[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A vicar in England has adopted an unusual method of evangelism – he impersonates the singer Elvis Presley. Dubbed the King of Rock n Roll, Elvis died 39 years ago today and a candle-lit vigil took place overnight at his Graceland home in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis is buried in the grounds of Graceland, which has become a shrine attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year; with some commentators describing Elvis’ followers as being devotees to a new religion.
But the Revd Ravi Holy, the Elvis-impersonating vicar of Wye in the Church of England’s Diocese of Canterbury, sees no conflict between Elvis and Christianity “because the whole point is connecting with people where they are and Elvis is a figure that people of all ages, cultures, every kind of person you can imagine, likes Elvis,” he told BBC Radio Four’s Sunday programme at the weekend. “The very upper-middle-class ladies at my last church and the school kids at my local school now both respond equally positively to me dressing up as Elvis and to Elvis in general.”
He explained that he once conducted a funeral dressed as Elvis, “which I know sounds terrible, but bear with me,” he said.
“This was a lady who was a real character in the village [who] tragically died before her time of cancer. When I was planning the funeral with her family they were saying they wanted it to be a fun event and a celebration of her life, not a mournful one; and ‘we want it to be a party, we want to have fun, we want it to be crazy and wild like she was.’
“And I said that’s fine, but this is still a funeral, you don't want me doing my Elvis impersonation; and they went ‘no! That is exactly what we want. That would be perfect. We want you to take the funeral in character as Elvis Presley.’”
He took the service wearing a gold lamé jacket over his clerical shirt, and sporting Elvis-style sunglasses and an Elvis wig. “The most amazing part was the very beginning where we had Elvis’ entrance music, Also sprach Zarathustra – better known as the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey – which Elvis used to come on to, which segues into That’s Alright Mama, at which point the coffin appeared. It was carried in and then I followed with the gold lamé jacket and I think people were a bit ‘Oh my goodness! What’s going on here?’ The opening hymn was Glory, Glory, Hallelujah.”
He understands – but disagrees – with people who say that he is “cheapening the seriousness of the Christian message” by impersonating Elvis. “It wasn’t a comedy event,” he said. “It was still a solemn occasion and when we came to the prayers, I actually took off the wig and glasses and said: ‘now let’s get serious.’ That was a very smooth transition. People understood that we’d had some fun but now we are going to do something serious.”
He describes Elvis as “a very useful icon” when engaging with people “simply because Elvis is a figure that commands almost religious levels of devotion from people.
“Sometimes it goes too far and it actually does become religious – which is clearly mad in my opinion – but equally I think it is entirely appropriate for somebody like myself to harness that cultural power and use it to a greater end.”