Seems we can thank the awesome Andrew Scott for this booming trend, because real-life preachers are taking to social media to save our souls
Words by Kerry Parnell
They are #sponsoredby God and they’re selling salvation, introducing the cute clergyman who are taking over our feeds.You can blame Scott’s hot priest in Fleabag and people searching for spiritual inspo, but priests and vicars have found a new way to spread the Word and increase their flock, via social media. Amidst the beauty bloggers and bikini belfies, a gorgeous God squad is growing to minister to your mind.
Ever since we all got obsessed with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one, hot priests are virtually everywhere, enjoying a social media boom. ‘People always look for a figure to identify with and as we spend more time on social media, we can expect to see an increase of people searching for spiritual guidance online,’ says blog psychologist Dennis Relojo-Howell. ‘People are worn out seeing upsetting news so are seeking other content which is uplifting and inspirational.’
For instance, in London, Reverend Chris Lee has racked up 101,800 Instagram followers on @revchris7 and 350 million views on YouTube from people who adore his beach selfies and pictures of his adorable family. Chris, 36, says he gets stopped for selfies and receives 50 DMs a day. ‘I think young people are looking for authenticity and are hungry for something deeper,’ he says. ‘My Instagram offers a more holistic view of life with faith at its core. I try to invade what can be seen as a superficial space with positivity and faith.’
And while physical congregations are shrinking, virtual ones are booming. ‘I walk to church on a Sunday to preach to about 70 people and post a video on my way that reaches 5000 people,’ he says.
He’s joined by Reverend Craig Cooney in Belfast, who has 49,100 Instagram followers on his @daily.prophetic account. Craig, 44, proved an instant hit, getting 1000 followers a week since joining last year. The hipster minister says he was so embarrassed when he first started posting, he blocked all his friends and was ‘genuinely stunned’ when it took off.
‘People started to like my mantras. They are searching for direction. There are a lot of people who are feeling disconnected from church, but are looking for hope,’ he says. ‘I asked God, ‘Is there anything you want to say?’’
And while they might come for his motivational mantras, he has to admit they stay partly because of his looks. ‘I don’t know, maybe a tiny element,’ he says. ‘People like to look at people they like looking at. I’m normal – I’m not some sketchy guy in a basement. I live a normal life, I go to the gym, I’m a dad – people follow who they know, like and trust. But they resonate with the message more than the messenger.’
Then there’s Oskar Arngardena tattooed Lutheran priest for the Church of Sweden, who’s become very popular after sharing clips of his work-out on his @CrossFitPriest Instagram account. The 35-year-old Swede often posts videos of his workouts to his 150,000 followers and often rakes in over 50,000 “likes” on his posts. And while Oskar has said religion is his main focus, he’s keen to promote a healthy lifestyle. In a recent post, he commented on his newfound fame, admitting he found receiving ‘sexual’ comments disrespectful because they objectified him. ‘I have noticed in myself that I am not at all comfortable with the attention that has been pointed to me as a person. I started this account to get to talk about what’s really important in my life; God!… and also, hopefully maybe inspire to a healthy lifestyle.’
And while the US has long been in love with the mega-star preacher man, such as Joel Osteen and his 3.5 million Instagram followers, this summer Father David, an Episcopal priest from Texas, went viral on TikTok, when his videos amassed a million likes. David W. Peters, an Iraqi veteran, became a hit with his comedy self-titled Jesus Stan TikTok account that shows him dancing around and modelling various ‘work outfits’ including a pair of tiny shorts which may or may not be the reason he got two million views.
David, 44, tells Marie Claire he was surprised by his popularity but thinks Gen Z appreciate him trying to speak their digital language. ‘I think they have a lot of cynicism toward claims of progress, and are looking for solid roots and traditions,’ he says. ‘I didn’t have a strategy. I saw a young Marine make a really sharp and funny video on TikTok, so I just downloaded the app to see if I could make videos with it.’
He says he likes the platform’s ‘joyful and funny’ language and aims to spread happiness online. ‘It’s hard to have joy these days with all that’s going on. I want to help people like me to connect to God’s love.’
We’d like to think even the Pope of Instagram priests, Pope Francis, with his 6.3 million followers, would give them his blessing.