September 28, 2018
Movies Provide an Opening for Conversation
Our Artist-in-Residence offers a monthly “Cinema Showcase” in which he presents classic movies and provides interesting background and insights into the making of those movies. We have developed a fairly regular group of people who come to enjoy the experience and to learn more about such films.
This month he was unable to do the “Showcase,” and so I filled in with a movie that was both fun and provided some interesting conversation. “City Slickers” came out in 1991, but the humor of Billy Crystal and the rest of the cast still entertains in wonderful ways. There are also some serious themes that the movie engages, and it thus provides an inroad to discussing those themes.
While the idea of a “midlife crisis” may not have been uppermost in the minds of a group of people who are mostly retired, this theme allowed us to discuss those times when we are uncertain about life, when questions arise, when we search for a direction in which to go as we are faced with decisions in life. The insights that were shared were quite interesting.
“Friendship” is a timeless theme, and the bonds of friendship that the characters in the movie shared were something that transcended the other crises and stresses of their lives. We talked about the value of friendships, the depth that can be a part of such relationships, and how friendship is so important in an era when isolation from others can so easily happen.
Finally, we talked about “perseverance,” both as it was demonstrated in the movie and as a characteristic that helps sustain and fulfill our lives throughout the journey that we walk. Folks shared about those times when perseverance truly made a difference in their lives.
While all of these themes could have been discussed in another setting, the viewing of the movie, that common experience, opened doors for conversation that allowed an openness that might otherwise seem rather forced. These conversations very naturally flowed from the joy of experiencing the story together.
September 21, 2018
Evaluating Arts Programs
It is important to periodically evaluate the arts-related portions of a church’s life, just as it can also be critical to evaluate a congregation’s entire ministry from time to time. Although some of the questions that one would ask are similar to those one would compile for a standardized report, there are other important questions to ask as well.
The first statistics to be compiled and examined are usually numbers. How many people attended certain programs? If this was an annual event, or series of events, how did the numbers compare to the previous year or season? Most of us record the weekly attendance at worship celebrations, and I certainly keep track of the number of people who attend the concerts in our annual series. These figures tell us something important, but do we need to evaluate the numbers themselves then? For example, was the worship attendance affected by the weather, either because snowstorms made attendance difficult, or because the great weather where I live caused people to spend more time at the beach than they did in past years? With our concerts, there are certain people who will faithfully attend every event, but how did the choices of genres of music affect attendance from one year to the next? There is often anecdotal evidence that we need to include with our numbers.
Then there are other subjective questions to ask. If we are speaking about a concert, we want to know how moved people were by the music and the experience. But we may also want to examine the ways in which the artists themselves were impacted, including whether their appearance was an opportunity that may have opened other doors for them. What are the usually unseen effects of our arts programs that we might uncover, so as to celebrate those impacts?
In our theatre arts program, the greatest impact is no doubt residing with those who are participating in the creation of the dramatic works, although I certainly hope that the presentations in worship touch people in profound ways. The questions we ask in this regard need to almost be individually crafted, but we can find ways of compiling them so as to see common themes in how the theatre arts have touched people.
If we return to the use of numbers, for example with the theatre arts program, it depends on how we measure those numbers. If we are only concerned with whether or not this program has helped to increase worship attendance, then the program has been a failure, for no one new has participated regularly in worship as a result of our having this program. If, however, we are measuring the different ways in which people interact in the life of the church, we can celebrate that six new people regularly share in the programs and ministry of the church precisely because of this theatre arts program. And, in a smaller church, that is a big-time celebration.
Numbers give us part of the picture about our arts programs. Stories of how people were impacted provide us with an evaluation that more closely connects with what we are doing.
September 14, 2018
Decorating the Church
This last Sunday was our church’s anniversary celebration. In addition to the presence of the usual altar clothes, grapes and wheat on the communion table, and the permanent art of the church, we added colorful balloons and a celebratory banner. It was just enough to set the tone for the day.
As I reflected upon it though, I was reminded of a colleague in my doctoral program who designed and produced her final project around what she called, “Dressing the Altar.” It wasn’t a term that I had heard before that, but what she meant by it was the assembling of a display of items appropriate to the theme that she had chosen for a particular Sunday, items which would be carefully placed on the altar or communion table, as well as in the area surrounding that altar.
She designed some amazing “Altar Dressings” around themes both seasonal and liturgical. Her choices of unique items set apart each gathering of decorations. But these were not just decorations to make things look appealing. Yes, there were things that helped to add beauty to the space, but there were also items that encouraged people to connect to the theme of the day. For example, there may have been vessels containing water on a day of celebrating baptism, or, pieces of clay and ceramic creations on a day focused on how God molds us in love. The idea was to communicate the message through the “Altar Dressing.” It had an effect similar to images projected on a screen, but these were items on the altar that people could actually come and touch, so as to experience the day in a very full way.
An important element in the assembling of the “Altar Dressings” was that this person invited people from the congregation to work with her in creating the settings. This provided an even more in-depth experience of that theme, as people made choices about placement, and handled the items that formed the display.
The ways in which we decorate the church can be very simple, as with our balloons and banner last Sunday, or quite elaborate as in the altar decorations I have described. What is important is the creativity that goes into it all, the artistic choices that are made. That creativity is what will catch people’s eyes, what will open them up to experiencing something in a fuller way.
September 7, 2018
I was so deeply saddened to hear about the fire in the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Countless priceless artifacts were lost. I can only hope that perhaps digital records of the collection were kept off-site and can at least serve as a record of what had been gathered over the years.
I was also reading recently about the Peterborough Cathedral in England, where Oliver Cromwell’s troops, in the year 1643, destroyed much of the structure and in particular broke the stained-glass windows that depicted both biblical stories and the history of that cathedral. Again, incredible work, priceless art, was lost forever.
It was a reminder to me of how important it is to document the artworks of a church, from the stained-glass windows to the sculptures or paintings that the church has collected. Such documentation obviously is helpful for insurance purposes in case of damage from any variety of causes, but it also becomes a part of telling the story of a church, of the history of that church, be it brief or quite lengthy.
In addition, if we document the arts-related activities of the church, and the temporary art installations that are experienced in worship or other settings, it becomes a record to refer to as well as a celebration of the church’s involvement in the arts. For our church, that documentation includes photographs of a mosaic workshop that church members enjoyed, images of the art exhibitions that we have curated, as well as both photos and archival recordings of concerts in our performance series.
Even now, as I reflect upon these activities that have celebrated the arts in a variety of ways in my church, I find great joy in re-envisioning the impact that these events have had, as well as being inspired anew to keep exploring ways in which the arts can bring unique gifts to the life of a church. I hope that you too might both enjoy reflecting back, and looking forward.
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.