May 29, 2020
Getting Ready for Beyond Pentecost
Pentecost is the last, significant church-liturgical-year observance until Advent comes around again. The intervening time is often referred to as Ordinary Time, although, coming from a tradition – The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – that is usually not as liturgically oriented as some, I decided to see how others would describe this coming time.
An Internet search led me to many sources. Among them was the Trinity Church Wall Street, in New York. They had this to say: “Ordinary Time is the part of the liturgical calendar that falls outside the major seasons such as Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. Ordinary time begins with the passing of the Day of Pentecost and continues until the First Sunday of Advent, and is the longest season of the church year.
“While the term is used by the Catholic Church, The Episcopal Church doesn’t typically use the phrase ‘Ordinary Time’ and it is nowhere to be found in The Book of Common Prayer. Rather, these Sundays are named in relation to the previous feast day, for example, ‘the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.’
“The term ordinary may be derived from ‘ordinal,’ which means ‘counted,’ though this is disputed. It may simply mean ordinary.”
For contrast, I also explored the site for the Catholic Church in England and Wales, where I found this description: “Universal Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, 43”)
It seems to me that one of the tasks of creative worship planning is to, in some way, make sure that no Sunday is “ordinary.” I know, of course, that people like familiarity, that they like to know what to expect, what is coming their way. Yet, part of the reason that I wrote my book, Transforming the Small Church: Fifth Sundays and Beyond, was to encourage the introduction of different elements on Fifth Sundays as a way to be able to welcome different things on other Sundays. My hope for my church, and for others, is that there are very few “ordinary” Sundays.
What is captured in the above description of Ordinary Time from the Catholic Church is that there is always a sense of mystery in celebrating the place of Christ in our lives. That mystery is something to explore in this long season of Ordinary Time, precisely because it is anything but ordinary.
The arts – music, painting, drama, dance, poetry and more – naturally evoke some of the mystery that is there, because they are partially defined in time and space, but they are also expressing something of the Spirit that goes beyond time and space and challenges any kind of set interpretation. With Ordinary Time, we have before us an open canvas for creativity as we explore the mystery.
May 22, 2020
Getting Ready for Pentecost
Pentecost is a visual worship event. It is an experiential worship celebration. We have only to remember the mighty wind and the tongues that appeared like fire to know that Pentecost is a time to encourage people to use all of their senses in order to appreciate and celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit and its impact upon the church and upon our lives.
That being said, we are faced with challenges in the celebration of this important event in this year when we are mostly physically distant from one another. However, that should not be a source of discouragement, but rather a prompt to creativity. How can we capture the events of that first Pentecost in our worship confines today?
The first, simple element, is something that many churches do when their people are physically present with one another, and that is to bring the color red into the worship space. That is of course an easy one to do even in cyberspace, as we can encourage people to wear something red, to bring red flowers into their space, to bring anything else that is red into the view of others who are participating in worship.
A second element that can enhance even a distance celebration is a PowerPoint presentation or its equivalent. To share the scripture reading from Acts 2, accompanied by slides of artwork from around the world that depict the Pentecost event, or anything having to do with the Holy Spirit, is a way to bring color and life into the worship celebration. I specifically mention artwork from around the world, because even though the first Pentecost was a localized event, it took place in the context of Jews having gathered from at least many parts of the Mediterranean world for the festival celebrating the giving of the law to Moses. The event then symbolized a giving of the Holy Spirit to the whole world, and our celebrations are enriched as we expand them to include representations from around the world.
If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I am always encouraging the proper acknowledgement of sources of elements used in worship and education, especially works of art. In this case, I think that listing the information below each artwork, as one is trying to bring forth an experience of the day for people, would be distracting. Therefore, I would suggest either having a slide at the end that identifies the works of art and their sources, or to say that a listing of the artists and their creations is available and can be sent to people upon request. Or, alternatively, you can verbally share the information as people are viewing each slide, although even that may distract from the experience.
Finally, with so much communication regarding worship happening via email or on websites, it is possible to even send items out to worshippers ahead of time, to enhance their experience through their own preparations. Again, though, anything that is copyrighted should have a permission attached, and anything in the public domain should be appropriately acknowledged.
Pentecost is an amazing annual celebration. Especially in this year of challenge, and of tragedy for some, the lifting up of the power of the Holy Spirit, and its impact upon the church in whatever places we find ourselves, is a reminder that God’s Spirit dwells among us and within us at all times.
May 15, 2020
Online Bible Study with Images 2
It was after I wrote my blog last week that I received an email from Art and Christianity, an organization that is featured on my home page. Included in that email was a banner and a link to a resource called, VCS: The Visual Commentary on Scripture, a project of King’s College London. The banner said, “TheVCS.org is a free online resource that provides material for teaching, preaching, researching and reflecting on the Bible, Art and Theology.” I immediately followed the link, and discovered a wealth of materials, perfectly suited to the kind of topical Bible study that includes works of art, such as I described last week.
As I explored the site, I clicked on the link, “About the VCS”. Rather than my attempting to summarize the work of this project, allow me to share a portion of what they say about their work.
“The Visual Commentary on Scripture (VCS) is a freely accessible online publication that provides theological commentary on the Bible in dialogue with works of art. It helps its users to (re)discover the Bible in new ways through the illuminating interaction of artworks, scriptural texts, and commissioned commentaries.
“The VCS combines three academic disciplines: theology, art history, and biblical scholarship. While the project’s main commitment is to theology, it is responsibly informed by the latter two disciplines.
“Each section of the VCS is a virtual exhibition comprising a biblical passage, three art works, and their associated commentaries. The curators of each exhibition select artworks that they consider will open up the biblical texts for interpretation, and/or offer new perspectives on themes the texts address. The commentaries explain and interpret the relationships between the works of art and the scriptural text.
“The virtual exhibitions of the VCS aim to facilitate new possibilities of seeing and reading so that the biblical text and the selected works of art come alive in new and vivid ways.”
I am thrilled to discover this resource, and grateful for the work that is being done. I am already working on a Bible study session focusing on the parable of the sower, using the artwork on the site to enhance the coming discussion. I hope that you too will find a helpful resource in TheVCS.org.
May 8, 2020
Online Bible Study with Images
As I continue to learn about offering worship and other activities of the church through an online format, I keep seeking ways to add even small elements into the worship time so as to offer some variety, and I am looking for ways to expand the online ministry of the church during this time of staying at home.
I have colleagues who have recently begun leading Bible study groups online, and I am certain there are others who were doing so in some ways even before the current circumstances. A topical Bible study is the next activity that I am going to add to our online offerings. This will be in a discussion format, as we have always done when physically together at the church. While streaming a Bible study may work for some, I prefer interaction among the participants rather than a lecture kind of format. I still offer commentary and insights, but always value the contributions of the other participants.
While I have sometimes brought photographs of works of art to our Bible study sessions, and have even shared a few works of art that I have, this online format provides a wonderful medium through which to present such art. I am not familiar with all of the online formats, but in the Zoom one that we use it is easy to share an artwork by sharing my screen. Without having to make copies for everyone, I can easily share with all, and even toggle back and forth between the images and our interactions.
As I have written at previous times in this blog, it is important to give copyright credit whenever using something like photos of artworks. I wrote in a blog shortly after Christmas about a resource called Wikimedia Commons, which provides a great wealth of public domain works. With their wide variety of artwork to draw from, and with their information that makes it fairly simple to provide details about the artwork and to note that the work is in the public domain, this allows one to showcase works of art without having to pay royalties of any kind.
Of course, just as one would spend time in preparing to discuss the texts, through reference to commentaries and other sources, so also one needs to be prepared to discuss the works of art. Even though I always want to invite the reflections of participants about the art, it is important to at least identify the artist, the historical period of the artwork, and perhaps to point out various features of it. If it is a work that one would assume is generally familiar to people, you might start with asking about their knowledge of the work and inviting their reactions to it. The order of interaction is less important than the attention to details.
Finally, if you have photos of works that you have seen in-person, or can photograph art that is a part of your church setting, that provides even one more, personal connection for participants in the Bible study. Whatever artwork is shared, it becomes one more way of interacting with the texts, and providing both reflection and inspiration.
May 1, 2020
Drumming as a means of Self-Care
As our congregation has celebrated the arts through music with our concert series each year, among my favorite concerts have been the ones involving the percussion instruments, including the marimba. Each time we have a Jazz quartet or my colleague’s seventeen-piece Jazz big band play, it is often the drums that hold the pieces together with their underlying rhythms and tempo. When our Scripture as Theatre group has presented works for our worship gathering, our Artist-in-Residence has composed songs for those occasions, and has invited other musicians to join in with him. Once again, drums have often set the underlying tone of the songs. Listening to the music of drums, playing the drums as well, promotes a certain connection with deeper emotions and inner life.
A friend of mine, Ping Ho, is the founder and director of UCLA Arts and Healing. I have known Ping and her husband for some time, and they are two very beautiful, gentle souls who touch my life every time I am with them. I have participated in one of the Arts and Healing writing programs in the past, and hosted the group at our church for a couple of seasons.
Their mission, as noted on their website, “is to transform lives through creative expression by integrating the innate benefits of the arts with mental health practices for self-discovery, connection, and empowerment.” https://uclartsandhealing.org/ In this time of coping with the pandemic and its effects on all of us, mental wellness is just as critical as physical wellness. Toward that end, Arts and Healing is presenting a series of free webinars for folks to share in, focusing on a variety of topics.
I attended their webinar about drumming last week, and found the insights provided to be helpful in a couple of ways. Ping, who led this particular webinar, talked about the ways in which drumming relieves stress, even as music in general satisfies us and helps us to feel a sense of inner connection. She led us through several exercises in order to demonstrate the drumming, and the ways in which one can use drumming to facilitate small groups. Interestingly, the initial exercise was for five minutes, which was offered as a time span that allows one to fully move into the rhythm of the drumming. It was reminiscent for me of sitting meditation, where it also takes a while for most of us to settle into that experience. Drumming is then also a way to be in touch with one’s emotions, as well as to affect change in those emotions through variations in the drumming. It was a fascinating hour, time well spent.
In this time of physically being apart from one another, the creative use of the arts provides us with unique ways to connect with one another.
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.