Creativity births spiritual community

College chaplain Maggie Alsup is known around campus for the art projects she includes in chapel.

Photo by Earl Wilcox on Unsplash

Often, we call God our Creator: A divine force that moves and draws life together from nothing. That action of creating is personal, connectional and intimate. It is something we see God doing, yet when it comes to our lives, we can put up barriers to the creative process. Whether we feel inadequate or decide that we aren’t artists, it is sometimes tempting to withdraw from the act of creating.

I find that when we tap into our creative side and use art to participate in worship, we connect with God in a very personal way. This is one reason that I start each academic year with some sort of liturgical interactive art reflection during a chapel service. This has earned me a reputation with my colleagues.

After a couple of years in my role as chaplain, I was in the mad dash of wrapping things up before freshmen arrived on campus when a colleague stopped by to ask, “What kind of art project are we doing this year for chapel?”

This led to a conversation about the project, the items still needed, and the ways that I hoped it would set up chapel and worship for the semester. She was curious about how it would all come to be and stated that I was “always having us doing things in worship … But it is always a nice change and allows us to connect in different ways.”

That is the heart of what I think liturgical art does for us. It allows us to connect with God in new ways and, as a result, connect with our community in new ways. It is another reason I offer space in worship for the creative process.

When students first arrive on campus and experience this invitation to create in worship, you can see a range of their emotions. Some are shy. Some students dive into the creation process. Others take the materials and standoff, unsure of where to begin. And there are some that sit in silence watching as their peers create.

By the end of their time with us, students come to appreciate and participate more fully in these moments of worship. They do, in part, because it is a regular occurrence, and, in part, because they realize the potential that lies in the creating process. Many come ready and willing and wanting to connect with God and their peers through creation.

Not all projects go as I expect or plan. Sometimes there is success. Sometimes there are shortcomings. But through it all, offering this space and these ways to connect with the Divine allows students to tap into their creativity. And through that, they can connect with God and with their community in new ways.

The key for us as worship leaders, as faith leaders, is to offer ways for folks to connect with God — and sometimes that can be with Playdoh or a pottery wheel in the chapel or paint pens and a large canvas. No matter what methods for creative worship you offer people, keep offering them. Allow your community to tap into their creativity so they can connect with the Great Creator. For in those moments, all involved learn a little more about themselves and about the Divine.

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