May 25, 2018
The Celebration of Pentecost
The power of theatrical expression in the worship setting was felt this last Sunday as our church celebrated Pentecost in unique fashion. As I wrote about two weeks ago, this was the culmination of four months of work. It was a new way to experience the story of that Pentecost day, beyond what preachers might usually say during such a celebration.
This was not theatre in the sense of costuming actors and providing them with a set through which to bring the work to life. Rather, this was more like a readers’ theatre experience, with musical accompaniment and singing. Each of the readers were sharing portions of their own words that had been crafted together in the workshop setting. These readers were stationed in various parts of the worship space, with some of them playing musical instruments in addition to the musicians who were in the front of the sanctuary.
Since the events of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, were experienced by Jews gathered in Jerusalem from around the known world, the readers were each presenting their own interpretations of the events that transpired, as though they were there, or had been there, and were relating the day through their personal experience. This not only enlarged the story from the one that Acts provides to us, but it gave the unique perspectives of people with different backgrounds and experiences, bringing their own selves into the story.
As with most experiences like this, the greatest depth of meaning was probably received by those who had worked with the story and done the writing. Nonetheless, I think that the people of the congregation were challenged to find themselves in the story even as they heard it related to them.
One of the beautiful parts of this experience has been that the workshop group is composed of both church members and other friends from outside the church. It has been an enriching time for us to be with one another each Saturday morning in the workshop, and this experience both welcomed these non-members into the worship time and was an opportunity for them to share their talents with the congregation.
We are already talking about our next steps, and looking forward to more shared experiences. I am truly anxious to see where things will go from here.
May 18, 2018
The Vision of the Church
Our church book club is currently reading a biography entitled, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. While Musk seems to often come off as either rude or arrogant, he is also often acknowledged as both incredibly intelligent and driven to make a difference for the people of the world. Then too, it is interesting to be reading a biography of a living person, who is frequently in the news, and who adds to the picture beyond the scope of the book.
One of the central themes that I am gathering from the book is that of Elon’s sense of vision. He is always dreaming big, usually in ways that other people find to be either absurd or impossible. Yet, he pursues those dreams, puts his whole self into the realization of those dreams, and has accomplished much that people have said would never have happened.
It leads me to think about the church, and the sense of vision, or lack of a sense of vision, that churches have for their faith community. There is a general sense of vision that most churches have that includes being a place of welcome and worship, being a place where people can engage in educational and fellowship activities, and a sense of giving to others, usually through denominational giving and the support of local organizations that do what the church cannot do on its own but which churches see as important for the people of the community.
While there are certainly parts of those general visions that are foundational to the mission of churches, and that do indeed reach people in powerful and profound ways, I am wondering whether something more ambitious is what God calls us to do. I am reflecting on whether churches should be engaging in larger visions, visions that truly stretch the engagement and commitment of their members.
In our church, we are engaging the arts as a part of that larger vision, hoping to both enrich the experiences of members and to also open doors into the church for others. We do this through our concert series, through the theatre workshop and movie nights, and by including the arts in worship and educational settings. But I am wondering whether this is a large enough vision. What more can we do? And perhaps that is the question to always be asking, the question Elon Musk seems to ask. What more can we do?
I have always been committed to raising money for projects before beginning to implement them. I do not want to put the basic ministry of the church at risk by moving into dreams that I hope will stretch and enrich the church. Yet, it is more than just money. A larger vision needs to be something that the church chooses, and that the people are willing to give their time and creativity to in order to make that vision a reality. It needs to be the vision of the church and its members, not just a vision put forth by one or more leaders in the church.
God, I believe, does call us to dream, to envision, to discover the best ways to use the collective gifts of the people of a faith community. A part of our response to God’s call is to ask ourselves, “What more can we do?”
May 11, 2018
Creating Theatre from Scripture
It has been a little less than four months since our Artist-in-Residence, Rev. Jim McGrath, began to offer a workshop setting in which we could explore the creation of theatre pieces by utilizing the riches of scripture and the creativity of everyone present. It has been a fascinating experience for me to both participate in the activities and to observe the creative process that he has been leading us through.
As with most creative activities, it has not been immediately clear as to exactly how one exercise, one writing experience, connects to what has happened in past weeks, or may happen in the future. While he and I talked at the beginning, in very vague terms, about where things might be going as the workshop progressed, I have really had little more insight about the progress of the projects than any of the other participants have had. I have quite enjoyed that actually, just trusting in Jim and his process, without feeling any responsibility for directing this program of the church. Equally enjoyable for me has been the opportunity to observe the other participants as they too have trusted in the process.
Now, almost four months into the workshop, we are preparing to present a piece in our worship celebration on Pentecost. This theatre piece will include musical accompaniment and a song created from lyrics suggested by participants in the workshop. And, while Jim is directing the experience, and has composed the music for the song, he has been very careful to bring forth each person’s creative writings into the completed work, with any editing being done with the approval of the individual writers. This is not just his creation from the suggestions of the participants, but truly a work that is the fruit of everyone’s creative endeavors.
It is yet about ten days before this experience will be shared with the congregation. There are three rehearsals that will happen, which will undoubtedly help to hone the final presentation. But I am very much looking forward to this worship experience, and to a new form of creativity that will take shape among us.
May 4, 2018
Inspiration from Other Churches
I was reading an article by Amy Butler, the Senior Pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City, in an online newsletter that I receive regularly in my inbox. While the article was interesting in its own right, what it also prompted me to do was to check out that church’s website. What I discovered was an impressive collection of images, videos and descriptions that detailed the church’s commitment to the arts. The presentation serves as an open welcome to engage the arts through participation in that church.
I am certain that there are numerous other churches with equally amazing collections and arts programs. They too likely present their programs very well. And that is a critical part of arts programming, helping people to see both the wonder of the activities and the possibility for involvement.
Our church website certainly shows some of the ways in which we, in a much smaller church, engage the arts. There is a tab about our concert series. There is information about our theatre workshop and our cinema showcase evenings. There is even a photo of a painting created by one of our members during an Advent worship service. Much of what we do is there on the website. But as I look at the Riverside Church website, I know that we can do a better job of sharing about our arts programs.
That is one of the benefits of exploring the ways in which other churches are engaging the arts. It provides inspiration for how we might strive for greater excellence in what we do. That is not to say that we should copy one another. We always need to be authentic in our own expressions as a church. But seeing the possibilities for sharing the arts, and the effective ways in which other churches do that, is a gift that we can receive and use.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.