August 26, 2022
I serve on a committee for the Regional portion of our denomination, and our work involves nurturing candidates for ministry, walking with them through their preparation for serving in a variety of ministry settings. As I opened our recent meeting with a brief devotional time, I suggested that in addition to speaking with people about their biblical knowledge, their theology, and their understanding of our denomination, I was also curious as to how candidates develop a sense of creativity and imagination. What are the things that they do, what practices do they have, what activities do they engage in, that nourish imagination and creativity?
In order to get everyone thinking about how our candidates might do this, I asked the committee members to share about the things that they do to nurture creativity and imagination in their lives. It was fascinating to hear the wide variety of activities that captivate people. One offered that blowing bubbles and drawing are things that prompt her imagination. Another person said that he occasionally sets up Hot Wheel displays in his garage, which is a connection to his childhood. I was especially taken by the playful nature of these things, reminding us that Jesus encouraged us to again become as children in our faith and life.
A third person shared that he likes to fix old things, to renew them and give them new life. That prompted another person to speak of how she and her husband refinish furniture, and especially how their grandchildren get involved and share their fascination with the process. Another person creates pottery, and also goes about delving deeply into the character of biblical figures.
For me, reading novels has become one way of exploring imagination and creativity, not just by becoming involved in a story, but by watching the craft of the novelists, how they develop characters, how they lead me into the storyline so that it becomes real, becomes tangible for me.
It is important to occasionally pause to reflect upon such things, and then perhaps to try out new practices that enhance our own imagination and creativity. What things do you perhaps do, and what would you like to try out as well?
August 19, 2022
Artistic Inspiration from the United Kingdom
I have written before about the organization in the United Kingdom called Art and Christianity (artandchristianity.org). They are engaged in vibrant work connecting the arts, theology and the Christian community. One of the tabs on their website is labeled “Ecclesiart,” and it provides one with a wealth of interesting artistic creations from which to draw inspiration.
They describe it in this way: “Ecclesiart is an online project to raise awareness of significant works of modern and contemporary art since 1920 in UK churches and cathedrals. The selected works represent the diversity of high quality church commissions and reflect developments in artistic practice and ecclesiastical art and design.”
They express their purpose for this collection in these words: “We encourage increased responsibility towards works which may be under-appreciated or at risk and hope that this selection of works provides inspiring and challenging examples of art in churches useful to any parish or individual wishing to commission a new work.”
There are more than ninety links to the variety of works in the online collection. Each link leads one to a photograph, commentary about the work, details about it, and its location.
They “welcome nominations of new works to be added to Ecclesiart.” Significantly, their guidelines for selection include the presentation of a brief rationale for the inclusion of a work in the program, accompanied by a theological reflection on the work, and the provision of the context in which the work is located. I love that they require a specific connection between art and theology.
While these resources are in the United Kingdom and not easily accessible to all, they do provide both insight and inspiration for your own projects or commissions, wherever you are located. The wide diversity of artistic creations represented in their collection encourages artistic expressions that reflect the gifts of artists and invite wonderful engagement by viewers.
August 12, 2022
Creative Scripture Experiences
As our church book club continues to read mainly novels, I have become well aware of how novelists have the luxury of taking time to develop characters and situations, the character development often happening through the course of varied circumstances in the story the author is weaving.
In delivering Sunday messages, the dynamic is quite different. For those sermons which are based in scripture, which is most sermons, the message is dependent upon some familiarity with the scripture readings on the part of the listeners. While some churches gather for Bible study during the week, which is focused on the Sunday texts, most people are only apt to hear the readings during the time of worship. And, whereas Bible reading was a common activity in many people’s lives several decades ago, it is now much less the case, and there is less common knowledge that preachers can depend upon when they offer a message. Indeed, often times if there is a sense of biblical knowledge it tends to come from what people have viewed in movies, and that is often a view of the filmmaker’s take on the stories rather than being based on following the story as one would read it in the Bible.
When preachers launch into their message, it is certainly common that some exposition of the texts of the day will happen, but one needs to be careful to not turn the message into a Bible study unless that is the approach that works in a particular situation. Most often, prior to the message, someone will read the texts of the day, and hope that people will gather some sense of the story before the preacher starts to speak. These readings, however, are often just a straight recitation of the text, with people occasionally following along in their own Bibles.
Such readings are what my seminary worship class professor termed “dumb readings.” By that he meant that we don’t particularly learn anything as we listen, we just go along with it and hope that the preacher will make sense of it for us. An alternative that he proposed was to provide interpretation and commentary during the reading of the scriptures, filling in the gaps as we are hearing the passages, rather than revisiting them during the sermon and hoping that then they will make sense.
I would take it a step further and suggest that the readings can be accompanied by works of art, which in themselves are certainly interpretations of the scripture passages, but which help to open up a conversation, even a dialogue, about what is accurately presented and what is open to interpretation, even our own interpretation. We can thereby receive as much detail as possible about the readings, and can even begin to see how we might apply them to our own lives.
One can certainly imagine the ways in which drama could also enhance the readings, and you can likely think of other creative ways to share the scripture stories. The point is to help these ancient texts to come to life in our midst, and thereby to enliven the time of worship and the lives of those who gather together for that time.
August 5, 2022
Creating Different Worship Experiences
As I was going through some papers from the time of my doctoral program, I came across a small project from one of my classes entitled, “A Disciples of Christ Service in the style of Taizé.” This was a class on worship in the context of the larger program combining theology and art. The paper reflected an interest that I had in Taizé, and the ways that it could offer an alternative type of worship experience to the usual one in my church.
Taizé was very popular at one point a number of years ago, both as a community experience in France and especially through the music that emerged from that community and that many congregations experimented with in their worship settings. Our own Chalice Hymnal, which was published in 1995, has six Taizé songs included in it, which is a significant number. Although I am not certain that Taizé has quite the popularity that it once did, one can still find plenty of books and internet resources about the community and the music, including numerous videos of worship in the Taizé style.
The music itself tends to be of a repetitive nature, which is intended to become almost a mantra of sorts, so that the words and music help to usher one into a place of prayer and meditation. While I have us include a time of silent prayer in our worship experience each Sunday, experimenting with a Taizé style service would bring a distinctly different experience for people to engage in.
Freshness in our worship expressions is important, and I continue to search for ways to create different experiences that bridge the two spaces of the church building and the Zoom platform. A Taizé experience has the potential to do this well, as the songs can be sung wherever one is, and Zoom participants, with some advance input, can provide their own worship setting that can mirror the setting that we establish in the church building.
This setting would include the communion elements, as well as candles, and perhaps other elements that individuals might care to add to their spaces. In addition, works of art can be installed in the church which will serve as focuses during times of prayer, and images of the art can be sent to Zoom participants to either print out or view on their screens.
This combination of music, art, and other worship elements will help people to experience worship in a different way, one which will hopefully open them up to the variety of possibilities that exist beyond the usual order of worship.
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.