"Street Parade of the Gods" - just where the Synodal Church is heading. Rave takes place, organised by Catholic theologian

Dance Spectacle with a Message of Tolerance: Religious Aspects of the Zurich Street Parade

When about a thousand ravers danced through Zurich's streets for the first time in 1992, society dismissed it as a flash in the pan. Today, the Street Parade has grown up and is celebrating its 30th birthday - with about a million guests expected. The theme of religion runs through the big event on various levels.

"I Wish" is the motto of this year's Street Parade, which will have hundreds of thousands of people dancing around Zurich's lake basin starting at noon today. For the organizers, "I Wish" means more than just "I wish for something"; rather, they see the wish itself as the "seed from which great things can grow," as they explain on their website.

More than just a dance event?

This is ringing in the ears of people with an affinity for religion, and one wonders whether the organizers have taken a look at the New Testament when writing the motto teaser. After all, according to the evangelists, Jesus repeatedly compares the kingdom of God and with it the message of salvation with a seed that sprouts and grows, provided it is planted in "good soil". The question is, what exactly is the "salvation message" of the Street Parade?

If you look at the history of the techno event, it quickly becomes clear that even in its first edition, the event did not want to be just a dance event. At the time, founder Marek Krynski submitted a request to the city police for a demonstration. One that demanded and celebrated tolerance, freedom and love. Doesn't sound primarily like loud basses, ecstatic dancers and garishly dressed dancers, but rather a socio-political rally.

For more tolerance and equality

If you look at the mottos of the last 31 years, you will realize that a good two-thirds of the slogans quite explicitly propagate a tolerant and respectful society. For example, "Peace" in 2002 was followed by the mottos "Respect" (2007), "Dance for Freedom" (2013) or "Love Never Ends" (2017). All of these slogans convey a vision of a just, equal, and sustainable society. An ideal that many religious worldviews also propagate.

In 2012, by the way, the Museum Rietberg presented an exhibition of over 300 sculptures from Chhattisgarh, India, under the name "Street Parade of the Gods"; parallels to the large-scale event were intended.

Experiencing community without obligations

Although the majority of media coverage focuses on the eccentric and the unusual, the Street Parade actually seems to convey a message as well: Celebrate together, no matter what language man speaks, what religion woman belongs to and what sexual preferences man has.

Experiencing a special moment in a community, feeling part of a big whole for a certain period of time, is what German sociologist Winfried Gebhardt calls "situational event-communityization."

A sense of community at the 2015 Street Parade.

This form of community experience also works outside of an institutional framework; it is not bound by obligations or duties, but still conveys a sense of purpose - at least temporarily. Think, for example, of the public viewings at European or World Cups, where an imagined national identity makes people forget social differences for a short time and creates a sense of belonging.

Turning the usual on its head

The performative aspect of the Street Parade with dance, music and disguises makes it clear that it is an extraordinary event. Similar to the carnival, the ravers at the techno party turn social norms and role models upside down: from the beginning, the LGBT scene has been an integral part of the parade - just like cis men in high heels or pensioners in vinyl outfits.

Dancers on a lovemobile at the 2005 Street Parade.

For once, no one is looked at askance. Dancing out of line is desired. The exceptional situation is deliberately staged, which is ultimately the basic principle of every parade: it is about the public self-expression of a community - even if it is only temporary - and the communication of a message. One that, with its focus on the equality of all, comes pretty close to the Good News of Christianity.

(Cathcon: What rot! No it does not.  Salvation in Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Good News of Christianity)

Going out to the people even as a church

In 2018, for example, pioneering pastor Josua Zinstag of Rhylife in Neuhausen - a start-up project of Viva Kirchen - understood this and promptly launched an evangelization campaign at the Street Parade. On jesus.ch he explains that the techno event is an ideal place to draw attention to Jesus' message. People, he says, are open and not infrequently looking for guidance.

With posters based on the parade's motto, "Culture of Tolerance," Zinstag and his fellow campaigners drew attention to the fact that the techno event, with its inclusive basic attitude, certainly represented Christian values.

The national churches also go "among the people" and present themselves and their worldview more and more often at large events such as the Zürifäscht or at Prides. This corresponds to the basic attitude of Jesus, who - as described in the Gospels - sought out people where they lived, worked and celebrated.

Holy Groove - an ecumenical service to kick things off.

In 2019, the Freundeskreis Grossmünster organized an ecumenical Raver service for the first time. Christoph Sigrist, Veronika Jehle and Meinrad Furrer, together with the president of the Street Parade association, Joel Meier, and the DJ Erhan Yücesan, created a spiritual prelude in the Wasserkirche. This service dealt with the motto of the event, "Colours of Unity". The quintessence of the service was that the diversity of people makes the world colorful and that all people have a place in God's world.

This year, after a forced break from Corona, the opening service will take place again in the Wasserkirche. And this edition is not only ecumenical, but interreligious. In addition to Veronika Jehle and Christoph Sigrist, Imam Kaser Alasaad and the DJ duo "Forgotten Notes" will also be celebrating - dancing is expressly permitted, by the way!

And if you look at the Street Parade from a meteorological-Christian point of view, you really have to say that at least Peter is a raver. So far, the Street Parade could be held mostly in good to very good weather and the prospects for today are - heavenly!

The raver service will take place today from 11:00 to 12:00 at the Wasserkirche, Limmatquai 29, Zurich.

Tele Züri will broadcast the Street Parade live.