Arts & Worship: Deprived at Church (#1)

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October 18, 2012
Brandi Friesen Thorpe |

A blog reader recently sent me an email asking if I would write about my experiences with arts in the church (Thanks Michael Turman). Being an artist in many ways, I thought it would be easy for me to indulge in this topic.

That was until I stumbled upon the realization that I hadn't experienced the arts in a church setting for almost the first two decades of life. The experiences I had in church had minimal diversity on Sunday mornings, and to this day I cannot remember one Sunday that stood out as an artistic worship experience.

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan in a small, very conservative, very traditional, Mennonite church. Expressing the arts through worship was not something that happened. Being a very artistic person, this was something that made me feel very constricted in church, as though God’s approval of my worship was acceptable in only one way. I love the people from my home, I cherish their faith and faithfulness, but this way of worship was harmful to my relationship with God. I felt deprived, a statement I reluctantly offer as truth I cannot deny.

Growing up, I could predict the order every Sunday morning at church. It was like reading a book over and over. It never changed. 4-6 hymns lead by two older males, accompanied by one female on the piano. That was worship. No less, rarely more. Holiday events such as Christmas were a bit of an exception. The children would come with approved scripts and songs, and share things similar to the previous years.

Needless to say, arts were not a priority. In fact, along with dancing, arts had little to no place within worship. It was a wound to my understanding of worship, and a wound to my relationship with God.

I do want to acknowledge that some Mennonite churches do express worship through the arts, and do it well. What is even more of a reality is that many young artistic Mennonites are coming to face the reality that their desires for expression have no place in the churches they have been born into. I see example after example of where young Mennonites are leaving “the Mennonite Church” because they feel out of place, judged, unheard, and isolated. This is a harsh epidemic in today’s Mennonite church. A good number of people are leaving the church altogether, confused about what they have been taught about about God and worship, and hurt that the ways they desire to praise God are not acceptable to their church body.

The good news in this exodus is that a number of these young people are finding new churches that are more generous in permitting artistic expressions and are flourishing in amazing ways. They’ve carried their faith forward, some with wounds, and some with fond memories of their faith beginnings in Mennonite circles.

Having moved away from my home for school, missions, and a global exploration of the church, I was able to experience whole new concepts of worship. Eventually I took home a really valuable lesson . I am created in the image of my Creator, and I meant to create. When I use my artistic gifts in worship, it gives honour to my Creator, who created those gifts. I can do this with or without the church, but I would much rather do this with the church.

My understanding of worship has exploded with my broadened experience with the global church. If I love God in what I am doing, I worship Him and bring Him glory. This truth has set my passion for God on fire, and I love all the different and creative ways there are to bring praise to God.

My God has redeemed my understanding of worship. I challenge you to look at your understanding of worship, and to let God develop it to bear greater fruit. He is so very apt to do so, with grace that will cause you to wonder.

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Stay Tuned: In the next few months I will be continuing on in a series about arts and worship.

Thoughts for Future Posts
- “When unbelievers lead the way in inventions and artistic expression, its because the church has embraced a false kind of spirituality” --- Pastor Bill Johnson. What does that mean in reflection of our churches?
- Do we have a place for the artists in our church?
- What is worship? How are we limited in our mind set of worship?
- What role does Fear/Freedom play in Worship?
- Email me YOUR thoughts and ideas. What do you think is important? brandi.j.thorpe@gmail.com

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