When the Rev. David Peters, a Southwest Alumnus (2016) and Adjunct Professor, was called to be church planter in the Austin suburb of Pflugerville, he knew social media would be a critical part of his initial success.
“Social media is the new town square and, for better or worse, its where the dialogue takes place,” said Peters. He likely had no idea how big this town square might get.
Last month, Peters started using the social media platform Tik-Tok to post short videos about his work as an Episcopal priest. And the world took notice.
Peters initial video on Tik-Tok has received more than 2 million views and hundreds of thousands of likes. His follow-up videos have seen similar success. He has become one of the platforms biggest stars, and the sensation has been covered by the likes of Vice and The Guardian.
“My biggest surprise is how shocked many people are that I’m happy. I think most young people experience religion with some coercion in it—mandatory attendance by their parents. If they leave after the teen years, they miss out on all the jokes,” said Peters. “I’m glad I found a way to connect to some people in this particular community and hope my colleagues keep reaching out in ways that they can get excited about.”
Peters’ unique background may have prepared him for this outside the box strategy. A former Marine and Chaplain, Peters was instrumental in helping Southwest create the only MDiv program in The Episcopal Church with a military chaplaincy concentration. Just like with those efforts, it was a grounding around the teachings of Jesus that he attributes the reason for success.
“I think its important the young people of TikTok know there are churches out there that are inclusive AND follow Jesus with ancient spiritual practices,” said Peters. “My biggest surprise is how shocked many people are that I’m happy. I think most young people experience religion with some coercion in it—mandatory attendance by their parents. If they leave after the teen years, they miss out on all the jokes.”
Peters has no illusions about the frivolity of social media stardom or what he is trying to achieve. “I’m really not using tiktok to start a church. I think I may have two people say they would attend from tiktok, but this is a message for all the churches. When people reach out to me I try to steer them to a church near them and tell them that episcopal clergy are very approachable and are often very funny people—which I have found to be true. Especially Southwest grads.”