I go to church every Sunday like it’s my job — because it is. I’m a pastor: I believe in God and in God’s ability to use the church for good. I go to church expecting the Holy Spirit to show up, and she always does. But rarely do I have a spiritual experience like I had a few weeks ago during Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour.
I have long loved Swift. Her music has accompanied me through heartbreak and love and every milestone between. I share my love of her with anyone who will listen. And anyone who won’t listen — well, that’s all I need to know about them. You either get it or you don’t; and if you don’t, you’re missing out.
Phoebe Bridgers opened our show. She told the 72,500 gathered, “I’m so glad you are here tonight. Your life is going to change.” I wondered if this was an oversell. It wasn’t.
Our show, opening night in East Rutherford, New Jersey, was a festival of friendship. Our stadium was full of glitter and glory as we experienced three and a half hours of joyful noise. And I’m not the first to imagine it as church. Taylor herself, and the devotees gathered, had it in mind.
During “Don’t Blame Me,” just before the song’s bridge, the whole stadium chanted: “Take me to church, Taylor!” This mantra isn’t part of the song’s lyrics, just one of the many call-and-response moments Swifties (Taylor’s fans) have created — a liturgy of sorts. At that moment, the lighting dramatically changed, creating a beam to heaven so bright the Ascension might seem dull, and the choir backed up Taylor’s leading voice: “Oh, Lord, save me.”
This wasn’t the only moment that felt like church, but it was certainly the most on-the-nose moment. With that – and the whole experience – in mind, I’ve been reflecting on what the church might learn from the Swiftie spirit. Here are three things:
Communities are curated. The strongest communities come together around an inclusive culture and core values to overcome hate and work good in this world. To be a Swiftie is to stand on the side of women, the LGBTQ+ community, the misfits, and those who otherwise feel sidelined. Where others create community by deciding who is out, Taylor swings the doors wide open and says: Welcome. There is some part of your story that is my story, too; I see you.
I think the church should celebrate that — copy it even. We tell a story even more sacred than Taylor’s; God’s story necessarily includes and relates to the story of each and every beloved child of God. If we effectively communicate God’s welcome, we might get sold-out venues too.
Drama is good. We’re taught in seminary to stay away from performance because worship isn’t performance. But what if worship was more worshipful, more Spirit-full, more excellent because we spent more time on the performance of it? The Eras show is what it is because Taylor and her team spend years making it so. Surely, I can give a few more hours each week to thoughtful transitions, liturgical frivolities, and the dramatic arc of an experience.
Participation matters. Many a Tik-Toker told me I needed earplugs for the show. Not because the music was so loud but you’re standing in a sea of people singing at the top of their lungs. But I didn’t want a decibel blocked — I was there for the full experience. I wanted to hear every single voice around me because these were my people. The fact that my voice joined a chorus of others mattered.
The participation began long before the show, as we all made friendship bracelets, picked our favorite Era, and matched our outfits. We did it for ourselves, for Taylor, and for each other. We did it not to outshine one another, but to join one another. What a gift it was to know I had a part to play in the magic that was created; I imagine churchgoers want to feel the same. What if I gave the prayers of the people to the people to lead? Or hosted a liturgy writing party, like our friendship bracelet party, where we all try our hand at making meaning of God with words? And if the congregation isn’t singing hymns like we sang Taylor, then something has got to change.
I think I’m a pretty good pastor, although I can give you a list of folks who might disagree (as Taylor says, “haters gonna hate!”). But I know my experience at the Eras Tour made me a better one. I am more committed to swinging the doors wide open, without judgment and with only joy. I’m committed to amping up the drama for the sake of God’s glory, and to finding a way to show each and every beloved, bejeweled child of God they have a part to play and a gift to give and a voice to add to the beautiful human chorus.
I propose that we all approach our work with the ethic, energy, and authenticity of Taylor Swift. What if we were driven to give God and our audience — our faith communities — our excellence, and nothing less? Maybe, by the grace of God, we could change lives too.