Fr Anyaegbu, assistant priest at St Mary’s Beauly, has nearly half a million followers on TikTok.
Since the pandemic, priests in Scotland have become used to broadcasting online. None, however, have been as successful as Fr James Anyaegbu.
Hailing from Aba Diocese in Nigeria, he came to the diocese of Aberdeen seven years ago, where he is currently the assistant priest at St Mary’s, Beauly and he runs one of the most popular TikTok accounts in Scotland. The social media platform, where users can broadcast short video clips, is loved by young people.
Fr James’s account has nearly half a million followers from all over the world. Popular music and dancing are staples of TikTok video and Fr James’ are no different. “Music is the soul of man. The soul of society. Music brings people together. We understand better with sound,” he said. “Once I realised music is an essential part of TikTok, it was a good match.”
Unlike most TikTok videos, his are all centred around his Faith and his life as a priest. “There are a lot of things going on TikTok that are not Christ-based, that take young people’s minds away from focusing on our Creator,” he said. “Yes, they all give you some sort of momentary pleasure and joy, but it doesn’t last. You need a message that subsists through thick and thin.”
Finding himself disorientated during the first lockdown of 2020, his TikTok account became a way for him to continue his ministry to an audience while churches remained closed.
“Social media is a village, a society on its own. It’s so big, so vast.” Fr James said.“I thought to myself, ‘how can I affect this society? How can I preach Christ’s message in a way they can appreciate it and embrace it’?” The unusual sight of a priest dancing, which he does with some skill, wearing casual, priestly, Nigerian or Scottish attire, may be what attracts people to watch the videos.
But he insists that the message attached is the important part. And each video exudes the joy of the Christian message. “Me lip-syncing to a beautiful song that has great lyrics that they love” he said, “can have a Bible verse added.”
In his account’s description he includes an email to contact him and he said that he sometimes receives more emails than he can reply to. Those writing are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and atheist. “I try to give time to respond to those whose message needs an immediate response. I try to approach everyone according to their needs. I am not asking everyone to go and unfollow everyone they are following. I cannot be on TikTok alone!
“Every channel has something unique. You follow an account because you appreciate that unique flavour. There are many who promote all sorts. Mine is to promote Jesus.”
With almost half a million followers, Fr James might just be the Scotland’s most influential Catholic voice. “I always think of online as online, physical as physical. I try to separate my online and physical self. But in both cases I am speaking to people in search of God.”
The day of this interview had consisted both of filming a TikTok in the morning, on the spur of the moment, and visiting a sick person in the hospital. He still had his puffer jacket on from the visit. He said he wants to advise young people especially that ‘no matter how many followers you have’ to pray for the Grace to separate the two. He hopes, however, to build a platform for people to connect with one another to discuss the Faith, something that can move beyond centring around himself.
Faith-Chat Platform is an ecumenical space, growing mostly in Africa but also Europe and North America, where people can discuss their religion. A website is currently in development, as is a book written by Fr James that details his vision for it.
“I look at St Paul going to Athens; everyone is there but Jesus. Let’s bring Jesus into this platform of people.”
You can find Fr James on TikTok @fr_james_a.