August 17, 2012

Church Art Reflects Church Values

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to visit. I try to go four or five times each year. I appreciate art. I like to create art, which is a way for me to pray.

Last summer when Mike, my husband, and I were looking for a new church following his retirement, we visited six churches, all United Methodist. We were very much aware of how we were welcomed--or not welcomed--what kind of follow-up was in place for first-time visitors such as receiving a letter from the pastor noting our attendance sometime the next week, and what kind of contact was made to determine our interest in Sunday school or other activities.

Something I also noted was the art--or lack of art--that I saw in the hallways. Four out of the six churches had large oil paintings of all of the persons who had pastored the church. One had a picture of our bishop. These portraits lined the halls where everyone walked--in other words, seeing these portraits was the first thing I noticed after entering the building. I did not see any artwork illustrating the life of Christ or other event in the Bible.

One church had what I call "life in the kingdom of God" photographs lining the walls of the large narthex. There were close to twenty photographs of adult and youth mission teams at work, the Christmas program, a Thanksgiving collection of filled grocery bags at the altar, a Sunday school class, Bible school events, and other experiences from various ministries and events that were important to that congregation. The last church we visited had stained glass windows, altar sculptures, embroidered kneeling pads--art was everywhere even on the ceiling. I appreciated the pamphlets available that described the meaning of all of the art in the building.

I was discussing my observations with a friend who is Catholic. I commented that all of the Catholic churches I visited are filled with often very graphic art, depicting the life of Christ. There is always a statue of Mary and as well as other paintings. She commented that Catholics view art as integral to the worship experience. However, she described a fairly new Catholic church close to me, that has only a crucifix hanging in the sanctuary and no other art. She said that this church intentionally did not want any art because the thinking was that "the people are the art of the church."

Reflecting on several weeks of art adventures in churches made me wonder what a church is saying by its choice of art? What type of art do you have in your church? What type of statement, if any, might that art have for those who visit? Does God speak through art? If so, what might God be saying to you?

Fishers, Indiana

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