Creating Sacred Spaces: An Artistic Addition to Worship

Date Posted: 9/25/2014

Sacred spaces draw artistically gifted leaders who enjoy enhancing the altar and worship experience in unique ways. This hands-on creativity leads others, young and old, into a more meaningful worship experience.
First UMC, Missouri City has a two-room “Holy Hardware” closet. According to Rev. Barbara Robberson, this is an accumulation of fabrics, pottery, banners, and items used over the last few years to create sacred spaces around the altar for worship services in three different locations. First Church, Missouri City is one of about eight churches where she has served during her ministry, but one where she was able to use her creative gifts to enhance worship on a weekly basis.
“Most churches have a worship committee, and many have what is called an Altar Guild, but that phrase does not necessarily fit the more contemporary settings that are seeking a fresh, new way to create memorable visuals that enhance the worship experience,” she shares. “I’ve just learned recently that 80% of our sensory reception is in our eyes, so when our sacred spaces can capture people’s attention, this visual often stays with them longer than the sermon message.” Her passions in this area inspired her to teach a 4.5- hour workshop on creating sacred spaces.
At each church appointment, Barbara loves to invite others into this leadership arena to brainstorm and talk about how to do something visual and meaningful with the sacred space of the altar. “It is especially rewarding to see people who have never held a paintbrush, pick one up and help us create a fabric or banner for worship,” she shares. “I recall my first meeting at a church in Athens with four attendees, and the group jumped to 14 the following meeting, because this leadership opportunity sparked a creativity fire to serve.”
The opportunities are endless
Some worship committees create sacred spaces by quilting, others may use props and paint. For example, Rev. Jeff Craft let his creativity flow when he did a series on the Ten Commandments at Elkhart UMC. “We had giant cut outs of the tablets and actually used a fog machine to help us imagine what it would be like to have God’s spirit surrounding us as we received his instructions for life,” notes Jeff. “We have 30-70 worshipping with us, and our goal in creating sacred space is to visually invite those worshippers into the story of Jesus.”
On another occasion, Barbara used blue fabric and clear salad bowls filled with water and floating candles to create a waterfall effect for a baptism Sunday at West University UMC. “During the kids sermon, we encouraged the kids to get their hands wet in the bowls and thus to remember the sacredness of their baptism.” Adds Barbara, “If the children can touch the display or help to create it, just think of what they are learning! And, chances are they will listen more closely that week, since they had a part in creating the sacred space.”
Particularly during the summer months, Pastor Jeff has included the talents of one of the artistic youth in creating the space -- and often ties the theme into the children’s moment. “When we had a Dr. Seuss and the Bible series,” he shares, “we actually found Dr. Seuss themed school supplies for the children in hopes that they could show their friends what they got at church.”  

Making a lasting impression
“The altar is one of the first things a new member or nonbeliever sees upon entering the church,” Barbara adds. “I love to watch people enter the sanctuary and immediately register an expression of wonder about what we will talk about that morning.”
Making the altar correspond to the season or sermon can be educational, as well as spiritual. Adds Barbara, “When someone asks why you changed to purple fabric, you can teach them about the liturgical seasons.”
Laity can lead in this area as well. Wes Stewart, a hairdresser by day, has been actively supporting the worship team with a half-dozen other members of Bear Creek UMC. “We always get input from Dr. Jonathan Bynum to make sure our altar spaces go hand in hand with the sermon series or season.” He adds, “One of my fellow choir members sat in the congregation one Sunday and commented on seeing the front view of the altar for a change and how much more profound it was in combination with the words and music shared that morning. Somehow, what we do makes the story feel more real and that is the part I love most about being a part of this creative ministry.” 
Some of the volunteers assisting in these worship enhancements have creative visions of what the space might include, and others find inspiration on Pinterest or at a particular store. “The world around us is a very visual place and the internet is full of examples of churches doing amazing things with their altar space,” adds Jeff. “We publish wish lists for items, or purchase things we can use in other ways as we create a holistic experience. Always keeping the sacredness in mind, I think it is important to not be afraid to try new things that visually reinforce the message of Jesus.”