Belfast Telegraph

Presbyterian Elvis prepares to rock flock from the pulpit

By Alf McCreary

Some people might wonder why an English clergyman called Andy Kelso who impersonates Elvis Presley has been in Belfast this week to drum up support for a fundraising concert in a peace-line Presbyterian Church in April.

Others, like me, might say "Why not?" If fans of 'the King' can flock to hear Jailhouse Rock, they might also want to hear a local version of Pulpit Rock, in Townsend Street Presbyterian Church on Saturday, April 5.

The Rev Kelso, alias the Rev Elvis, is helping to raise funds for the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice, and I cannot think of a better cause, or a better place in which to do it.

He said this week : "The mix of rock, ballad and gospel in my concert will reflect Elvis Presley as a whole, and by weaving in stories about Elvis' life and spiritual journey alongside my own unique background, I want to make this a real night to remember for the local community and for all Elvis fans, and at the same time, raise much-needed funds for a worthwhile charity."

Andy Kelso has indeed a unique background. He was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ireland and Switzerland. For more than 20 years he was a Church of England vicar, and he is currently the chaplain to Worcester Warriors Rugby Club.

He is also a trained actor, theatrical writer and director, and he has performed in many places, including the Royal Albert Hall.

He is just the person to come to Belfast and to shake up stuffy old Irish Presbyterianism.

However, it has been shaken up a great deal already, and few churches are more progressive than Townsend Street, under the stewardship of the Rev, Jack Lamb, who is always open to new ideas.

People who don't attend Presbyterian churches nowadays do not realise how much has changed in musical worship. Hymns, psalms and good old paraphrases are virtually unheard of and are now replaced by songs.

These are basically modern choruses well-suited to mission churches.

Some are good and deeply reflective, but others are basically theological sentimentality, if not plain rubbish, and some of the lines don't even scan.

However, they nearly all have one thing in common – they are clap-happy, and if, like me, you don't join a clap-a-long on Sunday, you feel like a relic from Noah's Ark. However, I don't mind, even if I secretly long for the beautiful 23rd Psalm, with its original words, and sung to the tune of Crimond.

All of this is a long way off from the Rev Kelso performing Love Me Tender and other Elvis hits in Townsend Street Presbyterian Church in April.

However, this concert underlines not only widening horizons about music in churches, but also about spirituality.

In recent years, the Rev Steve Stockman has staged a series of successful Sunday evening services in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church based on the spirituality of great modern song – writers, including the peerless Leonard Cohen, who is one of my musical heroes.

This is all part of people finding connections with spiritual experiences not normally associated with formal religious worship.

Even though I welcome a certain formality, dignity and quiet thoughtfulness in modern worship, I also have an open mind on all these things. Why indeed should the Devil have all the best tunes ... ?

However, I still find much solace from the observation of the philosopher Martin Buber who once remarked that 'Nothing can so mask the face of God as religion'.

So let's welcome the Rev Elvis and rock down the aisles ...

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