Take a Seat at the Kids’ Table

Volume 37, Issue 3

Imagine this taking place at your house of worship: A dozen or so creative men and women gather regularly to create art to adorn this place throughout the year. The use of their talents is a spiritual practice that benefits themselves as well as the faith community. Participants include creative thinkers, skilled artisans and writers, designers, painters, seamstresses, carpenters, and architects, along with other interested members. Guided by a facilitator versed in liturgical art, they reflect on aspects of the liturgical season, scripture or theological writings, rituals and symbols, current events, and the needs of the community. Through this reflection they identify emotions and metaphors to translate into meaningful, prayerful images. The group fabricates and installs the art, which may include suspended painted panels, weavings, banners, mobiles, and forms of interactive art completed over time by the community. The result is organic liturgical art born out of the wisdom of the community that serves the liturgy, and is capable of increasing participation and deepening the experience of prayer for all involved.

Because of its perceived lack of importance to worship, the idea of creating art of this nature seldom garners the attention it deserves. Much like the children at large family gatherings, it is relegated to the “kids’ table.” Of course, for many of us, the kids’ table is the place to be: this is the creative laboratory of the next generation. Many “grownups” still wish they could sit there. However, in the great family gathering that is worship, many leaders resist the idea of including sacred art, perhaps for fear that it will be a distraction or because they do not understand its purpose. Besides, the creation of religious art is typically understood as being the domain of professional artists and architects, and is permanently installed during the building or renovation process. Even clergy who support the addition of sacred art might stop short over fears of mediocre or kitschy art in the sanctuary. Some enthusiastic leaders may appreciate the value of sacred art, but are wary of the time and oversight required. Others may have concerns that the art will be rejected by the community. The default is to do nothing, or buy “art” out of a catalog.

But, with the right information, guidance, and talent, a successful sacred art ministry can be formed. I propose three scenarios based on a community’s level of experience. The first is to commission a liturgical artist who collaborates with the community during the discernment process but works alone to create the art. The second is to work with an artist-in-residence who guides members of an existing sacred art ministry through the entire process. The third (a natural progression from the second) is to gradually develop a sacred art ministry from the talented members of the community, perhaps starting with one installation per year.

Liturgical art visually illuminates worship by drawing out the fullness of the mystery therein. The collaborative process of its creation can open untapped avenues of spiritual insight, leading to a greater discernment of God’s movement in the ordinary.

Susan Francesconi is the author of Art in the Sanctuary (artinthesanctuary.com), an educational Web site devoted to the promotion of liturgical art. She is also a candidate for a Master’s of Pastoral Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and the Director of Evangelization for Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Hoboken, New Jersey.