a rock Mass and a jazz Mass," the 28-year-old priest said. "But it is mainly club music that we listen to and that we like dancing to, so it felt like a natural choice."
And it seems to work.
Unlike at traditional Sunday services in Sweden where several pews regularly remain empty, Idestrom had to turn away worshippers at the first techno Mass in April.
There was extra seating Friday night at the church, which has a normal capacity of 400.
The service started with organ music and choir singing but soon broke into powerful techno beats to loud approving claps, shouts and cheers. People jumped up and danced at their seats while disco lights swirled over the ornamented wooden ceilings.
"It was superfun, it was really kicking, I didn't think it would be this good before I came," said Ella Schwarz, 15. "The church isn't really my kind of thing, but after this it seems like it is great," she said.
Lawyer Caterine Hogman, 46, says she was impressed with the arrangement and thinks it is good the church does something positive for young people.
Over the past 10 years, membership in Sweden's Lutheran church has fallen 13 percent and attendance at regular Sunday services plunged 50 percent to 4.6 million visits last year, worrying the clergy.
The church in Sweden has become increasingly progressive.
In 1958, it allowed its first female priests, and two years ago ordained its first openly gay bishop, Eva Brunne, and gave priests the right to wed same-sex couples.
Idestrom says his modern Mass is a further development on the road of progress. "People say this is exactly what the Church of Sweden needs," he said. "We need to develop the services so that we have a service also for people, mainly from the younger generation, who like this kind of music."
But not everyone is happy about the development.
"There are more than enough entertainment halls in the city to cover all tastes. Let the church remain a place for quiet contact with spirituality," said Dan Kareliusson, a representative of the nationalist Sweden Democrats party.
Par Sandberg, a spokesman for the Stockholm diocese, says congregations manage their activities independently and attitudes vary greatly within the Church of Sweden.
"We are a democratic people's church, it is a little different from the Catholic Church for example, where they might have a different set of rules," Sandberg said.
"There are those who maybe wouldn't organize a techno Mass, but on the other hand we have churches that organize something called desert Mass ... characterized by the Coptic tradition," he said. "There are churches who have U2 Masses, where they play music by U2, some have animals - horses and dogs and donkeys - and we have motor cycle Masses."
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