By Toya Richards
Dr. Janet R. Walton believes the art of worshipping is about practicing ways of being that can affect our day-to-day lives.
“I am not thinking that worship is a concert, to be entertained,” said the professor of worship at Union Theological Seminary in New York. What is done in worship “imprints us, and we never forget it.”
Then, when the time comes to stand up for something “we have already practiced it,” said Walton.
That will be the core message Walton communicates as the keynote lecturer at the Worship and the Arts Conference III, July 28–31, at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
The conference will bring together pastors, worship leaders, liturgical artists, church members, seminarians, and others who are eager to find new ways of encountering God in worship, said the Rev. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology, Worship, and Education. “We are encouraging all kinds of people to come and learn about art in worship.”
The conference, called “Danger: Art at Work,” is sponsored by the Seminary under the leadership of Dr. Claudio Carvalhaes, Assistant Professor of Worship & Preaching, and PC(USA). Through activities such as lectures, workshops, and creative worship services, participants will explore worshipping in multimedia, including music, pottery, theater, and visual art. And an ensemble of professional artists will share their expertise: Carol Marples (visual arts), the Rev. Dr. Ann Laird Jones (pottery), Dave Trevino (music), the Rev. Jorges Sayago-Gonzalez (music), and Adrian-Alice Hansel (theater).
“Art and worship is always dangerous,” said Gambrell. On the one hand there is risk of idolatry and the possibility that art distracts us from true worship and the service of God, he said.
“One the other hand when it is used appropriately, art can have the dangerous affect of opening our hearts and minds to what God is doing, to the world-changing work of God,” Gambrell said. “That is the kind of dangerous artwork that we hope to demonstrate in this event.”
The hope is to introduce, through worship, some new ideas and risk taking for the sake of the gospel, he said.
Central to that mission will be the keynote lectures given by Walton. Her interest is in reflecting both an understanding of how forms of worship have emerged over time, and why communities of faith now need to contribute to those layers of understanding and experience.
“I am very interested in the arts as an avenue of disrupting our habits,” Walton said. “We have inherited, for good and not so good, patterns for worshipping.”
“Universal forms provide the first step, but they have to be enfleshed by the needs of the local community,” she said. “If we accept our forms without any critique, and we don’t disrupt them, then they begin to lose their impetus to help us survive in society today with its particular needs.”
Walton is a past president of the North American Academy of Liturgy, a Henry Luce Fellow in Theology and the Arts, the 2003 recipient of the Academy of American Religion (AAR) Excellence in Teaching Award, and the 2009 recipient of the North American Academy of Liturgy Berakah Award.
“I want to show some examples of how art has shaken us up,” Walton said. “I will also suggest … that we live in an urgent time and it is not a time of inertia, but for interrupting that and getting a dose of courage.”
“That’s what I think coming to church is for, getting a dose of courage,” she said.
Online registration for the Conference is open, or contact Laura March at Louisville Seminary, 800.264.1839.