Last year I began using Planning Center to organize and plan worship services in my congregation. It’s a wonderful resource and although it’s taken a while to get used to it because it can do quite a bit, it really is amazing. I can plan a month’s worth of worship services in detail in the time (more or less) it used to take to do one Sunday. There are a lot of online worship planners like this available that organize and plan the service, organize and gather your media, and schedule all your Sunday ministries. I really don’t know how I used to plan worship without it. It even has a smart phone app. One of the things Planning Center has me thinking about over the last year, however, is not the technology behind worship, but the art. I’ve come to see worship and worship making as collage art.
This really hit home for me when I was at a week-long leadership training at the beginning of August. One of the spiritual practice opportunities open to us was art. I found myself making a collage. I was never a collage maker. I would usually draw or paint given the opportunity with visual media because my artistic expression is usually done via writing or music. This time, however, I didn’t even think twice, I knew I was doing a collage (which in typical fashion I set aside to photograph when I got home and now I can’t find). Of course, I’ve been thinking about worship as collage for the better part of the past year.
One of the things that our online worship planner does is force me to think of the worship service in terms parts that create whole. How much time will this one element take? What about this song or this poem or this skit or this video? Even if one part of the service is a combination of a lot of different things, needing to slot each item into the online planner really forces me to consider every ingredient separately as it goes into the mix. Everything I glued onto the service started to get its proper attention from me in ways I had never considered in depth before in the manner I had given the sermon or the pastoral prayer.
Collage, as I learned, comes from the French term papiers collés, coined by the artists Picasso, Braque and Gris for gluing paper together, and although is ancient art form it was revived by the cubists in the early 20th century. A collage is art made out of other art: photos, drawings, three dimensional objects, colored paper of various textures are combined together and/or glued to other media, sometimes including original drawings or paintings in order to produce an original work. So it is with worship.
Worship is a three dimensional living collage that speaks to and lifts up our deepest values and experiences of the holy. Rarely, if ever, is a worship service an entirely original artwork. Good worship experiences are mostly collages. Music, video, PowerPoint, prayers, readings, dramatizations, silence, meditation, skits, film clips, music videos, games, activities, and spoken word pieces are combined with original spoken messages (or sermons) and prayers to produce an original lived experience of the sacred and community.
There are a lot of great worship resources out there for those of us who see ourselves as collage artists. Some places are inspirational and some are sources/resources of material. I am frequent or infrequent visitor to these places:
Universalist Prayers – prayer collections by Rev. Naomi King
World Prayers – Interfaith Prayer Resources
Liberal Religion Gets Loud – Thoughts about UU music and worship
UU Stock Photo Flickr – Fair use photos. This group is for Unitarian Universalists and friends wishing to share photos for members congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association to freely use with your permission on their websites. They also work well for worship to illustrate slides and song. Please send your images via email to uupix @ uua.org.
Creative Worship Tour – Used to be an open social network, now requires a password.
YouTube – Of course!
Zamzar – A free file conversion site, great for converting YouTube videos for embedding into PowerPoint.
If you know of other good resources for liberal worship, especially contemporary, creative worship resources, please note them in the comments.
Liberal religion in general and Unitarian Universalists in particular are late comers to the creative and contemporary worship scene. Be aware that in exploring some wonderful worship resources you will encounter theology that may not be yours. Don’t forget your Babel Fish.