Category Archives: Liturgical Art

“Death Has Died, No Longer Holds Us”

Well, here it is: my first ever attempt at hymnody. The following text that I have composed is structured as 8.7.8.7. D. Suggested tunes are ABBOT’S LEIGH, BEECHER, HOLY MANNA, HYFRYDOL, HYMN TO JOY, and NETTLETON.

Death has died, no longer holds us;
God’s embrace and love endure.
Never ceasing, always blessing,
grace has found us, made us sure.
God the Alpha and Omega
gives us life anew each day.
Christ has died and Christ is Risen;
all our fears have passed away.

Text by Stephen Fearing.

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Filed under Easter, Liturgical Art, Liturgical Practices, Liturgy, Music, Poetry

Liturgical Art | Second Sunday in Easter (Year C)

Art from the Revised Common Lectionary resources through the Vanderbilt Library. The first is called “Alpha and Omega” from the Church of San Isidro. The second is called “Jesus Appears to Thomas.”

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These Things Did Thomas Count As Real

The following poem is a piece by Thomas Troeger and is a beautiful piece of art. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

These things did Thomas count as real:
the warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
the grain of wood, the heft of stone,
the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.

The vision of his skeptic mind
was keen enough to make him blind
to any unexpected act
too large for his small world of fact.

His reasoned certainties denied
that one could live when one had died,
until his fingers read like Braille
the markings of the spear and nail.

May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
whose raw, imprinted palms reach out –
and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

-Thomas Troeger
copyright 1994 Oxford University Press

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Liturgical (and Affordable!) Art

The following is a more “practical” post. Below I have displayed two examples of affordable liturgical art that I hope will be used by congregations seeking affordable ways to embrace the mystery of worship in new and creative ways. If you have any questions about the process of these methods, please do not hesitate to contact me!

With the unfortunate economy and dwindling numbers, many PC(USA) churches are shrinking their budget in order to simply survive. When facing this very real obstacle, considering liturgical art might seem a foolish and fiscally unresponsible venture. Such a sentiment is not surprising when even the most simple of liturgical decorations can cost several hundreds (if not thousands!) of dollars! However, I would like to share with you a few examples of liturgical art that is both visually (and spiritually) stimulating without having the cost which makes finance committees shudder.

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I first experienced this method of liturgical art at Cherokee Retreat Center in Cartersville, Georgia. For four years now I have been on staff at Camp Cherokee, a ministry of Cherokee Presbytery. My friend and boss, Jean Howington, introduced me to this method of art which the campers of all ages loved! The above pictures are taken of the piece of art that was created with this method this past December for Columbia Theological Seminary‘s service of Lessons and Carols. The entire project (which is reusable!) cost around 50 dollars!

As you can see, this is a simple wooden frame that is make to fit a full size bed sheet (or larger or smaller depending on space and need). Once the frame is created, you simply need to use a staple-gun to fasten the plain white bed-sheet upon the frame. Then, you simply place the frame inbetween the congregation and the artists. The artists (using regular tempera paint) then paint on the backside of the sheet and the colors bleed through the sheet. The most wondrous thing about this method is that the congregation does not see the artists because they are standing on the other side of the canvas. Therefore, the congregation only sees the image “emerge” as the artists paint throughout any one or all of the liturgical elements of the service (scripture reading, offertory, anthem, confession, etc.). This method of art is especially helpful for including children in worship!

Many thanks to Joseph Taber and Jacob Geerlings for helping me construct the one above. Also, thanks to Sally Ann Sisk and Rachel Hood for serving as the liturgical artists for the service in this the above art was created!

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The above art can be found at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tucker, Georgia. To read more about the fascinating worship space of this congregation, see my post on it here. These are simple liturgical banners which can be made by the congregation and are simple (and yet quite intricate!) cutouts made with a stencil. This is yet another example of liturgical art that is affordable and, perhaps most important of all, can be made with the hands of the congregation! It is my hope that the use of affordable and “home-grown” liturgical art will make such art less of an expense to be paid and more a gift to be offered as a community to our God!

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Passing Through the Waters

Happy New Year and Happy Epiphany! I hope you have gotten the chance to enjoy some “down time” after the craziness of the holidays! I took advantage of a rare occasion such as this a few days ago! I have been preaching weekly at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church south of Rome, Georgia. However, as I am yet to be ordained as a pastor in the PC(USA), I get the first Sunday off since they bring in an ordained pastor to preside at the Table on those days. I took advantage of this past week off from preaching to visit St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tucker, Georgia where my dear friend, Joseph Taber, is currently interning. (I encourage you to check out his blog here). They recently remodeled their worship space and I was fascinated with their renovation and wish to share it with you!

Font at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (Tucker, Georgia)

Because we have passed through the waters of baptism,

we dare to bare our souls before God…”

The above liturgy is taken from a Call to Confession from the Feasting on the Word Worship Companion for the current liturgical season. Of the many reasons to feast upon this liturgy is its emphasis on the movement of baptism. Simply put, Christian baptism represents the journey that we make because God first journeyed to us. Therefore, a liturgically healthy worshiping community (in my opinion) takes as many steps as possible to embody the baptismal promise that God makes to us on this wild and precious journey. The people who are St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church have done so in quite a few delightful ways!

First of all, you will notice that the font itself is designed (as many are) so that the water is completely visible. From virtually every angle, the water is visible and therefore emotionally and spiritually accessible. Enclosed fonts, especially those unfortunate ones with the lids, close us off from the waters of our baptism and convey that baptism is a private and distant event. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth! Baptism is a public embodiment as we proclaim God’s promises both to us as individual children of God and as the corporate Body of Christ.

Secondly, I noticed the simplicity of this font. Overly decorated fonts, while perhaps intricate works of art unto themselves, tend to distract from what is used in baptism: water! The beautiful simplicity of the font above immediately directs your gaze upwards to the water and gets right to the point: this is about the cleansing water of baptism!

However, what I found most compelling and beautiful about this font was not the structure itself but rather its placement within the worship space as a whole.

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View from Chancel to Narthex

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View from middle to Chancel

The God in whose life and death we are baptized is none other than Emmanuel, God with us. As such, the placement of the font within the gathering of the people of God serves as a beautiful reminder that God’s love for us is not distant and unattainable. Rather, the love promised to us in our baptisms is here among us as we are baptized into the death and resurrection of the Christ who was and is here among us! Another benefit of this placement is that the congregation is able to dip their hands in the font as they, quite literally, pass through their baptismal waters on the way to the Lord’s Table, as we did this past Sunday.

Furthermore, this congregation’s baptismal identity is not only reflected from within the sanctuary but from outside as well. While most pastors have horror stories regarding the often mundane and painful process of choosing carpet, I have a feeling that whatever process that produced this carpet in the narthex was well worth the discussion!

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Carpet in the Narthex

My good friend, Joseph Taber, let me in on a little secret: the carpet in the Narthex was specifically chosen to reflect the waters of Baptism! Therefore, the entire congregation has no choice but to pass through the waters of baptism on both the beginning and end of the journey that is worship. Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful!

Thanks be to God for the promise made to us in our Baptisms! And thanks be to the people who are St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for actively embodying this grace in a liturgically abundant way! This is an example of how intentional worship (which does not necessarily have to look exactly like this!) can nurture and sustain a holy space where the people of God are called to receive and respond to the Word of God that then sends us back through our baptismal waters to the world into which you and I are sent.

Grace and peace,

Stephen

 

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The Defiance of Prayer

      Ever since I began worshiping at Central Presbyterian Church here in Atlanta, Georgia, I have been enchanted by their three-dimensional prayers of the people.  For an extended period every year since 2008, the people who are Central Presbyterian Church elevate an estimated 2000 multicolored paper cranes which dangle from the sanctuary ceiling.  These origami creations are made by the congregants themselves and many of them contain the prayers that were on the hearts of their creators.  On the International Day of Peace, the congregation erects “A Wing and a Prayer,” and for a period of several weeks, the brilliant prayers of the people hover amidst the worshiping body as they literally lift their prayer to God.
        As simultaneously prayer and offering, the creation rises above the pews and grasps the imagination of all those who gaze upon it.  Often throughout worship, I find myself pondering the mysterious beauty of this congregation’s physical embodiment of prayer.
        Like any great piece of art, its presence evokes a diverse range of interpretations.  On some Sundays, I am intrigued by the fact that this congregation has embodied prayer in a very physical, tangible way.  The prayer was created by hours and hours of folding by the people of this community with their hands, the very hands God has given them to be the body of Christ in the world.
       Other Sundays, I am left in curiosity, pondering what each prayer says and I am forced to remind myself that God alone knows our every prayer.
      Yet another Sunday I might be fascinated by the fact that this “prayers of the people” is at once individual and communal; each person (quite literally) lifts up a prayer which becomes a corporate offering to God on behalf of the community that at once both speaks to God and speaks to us on God’s behalf.
        This Sunday, for some reason, I found a beautiful defiance in this prayer as I worshiped directly beneath its mysterious presence.  It is quite remarkable, I thought to myself, how this piece of art inspires a sense of awe while reminding us that we come together as the worshiping body to pray to God who alone is the source of all goodness and grace.  What is perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that we dare raise such a beautiful creation in the midst of what too often seems to be a dark and dismal world.  Despite it all, or perhaps because of it all, we lift our prayers to God.
                As Atlanta continues to serve as a hub for human sex trafficking, we lift our prayers to God.
    As the homeless woman tries to stay warm in the cooler weather, we lift our prayers to God.
                As senseless killings happen around the world, we lift our prayers to God.
                As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, we lift our prayers to God.
                As we ravage this earth we were called to preserve, we lift our prayers to God.
         What a beautiful image of quiet defiance that we dare raise such beauty to God when we are surrounded by such grief and brokenness?  Such defiance is the voice of Jacob who refuses to let God go until God blesses him.  Such defiance is the voice of the woman who will not let the judge ignore her.  Such defiance is the voice of Paul who is not ashamed of the gospel.  Such defiance is the voice of John who dares to tell us that there will be a day when tears will be no more and God will have the final word. 
         So the next time you are in downtown Atlanta, stop by Central Presbyterian Church.  Lift your eyes upward and gaze in wonder at the mystery of prayer.  Dare to lift your own prayers to a God who listens.  Lift your prayer to God who lifts us from the depths of an empty tomb and raises us to new life in Christ.  And as your eyes traverse the whispers of our prayers, remember that we have never worshiped a God who is happy with leaving us alone.

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