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Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference artist helps create space for the Spirit to work

‘We just got to get out of the way,’ says Steve Prince

by Rich Copley and Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

MONTREAT, North Carolina — Steve Prince, the artist-in-residence during the two weeks of the Presbyterian Association of MusiciansWorship & Music Conference, has taken the accumulative approach with the dozens of students he’s been working with last week and this week.

Throughout both weeks, the work “changes and transforms” and “moves inside the sanctuary space” at Anderson Auditorium in Montreat Conference Center. He said people walk into the worship space and want to know “what’s new? What’s happening?”

During week one of the conference, which drew more than 700 people, Prince and his students culminated the week with a large piece depicting Jesus with his “Come unto me” message. The piece includes fabric art created by students using material donated to Prince.

One woman told him, “People come to this conference and they engage the preacher, the musicians, the artist, and they try to find things that are interesting, things that are compelling that they can bring back to their congregational space and try to do in a community … I was really appreciative of that,” Prince said.

“What can we do in the future with the gifts that we have picked up from this space? When we talk about all the interaction that we’ve done as pastoral leaders and music leaders and art leaders … it’s all those things you have to do to get a group of people to work in harmony.”

“The other thing I found extraordinary,” Prince said, “is that there are things that we planned, and it’s things that we didn’t plan and things are just falling right into place. And it fell right into place from day one on Sunday … It was fluid. It was seamless. And that’s the Holy Spirit … If we allow the Holy Spirit to enter in, then everything is gonna work fine. The Holy Spirit will do his job and spread throughout the entire congregational space and beyond. We just got to get out of the way.”

The final work by artist-in-residence Steve Prince and his students was assembled and hung for the final worship service of the first week of the conference. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The “beautiful thing about being an artist,” Prince said, is that he gets to purge the things that are weighing down his heart. “I’m using that energy and I’m pulling it out of me. I’m making these visual pieces and I’m sharing them … I know if you hold it in, that pain will take you away from this Earth too soon.”

Prince serves as director of engagement and is the distinguished artist in residence at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at William and Mary University in Williamsburg, Virginia. As a mixed media artist, Prince uses art to help people grapple with loss and recovery through a biblical lens while concurrently focusing on social justice issues.

“I won’t shy away from the heavy image. I won’t shy away from the heavy story,” he said, citing Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley’s insistence that the body of her lynched 14-year-old son, Emmett, be displayed in an open casket upon his 1955 death. “Then the global community started to ask, ‘What are you doing to your children in America?’”

“That woke a lot of people up who did not know of the atrocities and the hatred that was happening in our nation.”

“I’m pulling those stories out to get us to remember it’s important,” Prince said. “But at the same time, how do we draw closer together? How do we not stay in that place of hate? How do we move to a space of love?”

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