Principles for New Elements in Worship

Before we can implement a program of integrating the visual arts into worship we need to understand what it is we are introducing and why we want to expand our current process of worship. Any new elements should adhere to the following principles:

  1. Introduce different emotional stimuli.
  2. Fit into the existing worship framework.
  3. Enhance connections within the community of worshipers.

Introduce Different Emotional Stimuli

Worship should be an experience accessible to all who are present. Just as we learn indifferent ways, we also worship in different ways. The experience depends not only on our personal spirituality, background, and faith tradition, but also on our mood at the time, our understanding of the worship leader or pastor, how our senses are engaged at any given moment, and the emotions evoked through the elements of the service.

When we have worshipped in a particular space with the same community for any length of time, we become used to the setting—it becomes background, no longer evoking the same emotional responses as when the experience was new to us. Introducing new visual elements, such as the colors of the church calendar, provides space for additional emotional responses.

Fit into the Existing Worship Framework

Adding visual arts to the worship experience should be as well planned as the rest of the service, so that it appears as an integral part rather than as a perceived add-on. Planners should understand why, for example, green cloth is draped to frame the communion table on a particular Sunday, or how a live painting draws worshipers into the theme of Pentecost. Some explanation should be given to the choices made, whether through a few paragraphs in the worship guide or an announcement from the pulpit, to help worshipers incorporate these additions into their personal spiritual experience of the service. Confusion over the presence of items in the worship service distracts and drives away from the intended purpose.

Enhance Connections within the Community of Worshipers

Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and 14, that the body of Christ is one, but is made up of many parts with differing gifts. Keeping a diverse group of people focused on the same experience is a challenging but essential aspect of worship planning. Integrating visual arts into worship allows for a wider variety of interests to be addressed. To paraphrase Paul, one worshiper responds to singing, another to the reading of scripture, another to the colors in the handmade quilt draped over the altar, but all are worshiping together. Communication, as mentioned above, is key to enhancing the connection between worshipers in a community of faith. Hearing a congregant explain why she responds to a live painting experience may evoke a similar response in one who feels the same about recited poetry on the same theme. Collecting and sharing these spiritual responses is a way to enhance the ties within the community of worshipers.

Paying close attention to these three concepts forms a foundation for incorporating elements of the visual arts into a spiritual worship experience.

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