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We Interviewed the Priest From the 'Hot Priest Summer' TikTok

According to the Texas-based Episcopal priest David W. Peters, "I'm like the least funny priest I know."

by Bettina Makalintal
Aug 19 2019, 11:00am

Screenshots via TikTok

Thanks to Megan Thee Stallion, hot girls everywhere are having a summer. And now, thanks to TikTok—and maybe also Andrew Scott's character in Fleabag, season two—priests might also have their swing at "Hot Priest Summer." In a recent TikTok video, a priest waves at the camera along with the text "Outfits I'm Afraid to Wear (Out of the Sacristy)." As La La Land's jaunty "Another Day of Sun" plays, the priest bops around in different outfits: from a choir dress, to fancy vestments captioned "#ForYourWedding," to a tan suit and the words "hot priest summer."

On TikTok, the outfit video has picked up over 2 million views and at least 168,000 likes as of this writing, possibly helped by a popular repost on Twitter. It was made by David W. Peters, an Episcopal priest, army chaplain deployed to Iraq, author, podcast host, father of two teenagers (yes, they're aware of his TikTok fame)—and now also, however unexpectedly, a viral TikTok star.

Peters hasn't been on TikTok for long, but he's quickly gained traction. People like the outfit video in part because Peters looks "so happy" and because, well, they don't think Hot Priests have to end with Andrew Scott. (The comments are overall pretty nice, though sure, some have called it "disrespectful.") Peters's other videos are just as entertaining: in one, Peters cycles through clergy hats while Hozier's "Take Me to Church" plays, and in another, Peters does the Bottle Cap Challenge in robes, while swinging an incense-filled thurible. It's content that make you realize that maybe the internet, and especially TikTok, isn't all bad after all.

We talked to Peters about how he ended up on TikTok, why priests are funnier than you think, and why—maybe, just maybe—there might be room for more priests to go big on social media.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

VICE: So, why did you start using TikTok?

Peters: My job is to start a new church in a really rapidly growing suburb of Austin, and part of the job is to tell the story on social media. I had made a few videos on iMovie. I saw a TikTok video and I thought, that must be the software I need, because iMovie is so hard for me to edit. That video showed me what TikTok was. I watched a ton of them.

There's different religious people. I thought, I'm going to do my thing here. I'm a priest and my job is to take really old stuff and present it in a way that makes sense to people and they can connect with it. The four gospels are all new technology; writing a story about the life of a person was a form of technology in its day. TikTok is the latest form of technology that I've discovered to tell our story to a larger community.

How do you think the videos got popular?

TikTok is very immediate, just like the generation that's watching it. Things go viral really fast and then they stop. There's a sudden surge. The vestments video is the only one that's really gone to 2 million, right now, views and 166,000 likes or faves or hearts, you know.

The generation that I feel is the biggest on TikTok, they grew up with Harry Potter and all this ancient lore and people wearing robes in movies that they're into. I've noticed that younger people tend to really like ancient, older practices aligned with progressive views of gender and sexuality and rights for all people. They're the generation that threw out a lot of tradition to make things more relevant.

Why do you think people like the videos?

I think religious people, especially religious leaders, are not known for their joy. But we believe that someone died and rose from the dead—that should make us really happy as people. There's always this death in this life and we experience it, but then there's this resurrection that happens. To me, that's something to really celebrate and be joyful about.

When I came back from Iraq, I'd lost so much in my life during that experience. Coming home, it seemed impossible that I even had a future or that there was joy in the future. I get a lot of comments like, "Oh, he looks so happy." And like, yeah, I am. [laughs] I should be: I'm alive.

Do you think it's important for people to see that there's more to priests than just being a priest?

I used to ride my bicycle home from a hospital I worked at when I was a chaplain in the army, in shorts, and people would look at me funny like, "What, that's you?" I used to say: before I was a chaplain, I was a human being; I wear shorts. [laughs] Clergy fills that role of people doing things that are very serious and very weighty. A lot of our sermons are focused on really serious stuff, but a lot of them have a lot of humor, too, because when we're laughing, we're relaxed and connected. Of the priests I know, I'm like the least funny priest I know.

It sounds like the other ones have to get on TikTok.

I tell them all the time, "Get out there, it's so much fun." They're really funny people because they're also very much in touch with the difficulties of life. It really heightens the experience of joy.

Do you feel like other priests or churches should take more advantage of social media?

Ah, you know, I don't shit on anybody.

Rather, do you see it as something potentially valuable?

Social media is really the town square of today. I show up at all kinds of events in my community, but something like this goes a lot further. Jesus taught on hillsides; he taught in synagogues and in the equivalent of bars. If the clergy feel that call to get their message out to a wider audience, it's a great way to do that.

Do you see appealing to younger audiences as a part of your mission?

As an army chaplain, I was basically in a giant armed youth group. I was in youth ministry before that. I was trying to act older and act more grown up so people would respect me. As I've gotten older, I've been more comfortable being silly and goofy and trying to connect with people. Youth today, at least in my community, are very over-scheduled and very isolated; you don't see them out the way I was just walking around. This is another place where I think clergy should be on social media to some degree, or if they have that calling.

How do you come up with your video ideas?

I think TikTok has its own language. TikTok is very musically driven, and it's very motion-driven. I try to take the genre and adapt it to who I am as a person and my calling as a priest. It's fun being creative because I think that keeps me going in life. I hear stories of loss and sorrow and pain a lot, so it's nice to balance that out with some really fun exuberance.

Do you think social media can make reaching out to a faith-based community more accessible to people?

Absolutely. That day is over when people just walk in like, "Nice building, we're coming in." It can be intimidating, scary. The church needs to go out where people are—that's what our founder did and that's what we're supposed to do and this is a way to go out, outside the walls. As a priest, I'm going to try to bring God to places that are places that are out there and that I can be in.

Would you say this is more about bringing that joy, as you said, into the world, since most people watching your videos aren't able to join your church, for example?

Oh yeah, very few, none of them [laughs]. I don't care where they go—I hope they connect with something in real space and in real life that meets their spiritual needs. I hope they can find a community they can trust and they can connect with wherever they are.

Last question: do you have a favorite video that you've made?

Probably that outfit one [laughs]. It's the one I'm happiest about because with that one, people really saw the joy and saw that this is really fun. There's a lot to the Christian faith that can be really joyful and exciting.

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