By Toya Richards
Rebecca Barnes-Davies, a dual-degree student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, intends to pastor a local congregation one day, and when she does, she will be equipped with experience and knowledge about how to incorporate more fully the arts into worship.
She recently attended the conference Danger: Art at Work, Worship and the Arts III, held July 28-31 at Louisville Seminary. The event, sponsored by the Seminary and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology, Worship, and Education, brought together students, pastors, artists, worship leaders, and others to explore the intersection between worship and the arts, often a dangerous endeavor.
“I really appreciate this emphasis of bringing arts into worship to express what God is doing in the world,” said Barnes-Davies, who is earning Master of Divinity and Master of Arts (Religion) degrees.
She hopes artists, or even dabblers in art in the congregation she will eventually serve, see art and worship “as not separate from what they do on Sunday morning.”
Art should enrich worship to “help more people experience God’s grace,” said Barnes-Davies, also a writer and the author of 50 Ways to Help Save the Earth: How You and Your Church Can Make a Difference.
The arts conference, which was also offered to the public as one of the Seminary’s lifelong learning opportunities, was offered as a summer course at Louisville Seminary. Among course objectives were to think critically and constructively about the relationship between liturgy and the arts, particularly the blessings, challenges, and risks of artistic expression in worship; and to experience and engage in a variety of approaches to liturgical practices and participation through the arts, learning skills and strategies for pastoral ministry and community activities.
Workshops covering music, pottery, theater, and visual art were guided by professionals in those fields, and students and other participants received hands-on experiences in creative approaches to worship planning and leadership.
Actual worship services, woven into the conference program, added to the exploration of intermingling worship with various forms of art and styles of worship. One of the most poignant of those services was conducted with worshippers blindfolded, simulating the experience of the visually impaired.
Led in part by Louisville Seminary student Deb Trevino, who is pursuing the Masters of Divinity degree, the service led blindfolded congregants through several experiences, including baptism. Trevino was joined by her husband, Dave Trevino, who also co-led conference music workshops with LPTS Alum Rev. Jorges Sayago-Gonzalez (MDiv ‘07).
Worshippers, whose eyes were covered by sashes, felt their way slowly to the baptismal font, hands outstretched and touching whatever and whoever could aid them getting their bearings. Guided by the voice of Deb Trevino, who was standing at the font, each person made their way to the front of the sanctuary. Both Trevino and her husband are blind.
“Be blessed as you remember your baptism,” Deb Trevino told them as she helped them dip their hands in the water. Some were chattering, some humming, at least one even crying.
“I charge you to go forth in God’s abundant love,” she told the gatherers after each one had made it back to their seats. “Get beyond … your sight and realize a new vision.”
Master of Divinity degree student Angela Johnson likened the worship service to Christians’ relationship with God.
“This whole experience is like our journey of faith,” she said. “We have to depend on God to lead us.”
Johnson, an associate minister at Canaan Christian Church in Louisville, said although she does not plan worship at her church, the conference will help her encourage those in her congregation to relax more.
“Just because you have a program you don’t have to stick to it,” she said. “It’s not a formula.”
The Rev. Claudio Carvalhaes, assistant professor of worship and preaching at LPTS and one of the conference organizers, encouraged participants to be intentional about seeking people to come to their congregations to advise them.
Ask them to help you, he said. As the blindfolded worship service revealed, “we so desperately need each other.”