It was my wife’s birthday last week. It was an even-numbered one of significance, so we had a celebration. We invited family, friends, and neighbors via paper invitations sent through the mail. How old-fashioned of us, right? A couple of our friends couldn’t make it and sent flowers. For more than a week now, we’ve been taking care of these floral arrangements—watering, cutting dead leaves off, rearranging after removing dead flowers, and so on. It is not an unpleasant process.
Like so many things, this has me thinking about visuals in worship. What might this flower ritual have to say about what we do—and could do—in our worship spaces?
Somewhere between Fabric and Pixels
I don’t have good data to back me up, but I think there are a good many of you working with both fabric arts and digital art. I’m also guessing that flower arranging—which I’ll refer to as “natural art”—isn’t part of your worship planning unless, of course, a member of your church dies and the family can’t bear to toss an expensive funeral arrangement before it too dies.
I think this needs to change. Digital art is often shown for a moment and then disappears, only to be replaced with yet another perfect stock image overlaid with trendy type. Fabric art will often stay on the wall until someone notices that its original liturgical colors have faded into something else entirely.
Natural art fits somewhere in between. It will be gone eventually, but not so fast that you can’t observe it over a period of time. And until it dies, it will likely need some attention. That can be a good thing. I can still picture two women in our church, members of the visual arts team—or more likely at that time, the “flower committee”—regularly standing in front of the platform after the service, scanning the natural art installation and making an adjustment here and there and talking and looking and adjusting.
Maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve had natural art in your worship space. Here are some ideas for getting it back.
- Above all, keep the hierarchy of visuals in mind. When planning for a natural art installation, think about grouping the plants or flowers rather than spreading them across the whole front of the worship space. For Easter, for example, instead of a row of lilies on the platform steps, what about a cloud of white orchids on or near the communion table to focus attention there?
- Churches in the northern hemisphere could get their kids and youth involved by taking them into the spring forest and cutting just-sprouting branches to arrange in large pots.
- Most worshiping communities have a group of gardeners. Find one, and he or she can probably tell you who the others are. Find someone to coordinate these good people to keep fresh flowers and plants and decorative vegetables coming in the doors.
- If your worship space can accommodate only digital visuals, find ways to get natural art on the screen. But don’t rely solely on those beautiful but cliché broad landscapes of places unknown. Show close-ups or maybe a video montage of one subject. For example, display all the parts and angles of apple tree blossoms by slowly dissolving one from another. Here too you can solicit the help of teens and other congregants to take photos to create an image bank for your church.
Natural art is simply a way to engage people in worship using the work of the God we worship.