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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Arts play a leading role

One purpose of this column is to encourage use of the arts to enrich worship and congregational life. Literature, poetry and drama take us into other worlds that expand our own. Nonverbal arts extend further, reaching across cultural barriers. Both the arts and religion use symbolic forms of expression that can parallel and complement each other, making the congregation the ideal place for incorporating the arts in expressions of faith.

A national survey of individuals who participate in Jewish and Christian congregations indicates that the arts already play a leading role. The National Congregations Study (1998) was conducted by Mark Chaves, a sociology professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in cooperation with the National Opinion Research Center. Of the 1,236 respondents, 53 were ELCA members.

Not surprisingly, mu sic is the art most frequently used by the congregations represented in the survey. But the other arts that are regularly included are a surprise. Drama was part of worship in 70 percent of congregations and dance in 30 percent. About half have at least one group devoted to producing musical or theatrical performances. Congregations also sponsor art exhibits, host artists-in-residence and commission artworks. Clearly the arts in congregational life extend far beyond singing hymns, as precious as that tradition is.

The survey also revealed that exposure to the arts in congregations leads to further contact in the community. One might have assumed that most people are introduced to the arts through civic, school or other educational programs. But the survey shows that, for many people, the first exposure occurs in their congregation.

These survey results are important because we constantly need to find fresh, exciting and creative ways of learning about and expressing religious faith. The arts offer endless possibilities.


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