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Samford’s Animate workshop encourages artistic abilities in worshipcomment (0)

July 24, 2014

Samford’s Animate workshop encourages artistic abilities in worship

More than 150 worship leaders and students from churches and Christian schools from eight states gathered at Samford University in Birmingham from July 1 to July 3 to study new artistic ways of leading worship. 

Known as Animate, the intergenerational ecumenical workshop was one of three major initiatives of anima, the Forum for Worship and the Arts at Samford. Founded in January 2013, anima was made possible after a $300,000 grant was awarded to Samford from the Christ Is Our Salvation (CIOS) Foundation of Waco, Texas.

As a pilot endeavor this year, Animate’s enrollment was by invitation only, but next year Eric Mathis, assistant professor of music and worship at Samford and workshop leader, said he hopes to have an open invitation policy.

Animate’s purpose was to encourage adults to support the regular use of young people in worship services, equip them to use the youth’s artistic abilities in worship and to think together about worship and the arts in each local congregation, Mathis explained. 

Intergenerational aspect 

“The intergenerational aspect makes this program unique,” Mathis said. “Our youngest participant was 11 years old and the oldest was 71.”

The four-day workshop provided time for students to choose from six interest tracks that offered different approaches to leading worship: film, drama, music technology, choral music, visual arts and narrative.  

At the same time adults attended their own workshop sessions that focused on youth ministry, relationships and nurturing environments.

“This was a test camp and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive,” Mathis said. “It gives the young people a chance to pull from several worship traditions. In our opening service, we had everything from a brass quintet to a praise band to a poet to a visual arts presentation.”

Mathis said the goal of the workshop was for the youth to walk away with greater focus and skills in worship leadership and for the adults to be able to take a lead in allowing youth to participate in the worship service itself. 

“Often church leaders attend conferences that tell them ‘do this and your church will thrive.’ But the reality is that there is no cookie-cutter model for ministry. All worship practices … in the Church are local. So we assumed from the beginning that each congregation was the expert about worship in their local context,” Mathis said. “(At Animate) we did give them a framework for thinking about worship that is intergenerational ... and a framework for thinking about worship that involved the highest artistic integrity and theological imagination.”

Churches are moving beyond the traditional format of music and preaching when it comes to worship services, Mathis said. 

“(Art forms are broadening) to include principles and elements from visual arts, theatre, dance, graphic design and on the list goes. ... But we made clear at Animate from our theme: “Testing 1-2-3” and our key Scripture of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, ‘Test everything ... hang on to what is good,’” that not everything is useful in worship.

“What congregations need today as they think about art forms (in worship) is wisdom and discernment. Not everything works, not everything enhances worship and not everything calls us to a deeper love for God and our neighbor.

“Churches should prayerfully consider what medium best communicates the message they are trying to send,” Mathis said. 

Keith Pate, minister of music for Eastern Hills Baptist Church, Montgomery, attended Animate along with nine students and four adults from his church.

Pate said Eastern Hills Baptist already incorporates drama, sign language, art and other visual elements in its worship services but are now discussing “new ways to incorporate more visual arts ... using both adults and youth.” 

He also said Animate was “very inspiring and challenging” and that the team walked away with several creative ideas he hopes to utilize at his church including videography.

“We hope to experiment with [videography] and create some videos of our own,” Pate said.

When asked what benefit there is to including art in worship, Pate said, “We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of how we can use the worship arts to point people to the greatest Artist of all, our heavenly Father and Creator of all. ... And as we widen our approach through the arts it offers more people an opportunity to use their gifts in ministry and worship.”

(Samford, Neisha Fuson)

Planning for Animate 2015 has already begun. For more information about next year’s workshop, email Eric Mathis at emathis@samford.edu.

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