Taylor Swift    

I wonder how much you draw on popular culture as you seek to engage the students in your school community?

I have been reflecting upon this question recently as my city recovers from being totally consumed by last month’s Taylor Swift concerts.  

When I began in school chaplaincy, twenty-five years ago, I had just finished up as a youth worker. I was young myself and so could relate relatively easily to the popular culture of the young people in my youth group. I found that connecting with pop culture was a great ‘in’ when I spoke with them.

As I began as a school chaplain, I found it easy to make pop culture references to whatever movie, TV show, computer game or song that was big at the time. However, as I got older, I found making the popular culture connection became increasingly challenging and I found that I could no longer use it to speak authentically to my students. 

As you would well know there is nothing worse than the inauthentic chaplain. From the chaplain who doesn’t have a sense of humour trying to be funny, to the daggy chaplain trying to be cool, to the chaplain trying to be hip and relevant by quoting lines from songs they don’t listen to.    

The astonishing proliferation of access to media in recent times has meant that the popular culture space has become much more fragmented and tribal. It used to be, when I was growing up in the eighties, that there was the one TV show that every young boy seemed to watch religiously (the A Team for example). Now, if you have a conversation around the staff table about what show people are binging on, you will soon discover that we are all watching different shows and some of the shows people regard as a must watch you will have never even heard of.  

Music seems to be similarly fragmented with streaming meaning greater access to a huge variety of music content so that there doesn’t seem to be the one band that everyone is into as there was when I was growing up. Taylor Swift is hugely impressive for the massive following she has and her ability to be the artist that everyone seems to have heard of. But even with her exceptional popularity I still get blank space looks from the boys’ classes I teach as they are not really into her.

Having said all that one of the things about my generation is that when it comes to pop culture, we haven’t actually grown up that much. It’s a bit curious how our children are often into many of the same things that we were into growing up. Long running franchises, such as Star Wars, keep coming up with new content that connects with the formative movies that was so influential on us when we were children. 

My generation, for better or worse, has stayed heavily invested in the pop culture they were brought up on – hence the heated conversations amongst men in their fifties about the merits or otherwise of the Star Wars prequals and sequels. Long gone are the days when rock and roll was the domain of the rebellious youngster, and it is not uncommon for parents and children to willingly head off to the same concert and both have a great time.  

Having children of your own, of course, does help you reconnect with pop culture.  Having two teenage daughters means that Taylor Swift is the soundtrack to my trip to and from school and I can still impress the girls’ classes I teach with some informed contributions to their animated conversations about her.  

Connecting in engaging and relevant ways with young people is a staple of our work as chaplains and using pop culture effectively and authentically is a great way to do this.  Authenticity is obviously the key. Young people are very good at spotting a try hard so whatever you use to connect you need to be authentic. Despite how many times my daughters have come up to me and said ‘Dad you have to see this hilarious Tik Tok’ I still don’t find them funny and consequently would never try to use them as a cheap ‘in’ with my students. Apologies to readers of this blog by clearly violating this principle by gratuitously titling this post ‘Taylor Swift’ when it is really a reflection on popular culture.  

We model ourselves on Jesus who was of course really effective at using the images and metaphors of his day that his audiences could easily relate to and identify with. One of our challenges is finding ways to relate to students where they actually are instead of where we wish they were. As we well know their heads are in the realm of Spotify rather than the lectionary reading for the day. 

Andrew Stewart Written by:

Reverend Andrew Stewart has twenty years experience as a school chaplain and works as a chaplain at Mentone Grammar in Melbourne. Andrew is also the chair of the Chaplains in Anglican Schools network in Victoria.


  1. Jonathan Kemp
    March 11, 2024

    Thanks, Andrew. This topic has been on my mind of late, for exactly the same reason, but was also triggered by Gillian Moses’ super post from earlier this year.
    I used some Taylor Swift references from Anti-Hero in a couple of things recently, and I think I got away with them, mainly because the kids here assume absolutely everyone on the planet knows the Swift catalogue inside out. My 20 year old daughter keeps me honest by reminding me of the “youth pastor” meme from Twitter / X: “hey kids, do you know who ELSE got crucified by the media”, etc etc. So I always try to go over my pop culture references, to see if I’ve fallen into the youth pastor meme trap. Thanks again for these wise words.

  2. Andrew Mintern
    March 12, 2024

    Thanks Andrew. A very insightful post for aging chaplains. And going by the attendance at the last ASA conference it seems that a lot of us are the same faces as twenty years ago and, in the case of the males, with greyer hair or less of it!. Just as we are not getting many vocations for parish priest roles it seems we are not adding in younger chaplains (a few but certainly not a huge percentage) and that does mean increasingly chaplains a more removed generationally from their students. No simple answers but the encouragement to be authentic (and to avoid being cringingly inauthentic) is really well made. Andrew Root made some good points on this topic at the 2022 Perth Conference. Its a good conversation to continue. blessings. Andrew

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