my latest monthly greenbelt column for the church times which was in last week's paper...
Worship Outside (in) the Box
Last year one of my favourite contemporary art installations was The Bridge by Michael Cross at Dilston Grove in Bermondsey. The artist had constructed a pool inside the old chapel and designed a series of steps so that visitors could walk on water. The water had been blackened with dye so it looked pretty mysterious. When you stood on the first step the weight of your body as you leaned forward caused the next step to appear from under the water. It was quite a slow process, designed to be meditative and step by step you walked across the water. That experience still lives with me and when I have faced decisions requiring a step of faith I have pictured that moment.
Lots of alternative worship groups have drawn inspiration from art installations and have created interactive experiences as part of worship. These might be stations in a service or something on a grander scale. Greenbelt being an arts festival has hosted some wonderful worship art installations over the years. To much amusement at an ideas session for last year’s festival someone suggested doing ‘shed worship’. As far as I know that’s a new concept! But a few months later and lo and behold a few groups rose to the challenge of creating a worship experience with a shed that would be placed outside on site. My favourite one never took place because of health and safety – “the Scape Shed”. People were to be invited to write things on pieces of paper that they wanted rid of in their lives and post them through holes. Then at the end of the weekend the shed would be ceremoniously burned! At the festival there was a poetry shed, a graffiti shed and a shed obscura (a shed turned into a pin hole camera as a reflection on the upside down kingdom).
A mission challenge is how to take spirituality that resonates with contemporary culture and do it out in public spaces rather than inside church walls. In New Zealand, Opawa Baptist Church did precisely this last month taking the Christmas story to find a home outside the church and in the marketplace of Christchurch. Under the creative leadership of Peter and Joyce Majendie eight 20ft long containers were designed, created, wrapped and delivered to parts of the city to be unwrapped. Steve Taylor, the pastor describes it -
“Each had Scripture written on them by a local artist to provide context for the Christmas story. We had people comment "wow that's the largest I have ever seen the Bible written in the city". We had to call the police when 10 drunk santa's invaded one station. There was quite a contrast between the local cathedral who celebrated Christmas by erecting a giant Christmas tree outside with the names of all their commercial sponsors and our container about 20 feet away with planets in motion and a baby crying and people invited to make a star out of wire. About 15,000 people visited the containers. It was brilliant to watch people walk out of a station and say "that changed me" and to have over 200 church volunteers spending time in the city, engaging with people and it's rhythms.”
It sounds a fabulous way to take worship outside the box (and in to other ones!).