An Arts Festival for Holy Week

A Celebration of Christ-centered Arts

Symbols, shapes, and colors help us to visually embody the Christ story and spiritual truths of Holy Week. As artists reveal these biblical images through paint, glass, photography, or mixed media, we visually relive Jesus’ last earthly days in Jerusalem. This was the purpose of Trinity’s first arts festival, “A Celebration of Christ-centered Arts,” a two-day event held on Palm Sunday weekend in 2009. The festival was open to the public all day Saturday and on Sunday afternoon. The art also became an engaging part of our Sunday worship service.

Fifteen artists from our congregation and community contributed twenty-two original works of art based on the themes, images, and symbols of Holy Week. The artwork included acrylic and oil paintings, stained glass, mixed media, photography, and computer graphics.

To create an art gallery atmosphere, we displayed the art on the stage and in the choir loft area of the church. Near each piece we posted a statement written by the artist. These descriptions were printed in the festival brochure and were used to guide viewers through the display.

In addition to fine arts, the festival included performance painting and three feature presentations, including a lecture by Gary McCoy called “Experiencing the Visual Arts: A Christian Perspective.” His comments centered on how art, including some of the artwork on display, should be viewed and interpreted. Fr. Leo Arrowsmith, an Orthodox priest and icon painter, displayed four of his icons and talked about the design and use of icons in the Orthodox tradition. Finally, Dave Robinson, a Christian artist from San Rafael, led us in worship by creating a four-by-eight-foot painting while selected songs were played—a worship feast for the eyes (see below).

The church’s associate pastor of music and worship and three artists from Trinity’s congregation planned and coordinated the arts festival. They developed information and entry forms and juried all art to ensure that it was in keeping with the Holy Week theme.

Hosting the arts festival was an important part of Trinity’s journey of worship renewal, which had at its center a renewed emphasis on the church year and the visual arts. The arts festival presented three considerations for the worship life of the church:

  • First and foremost, we worship the great God of all creation. He is the God of color, form, and shape. We are created in God’s image, and thus we have the ability to create with a plethora of hues and images. Encouraging our artists to paint and create is a constant reminder of being created in God’s image.
  • The spiritual formation of each member is an important part of our mission. In this festival, we are asking the question: Can visual art stimulate spiritual formation during private and community worship?
  • Our church is part of a larger community of faith. Artists from eight different local churches participated in the arts festival. Together we seek to glorify God through the visual arts.

Afterward, several artists from the festival made similar comments: “We have not had this kind of Christian venue to display and share our art. Please provide this opportunity again next year.”

What about the artists in your church and in your larger community of faith—are you providing them the opportunity to lead in visual worship? Begin planning now to have a Christ-centered arts festival based upon the theme of Advent, Holy Week, or Pentecost, using the colors and symbols of the church year as your guide.

Following are three examples of the art submitted to the
festival, including the description written by the artist.

Title: Descent from the Cross

Artist: Fr. Leo Arrowsmith

Icon painting, acrylic on board, 20 x 22

“This icon depicts the New Testament account of Joseph of Arimathea taking down the crucified body of Jesus from the cross. Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene stand mourning on the left. John the disciple kisses the feet of Jesus while Nicodemus pulls the nails from Jesus’ feet. Another Mary and Salome stand on the right in great sorrow. The walled city of Jerusalem is depicted in the background.”

Title: Isaiah 53:3

Artist: Lisa Turnquist

Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, familiar with grief.”

Title: Not Guilty

Artist:  Sherri Kelcourse

Mixed media on board, 22 x 28

Note: This piece was used on the front cover of this issue of RW.

“Sunday school shows us pictures of a bent-over Christ, near to collapse under the weight of the wooden cross he carries toward Golgotha. It would seem that this picture cannot compare to the ‘weight’ of all sin; the sin of those who once lived, who are living now, and the sins of those who are yet to be born. It is no wonder that the Architect of this plan shrouded his Son in the cover of darkness as he overcame death and hell while those who gathered to watch were still in its grasp. ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom. 8:1-2).”

A. Merril Smoak Jr. ( is associate pastor of music and worship at Trinity Church, Livermore, California. He also serves as professor and dean of Olivet University’s Jubilee College of Music in San Francisco. For copies of the arts festival information or an entry form and brochure, contact him by email.

Reformed Worship 98 © December 2010 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.