“Art heightens our awareness of the divine presence that is all around us.”—Michael Bauer, Arts Ministry: Nurturing the Creative Life of God’s People
As an artist and recently-ordained Unity minister, I am passionate about the use of the arts as a tool to enrich our ministries. I have personally given talks, led workshops and retreat experiences centered on the arts as a tool for spiritual reflection. Time and again, participants have commented on the powerful nature of these sessions. One woman shared, “I thought I was signing up for an art workshop when I joined; I had no idea how beautiful or special or sacred—yes, sacred is a good word—this space was going to be. It’s not just about creating art. It’s about love, celebration, freedom and healing, too. ”
It is my belief that the arts in all their forms—be it dance, painting, sculpture, music or performance—have the potential to open us up to the awareness of something greater than ourselves. The arts can provide an opening through which we might contemplate our relationship with the Divine and ponder questions of ultimate meaning and truth. Engaging in the arts is an experience of empathy. The experience can call our attention to both our human nature and our divine nature. We can explore religion, faith and spirituality as well as life, relationships and social concerns. Perhaps this is why the arts have been employed by spiritual communities for ages as a means to help connect individuals with the sacred.
Through personal study on this topic, I have become aware of a new emergence of “Arts Ministries” within the Christian sphere. The term is loosely used, but generally refers to religious ministries devoted to the arts in some way. Art Ministry programs may directly relate to Sunday worship services, special event programming, or involve partnering with artists. Some arts ministries are ministries within a church just as many churches have social action ministries or education ministries. Others are independent ministries that offer their services out to spiritual communities and secular venues.
Merging the arts and the church is one way in which Unity ministries can seek to create spiritual services that are culturally relevant and that speak to the experience of the Divine. Creative worship engages the body, mind and spirit. The arts are a powerful tool that, when combined in worship, can help congregants experience the presence of God in their lives. The arts, both visual and performed stimulate the senses and are 100% experiential. Congregants can physically feel the presence of God in a melodic tune or in the beat of a drum. Contemplating visual artworks, lead one to ponder that power greater than themselves. Through performance arts, individuals are transported in place and in time as they witness inspiring stories unfold before their eyes.
Thinking outside the traditional box, we can find many other ways in which the arts can create an experience of the Divine within our ministries. Creative workshops can provide an opportunity for congregants to engage the power of imagination. Arts Ministries may include exhibitions, dance programs, music programs, classes, field trips to art venues, puppetry, drama and storytelling. Music ministries may include contemporary or blended music and modern instruments. Churches and spiritual centers may increase their use of video or consider theatrically designed platforms. Unity ministries can also directly partner with artists fostering a relationship between spirituality and the arts. Artists can be commissioned to create art that is site-specific or the church might even sponsor artists-in-residence.
An example of arts ministry in action was highlighted in Arts magazine (Jan 2007). The article featured Rev Alice Anderman who explored the potential for arts ministry at The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Waterville, Maine. She created worship services featuring visual arts, led art and spirituality retreats, and is planning to open an art gallery. Of the experience she writes, “The results were remarkable, for we found that the arts touched us in all aspects of our community life: they engaged our senses, helped us build relationships among ourselves, and helped us respond to wider community needs; they expanded our theological vision, stirred our imaginations, and brought us to places where we experienced God in moving and profound ways.”
Regardless of whether your spiritual community is ready to commit to a full-fledged arts ministry program, there is still much to be learned by studying arts ministries and partnering with artists. Consider how the arts might enrich your ministry. Imagine a talk around Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper; reading a colorful story to illustrate a point, or inviting Sufi dancers to your ministry. The arts have the power to move congregations, to stir emotions, to enliven services and to deepen awareness of God in a way that fully engages the whole being. I invite you to join me in envisioning the future of Unity immersed in powerful, Creative Spirit.