Friday, April 10, 2015

Planning Ritual Artistry

Asserting that worship leadership involves artistry, Marcia McFee’s essay in Liturgy 30, no. 2 entitled “Ritual Artistry in a Digital Age: Planning Design with the World at Our Fingertips,” not only offers a detailed approach to working with a worship planning team but also explains how and why it is good to acknowledge that artistry is a key part of worship. 

The term ritual is commonly used in a pejorative way to connote dry, unintentional, rote carryings-on of worship resembling religious artifact or simply moving through the motions much like the agenda of a meeting. But I’m using the term ritual in its full and deeper sense.

Definition of ritual: Christian ritual happens when engaged persons express and enact their deepest longings through repeated as well as innovated sensory-rich languages in such a way that the Spirit of the Living God is experienced and imprinted upon them so that they are convicted and sent into the world to go and do likewise as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

Such an awesome task requires a kind of artistry. Communicating seemingly ineffable concepts wrapped in mystery is the purview of artists. Evocation rather than explanation is the nuance that artists provide. And whether or not you have heretofore thought of yourself as an artist, if you have answered the call (clergy and lay alike) to bring the word of God to the people of God in speech, music, visual, dramatic, or media expressions, you are a ritual artist.   . . .

Ritual artists do not create visual art for the gallery. They create in order to engage a faith narrative through color and texture and line and dimension. Ritual artists do not create music for the concert hall. They describe encounter with the divine through crescendo and legato and phrase and pause. Ritual artists do not create poetry or prose for the page. They write for living, breathing bodies to hear, recite, whisper, and shout, expressing life’s range of joy and lament.

So even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist, if you have chosen or written words for yourself or the congregation to say, picked out music for them to sing, arranged poinsettias on the chancel area, played or sung a note, lowered the lights, clicked on a slide, or turned on a microphone, you are a ritual artist.   . . .

Intentional design is a process by which all the ritual artists work in a collaborative manner, far enough in advance so that the worship of a community takes on the character of a particular spiritual journey within a set period of time. That’s a fancy way of saying, “Don’t wait until the week before Advent to start thinking about what you will do for Advent.” 

Artists do their best work––whether it is a sermon, an anthem, a visual worship center or projected media––when there is time to dream, ruminate, gather resources, and implement the art with excellence. Then the art becomes not only a spiritual expression at the time of worship but a spiritual journey in the preparation as well.

McFee gives addresses to specific websites later in her essay for resources that can give life to a season or a theme of worship. Watch for them in the next installment of this blog or subscribe to Liturgy. 

Marcia McFee has designed and led worship for national and international gatherings for twenty-four years and is the creator and curator of the Worship Design Studio (

Marcia McFee, “Ritual Artistry in a Digital Age: Planning Design with the World at Our Fingertips,” Liturgy 30, no. 2 (2015): 3-9.

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