Liturgical Art in the UU Context

Liturgical Art in the UU Context

Tuesday June 11, 2019, 7-8pm

Memorial Hall, First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque

My intent with this event is to host an exploration of the questions liturgical art brings up for us as members of a growing UU church in Albuquerque. I’m just beginning my research into contemporary thought on liturgical art, and I’m no expert; I’m an artist. I’m interested in brainstorming ways to increase the volume and variety of visual expression in our worship services, and in engaging with church ministers, staff and leadership on growing those brainstorms into plans we can implement. 

What is Liturgical Art? 

In general, it means any art/craft form that is used to support liturgy, which is in general “worship.” As an example, Wikipedia redirects searches for “liturgical art” to Sacred Architecture, and to its many millennia of expression. But here and now, in 21st century America, “liturgical art” refers to the art/craft forms used to support mainline Christian (Anglican, Episcopalian, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox/Greek) liturgy, and their varying understandings of the liturgical year. Of course, this is complicated by differing understandings of what “mainline Christianity” is… which brings us to a very UU place. When it comes to Liturgical Art, the center cannot hold, and there is no There there. Instead there are centuries of practices, all across the globe, each with its own history and struggle and relationships with other cultural forms. 

Which is to say that as UU’s, we’re just as free to unbuckle our seatbelts and move about the cabin as anyone else is. 

So perhaps better than “what is it?” is: what does Liturgical Art DO? What problems does it solve? What does it bring up for its users, the community of the church as a whole? 

My plan for our discussion is to take us down the rabbit holes of those questions. I plan to help us drill down to more precise questions–the kinds of questions that are really pertinent to us as a group of growing lay leaders in a church we truly care about, not out there in academia or in Boston, but rich here, right now. 

To that end, some more specific questions:

– Is UU Liturgical Art mostly defined by absences, like the absence of gold and jewels on our ministerial clothing, or the absence of a permanent altar, or the absence of what mainline Christian denominations understand as Liturgical Art? 

– How do we express our hospitality through our liturgical art, and yet express the passionate spiritual cultures of our diverse congregation?   

– Is there a Liturgical Year for UU’s?

– Is UU Liturgical Art mostly temporary?  What is permanent in our Liturgical Art? What are permanent parts of Liturgy for us? What do you think, as a congregation member? The UUA’s WorshipWeb describes music and singing as “integral parts of our Unitarian Universalist (UU) worship services.” I am certain that almost all of us at First Unitarian would agree that music is integral to our services, and thus to our version of “liturgy.” I love the breadth and depth of our music program. In what way is it permanent? I’d say, primarily in the form of the piano on the stage. What are permanent, or nearly permanent, parts of our Worship Service? How might those elements be reflected in permanent, possibly rotating, Liturgical Art? 

Let’s brainstorm! Can we make Liturgical Art, like the Banner Jane engaged the kids of last Sunday with, that makes permanent parts of our liturgy visual as well as recurring?

If we’re doing something temporary, how do we deal with the use of physical materials? What’s best practice in terms of re-using our productions? 

Where does “Liturgy” end, and another space begin? Ie is the puppet theater part of our Liturgy? Is RE paraphernalia part of Liturgy? If so, what if we made More Beautiful, long-lasting kid group Signs for RE Volunteers and Staff to hold up? 

Could there places for hangings in the Sanctuary? Can we connect those with the Fiber Arts people in the church, and have them rotate regularly enough that every artist who wants to contribute a Hanging can do so? If so, do we care about the Pagan Wheel of the Year, which connects colors with seasons, or with the Liturgical Year, which connects colors with specific holidays throughout the Christian Year? What other traditions do we welcome that have this kind of Color + Holiday practice?

Regional and national readers: are you aware of Liturgical Art projects in your town, state or region? I’d love to connect with folks who’re involved in these kinds of congregational pursuits, as we’re actively growing our practice of Liturgical Art in our congregation. 

See you tomorrow!

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