Minneapolis church expands its artistic palette during pandemic

Westminster Presbyterian Church shows innovative approaches to the arts in worship during Giving Tuesday

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Dancer Eve Schulte and spoken word artist Joe Davis presented a piece during the Giving Tuesday worship service from Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. (Screenshot)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the worship and arts staff at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis thought that probably meant shutting down much of their work as live worship was suspended.

“Then the more we thought about it, the more we realized we were asking the wrong questions,” said Dr. Amanda Weber, Westminster’s Director of Worship and the Arts. “Instead of ‘how do we translate what are we doing online?’ we said, ‘How does this new online platform present opportunities to us that we didn’t have before?’”

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are known for their venerable arts institutions, including the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Guthrie Theatre, the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Minnesota Public Radio, and they have given the world iconic artists such as Prince. So, when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Giving Tuesday broadcast stopped at Westminster, it seemed like an appropriate place to focus on the role of the arts in worship.

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Viewers got a taste of that in the worship service that opened the fourth hour of the eight-hour event, which included music by Weber, cellist Joseph Trucano, and pianist Kenneth Vigne, and a spoken word piece by Joe Davis with interpretive dance by Eve Schulte and music by Vigne.

Associate Pastor for Justice and Mission the Rev. Alanna Simone Tyler introduced the piece invoking the words of Nigerian artist Ehime Ora, saying, “She advised us not to think of our bodies as coffins for pain to be buried in. She suggested wisely instead, ‘let it live in art. Let it live in writing. Let it live in music, let it be devoured by building brighter connections.’ And I would add, ‘let it be responded to with God’s hope, God’s faithfulness, God’s love.’”

“What time is it? It’s time to raise up,” Davis repeated while Schulte danced behind him, both silhouetted against the backdrop of a city street in Keith Kopatz’s video production. He elaborated in verses, “We have nothing but our shackles and chains to lose and change the news story to a new story for people who’ve flown to new glory. The more we plant more seeds, the more we teach, so much more than what the world sees. What the world needs is world peace.”

During virtual services, Westminster utilizes its entire facility to present worship. (Screenshot)

Weber said Davis and Schulte, artists-in-residence at the church, were keys to the church thinking about new ways to worship, communicate and use space in the church, with Kopatz’s video showing moments all around the campus, including unsuspecting spots such as what appeared to be a boiler room.

“During the pandemic, we were faced with this empty church,” Vigne said. “We always worshiped in the sanctuary, or in the chapel, or even Westminster Hall. But what are other parts of the church that we can worship in? How can we worship in the whole church’s body, so to speak? We were specifically looking for places that people didn’t go in the church to find what parts of Westminster space spoke to us and what stories they had to tell.”

A street-facing window served as a gallery for Westminster Presbyterian Church’s art collection. (Screenshot)

Rodney Alan Schwartz, director of the Westminster Gallery and Archive, talked about new ways he found to share the church’s art holdings during the pandemic shutdown, including a video series, “Our Friend Rodney,” which introduced viewers to art on display, used in worship, and in the church’s collection. Schwartz also organized displays of the church’s art in a 35-foot-long street-facing window, so passersby could safely enjoy the art.

“The art collection at Westminster is both unique and interesting, in that it is a collection of Christian and religious art as well as social justice-themed art,” Schwartz said. “We tell stories from the viewpoint of multicultural and multi-ethnic artists. It’s oftentimes interesting to tell a story seen by a variety of different people and different cultures.”

Now, as in-person worship and activities return, the church looks to incorporating the lessons of the virtual presentations to enrich live and virtual experiences going forward.

“I think the virtual platform in some ways has kind of leveled the playing field of what it means to be a part of this congregation,” Weber said. “These are new creative ways of being that we have continued to bring into our life together as we remember what it’s like to be with one another.”


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