So when I should have been working on my article about church polity in Swedish-American Lutheran congregations in the 1850s, or thinking about getting it off the back burner at the very least, I drifted into one of those clickbait websites for animal lovers (called Pawpulous), and got to watch what I think must be my all-time favorite SuperBowl commercial.

It was the one-minute EDS (Electronic Data Centers) spot “Cat Herders,” produced by the Fallon McElligott agency of Minneapolis for Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. It’s a classic.

You can watch it again at the top of this post, and in the linked story in, the online version of Advertising Age magazine. Which reports:

“It [herding cats] was an expression that was instantly visual,” Fallon art director Dean Hanson recalled for the Washington Post later. But it didn’t make for an easy shoot. The production crew filmed the cowboys on their horses at Tehon Ranch north of California, then recorded the cats separately at the same site and combined the footage later. To create imagery of cats storming the American plains, 20 to 30 trainers used a buzzer as a prod and tuna as a lure. 

So no animals were harmed during the photo shoots.

According to Wikipedia, the American Humane Association monitored filming, and an ad agency spokesman promised, “The horses, background and layers of kitties are filmed separately, and each will be stripped in during post-production to create the illusion of an elaborate cat drive.”

And that, friends and neighbors, is how you herd cats.

Hyrder til katte (shepherds to cats)

All of which reminds me of a pastor in Copenhagen who experimented with different styles of worship music with a Night Church service (Natkirken in Danish) in the established state Church of Denmark (Den danske folkekirke, or people’s church, in Danish). He wrote about it in the diocesan magazine, and after visiting in 2012, I summarized it and quoted him like this.

“While the Sunday service puts the emphasis on the forgiveness of sins, we try at Night Church to preach God’s presence at the center of each human life,” night church pastor Mikkel Vale told the diocesan magazine Kirken i København (the church in Copenhagen). “This is partly done by an emphasis on personal prayer in worship. It is important for us Christians to learn that God is alive and present. … God goes with us. Always. I hope we can help to convey that to people, so they too can feel it when they leave the church again.”

In another Kirken i København article, Vale uses a striking metaphor. He says, “we postmodern people are both misguided sheep and independent cats” and suggests a new role for the church: “We shall be shepherds to cats.”

What we experienced last Friday night in Copenhagen left this cat purring. Why wasn’t anybody doing services like this when I was in my 20s and 30s?

So I guess maybe posting the cat-herding commercial to Ordinary Time wasn’t so self-indulgent, anyway. At least it got me thinking about the folk churches of Scandinavia again.

One thought on “Herding cats: Not just for cowboys and ad agencies — it worked in Copenhagen for pastors and music directors, too

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