Video: Mark Pierson at the 2011 Story Conference

As promised, here is the video of Mark Pierson‘s presentation at the 2011 Story conference in Chicago this September. This brief talk is an excellent introduction to the concept of worship curation.

In the first half, Mark discusses why he decided to write the book The Art of Curating Worship and introduces the meaning of “worship curation.” In the second half of the video, Mark answers the following questions from the audience:

  • Where do you find most of your inspiration?
  • How do you see stations working in a very large church?
  • Is the worship curator responsible for the flow of the service?
  • Are you a pastor or a ‘music guy’?
  • How do you push through peoples’ resistance to changes in worship?
  • What if the resistance comes from the senior pastor?
  • What do you start with when your curating?
  • What is Clayfire.org?

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The Curator Responds

Mid-August, we invited you to come up with a question about worship curation and send it to us for Mark Pierson to answer in his talk at the STORY, Chicago conference, September 15-16. A great bunch of questions were sent in. Unfortunately, the format for his live presentation at STORY wasn’t given to answering these particular questions. Still, we couldn’t leave you hanging!

We’ve included in this post a personal note from Mark, along with the questions you submitted and his responses in writing.

From Mark: My apologies to those who submitted questions for me to respond to at STORY Conference in Chicago recently. In the end the time-frame and setting didn’t allow for what I had planned. So I will attempt some sort of answer here. Thank you for your questions!

-Mark


 

Mark, how can the model of curating be applied in a more traditional liturgical setting, like the Lutheran church I currently serve in, where it seems that creativity is often scoffed at as “contemporary”?

Drew Yoos, Lutheran youth minister in South Carolina, USA

Drew, I assume that “contemporary” in your setting is a bad thing! I would tend to find one aspect of your worship event – perhaps prayers for others or prayer of confession – and do something with that moment only. Don’t introduce it with, “This morning we are going to do something different,” just go straight into it, “For our prayers of intercession this morning I am going to show you some headlines from this weeks newspapers/tv (put them on the screen, or hand sheets of newspaper around.) I invite you to silently make your prayer for whatever the headline brings to your mind. After a few seconds I will say, “Lord Hear Us,” and invite you to respond, “Lord Hear Our Prayer.” (Or whatever you usually use in your setting.) Then over time and doing something from time to time you can build up the level of comfort and creativity and participation. It’s slow, but the intention is not to dump our creativity on people but to enable them to better engage with God.

How do you avoid worship becoming about emotionalism while trying to set a reflective tone with young people?

Russell Lloyd, Creative director for a school mission organization in Melbourne, Victoria, AU

Aussie young people emotional in Church!! I thought that only happened at AFL games Russell. I don’t actually think this is a big risk, although it is directed quite a bit by the way you introduce the elements of your worship and what ways you ask young people to respond.

On the other side of that, there is the truth that we need to engage hearts at some level and not just heads if we are to see any real commitment to following Jesus in meaningful ways that aren’t an overlay on a current life but have some formative and transformative element to it.

Stick with the biblical text, help people engage with that story.

I think my response is really to say that if you are asking this question you are very unlikely to ever fall into the trap. You are already aware.

What is the worst thing you can do as a curator to make worship difficult for your community? (We recognise the small mistakes we make, but what are the bigger fundamental errors?)

Alison Squires, Christian aid and development worker in Auckland, NZ

Wow, difficult question Alison. The mistakes are probably unique to each of us. We all have our blind spots which is why we need to be constantly reflecting and reviewing and being held accountable for what we do.

Perhaps, if I was pushed, I would say that the worst error a worship curator can make is to not care deeply for the people at worship, and for seeing that the community engages with God in transformative ways. Then the curator is about ego and control and arrogance. Not a good look. But one I see too often in worship leaders (i.e. musical leaders). A good curator has to be willing to let her best and most creative idea drop, even at the last minute, if it doesn’t  support what she wants to say in the worship event. That’s about knowing yourself and knowing your people.

Do you play to both literalist and allegorical readings of the text/theme? Do you find that if you play to one, that you “lose” the others who “don’t get it?” What kind of choices do you make to comfort and stretch people from their ways of seeing and knowing?

Kathy Keener-Han, PCUSA interim pastor in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA

Hi Kathy, I do tend to play both sides of the fence, but not consistently. I assume we are talking mostly about stations based worship. I would always have a range of stations that covered not only a variety of ways into the text but a variety of ways of responding, too. Then, what may have been quite a literal reading may get interpreted in paint or clay and that shifts the response.  So you pick up different people in different ways and at different levels. That’s what I love about stations-based worship events.

I do try to be honest with the text and so do a lot of exegesis and study of it so I understand what it is and isn’t saying, what its context is, etc.

By covering a range of possibilities, even subtly different, I find there are few complainers. (Apart from those who would complain whatever I did.)

You suggest in your book that being attentive to community needs and input is important, but trying to curate a worship experience as a team is difficult. As a curator do you have any advice about balancing the input of others with your creative vision for a worship experience?

Brian Beckstrom, Campus pastor in Waverly, Iowa, USA

I wish I did Brian. I admit that I have been at worship curating for a very long time now and I find it quite difficult to work with absolute beginners. So, my modus operandi tends to be that if I am responsible for the worship event, I take responsibility and pull in others to check, comment, evaluate, contribute to what I have put out. I then revise and change according to the advice given. This might take weeks of back and forth. If I am curating, I am carrying the can, so I need to step up to do that.

My involvement with other worship curating teams tends to be that they send me what they plan to do and I comment on what I think will work and what won’t. Then they take or ignore my advice! But they take responsibility for it, and if I participate in the worship event I will write them a brief evaluation of how I thought it went.

In a church setting I would be meeting weekly with people who were assigned to put together worship (if it was weekly). I would always want a designated curator, even if it wasn’t me. Too much falls through the cracks otherwise. Someone has to take the lead.

How can interactivity be integrated in the standard Evangelical or non-denominational style worship service? The performer/congregant paradigm doesn’t readily accomodate community and collaboration, yet it seems to be growing in terms of “market share” of churches using this model. Rather than shoehorning competitive models (liturgical, pentecostal) into the Evangelical world, how can the Evangelical model be challenged, subverted, or mutated into a curation-friendly service?

Paul Gratton, Weiv interactive worship tool designer, Prineville, Oregon, USA

Ohhhh Paul! That’s a $10,000 question. I think that everything I have said in answer to the other questions, particularly Drew’s, is appropriate here. You have to start small, with some internal aspect of the service, and build slowly from there.

Otherwise start something new on the side. Regular or occasional. Treat it as a mission of the church. Don’t expect anyone from existing congregations to attend, but some will. Over time they will be exposed to a variety of approaches and that will make it easier to blend those aspects into the main event. You will also be modelling what you have in mind which makes it a lot easier for people to grasp it than just trying to explain it.

Image (video still) © The Work of the People

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Ask the Curator: August Project Results

We asked our readers to come up with questions about worship curation for the person who coined the term (Mark Pierson) to answer in his presentation at STORY, Chicago (September 15-16). Several excellent questions were submitted covering different aspects of curation including context, leadership, and artistic approach.

Congratulations to Kathy Keener-Han for winning a 30 min Skype call with Mark for her question!

Read the submissions here and take note that in late September, we’ll be posting the full audio of Mark’s answers:


Mark, how can the model of curating be applied in a more traditional liturgical setting, like the Lutheran church I currently serve in, where it seems that creativity is often scoffed at as “contemporary”?

Drew Yoos, Lutheran youth minister in South Carolina, USA

How do you avoid worship becoming about emotionalism while trying to set a reflective tone with young people?

Russell Lloyd, Creative director for a school mission organization in Melbourne, Victoria, AU

What is the worst thing you can do as a curator to make worship difficult for your community? (We recognise the small mistakes we make, but what are the bigger fundamental errors?)

Alison Squires, Christian aid and development worker in Auckland, NZ

Do you play to both literalist and allegorical readings of the text/theme? Do you find that if you play to one, that you “lose” the others who “don’t get it?” What kind of choices do you make to comfort and stretch people from their ways of seeing and knowing?

Kathy Keener-Han, PCUSA interim pastor in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA

You suggest in your book that being attentive to community needs and input is important, but trying to curate a worship experience as a team is difficult. As a curator do you have any advice about balancing the input of others with your creative vision for a worship experience?

Brian Beckstrom, Campus pastor in Waverly, Iowa, USA

How can interactivity be integrated in the standard Evangelical or non-denominational style worship service? The performer/congregant paradigm doesn’t readily accomodate community and collaboration, yet it seems to be growing in terms of “market share” of churches using this model. Rather than shoehorning competitive models (liturgical, pentecostal) into the Evangelical world, how can the Evangelical model be challenged, subverted, or mutated into a curation-friendly service?

Paul Gratton, Weiv interactive worship tool designer, Prineville, Oregon, USA

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August Project: Ask the Curator

The Project Pith: Come up with a question for Mark Pierson to answer about curating worship. Send it to us.

The Story conference, September 15-16, is a “conference for the creative class.” Practitioners from all creative fields are invited, including artists, filmmakers, musicians, authors, and worship curators.

Mark Pierson will be making a presentation at this conference in Chicago. We wondered with Mark what would be most helpful to creatives who come to hear him talk about curating worship – some of them for the very first time. The answer? Questions! What better way to get to the heart of a subject than to answer real questions from real people in that particular field?

We are inviting you to submit your questions about curation. Mark will take a selection of these questions and answer them during his presentation.

Objective
To participate, you simply need to come up with a question about curating worship.

Think about the concept of curating. What about this approach is unclear or confusing? Ask a question about it. Consider your own worship design practices. What are the particular challenges you face when you are curating in your local context? Ask a question about it. How about art? Do you ever wonder about the practicality and propriety of certain art forms for worship? Ask a question about it.

Deadline and Results
All questions are due by the end of the day, Wednesday, August 31. Ten questions will be selected to be used in Mark’s presentation. You may submit as many questions as you want.

But wait, there’s more! If your question is one of the ten, you will be entered into a drawing for a 30-minute Skype call with Mark Pierson. (At which time the rest of your questions can be answered!)

All submissions will be shared in a blog post, the week of September 5.

Requirements
Use this form to send us your question. Fill out the form completely, including a bit about your worship context and your specific role in it. Include your contact information so we can reach you when you win!

Mark is looking forward to your help in making his presentation meaningful for those who attend it. We are looking forward to your questions, even as they might provoke more thoughtful conversation here at Clayfire Curator. Ask away!

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Without Me, You’re Nothin: Reframing Trinity

Effective worship curation often results from thoughtful reframing. Reframing, Mark Pierson says, “relies on the idea that the meaning of an event, and our emotional response to it, depends on the context in which the event is perceived.” Pierson goes on to explain that reframing as a worship curation practice involves “taking something from nonworship culture – a song, movie, saying, piece of art – and using it in worship.” (The Art of Curating Worship, 79)

When you walk into a barn shed and come across a three-legged stool, the meaning perceived in that context is: “cow milking aid.” However, move the three-legged stool into a worship gathering for Holy Trinity Sunday and the meaning we get is: “metaphor for Trinity.”

This kind of reframing can freshen up our worship. The new juxtaposition we invent by simply moving an object from its common place over into a foreign context forces peoples’ minds to engage the object with altered perspective. At best, this yields spiritual epiphany. At the very least, it leads to challenging and new spiritual questions.

In addition to this kind of “objective” reframing, there is reframing we might call “subject-ive.” Instead of reframing an artifact (i.e. a stool) we can choose to reframe an entire topic. In other words, we can reframe the big idea of our gathering and ‘force’ those gathered to engage the subject of our worship event from a different angle.

I alluded to this in last week’s post about curating Pentecost. While Pentecost is typically viewed as a time to celebrate the coming of the promised Spirit, we can reframe this holy day as an illustration of God’s desire for unity through diversity. Through this theological reframing, we catch people off guard – especially those who have a particular, ingrained (ingrown in some cases) theological spin.

Sunday is Trinity Sunday. This may be the only holy day on the Christian calendar that celebrates a reality rather than an event. On Trinity Sunday, we recognize in our worship the triune nature of the one to whom we bow. Objective reframing for this theme could include the three-legged stool example above. It could also include the other examples shared yesterday by Mandy Smith. Certain items are taken – a tree, a piece of music, a story about personal roles – and placed in the context of worship, specifically worship focused on God in three persons. This reframing of objects yields success, even as people are sent out from worship and come across a three-branched tree or Bach Fugue and are reminded again of Father, Son, and Spirit.

But, what would reframing the entire theme look like in this case? Can we imagine another legitimate focus for Trinity Sunday – one other than simply contemplating the mysterious existence of a God who is one in essence, yet three in personage? As with Pentecost (and virtually every other holy day or big idea in scripture) there is another angle. In fact, there are often a number of legitimate theological angles for every worship topic. In this case, Trinity Sunday can legitimately be reframed as a holiday that is essentially all about loving others. Perhaps this requires a little explanation.

The approach to reframing Trinity in terms of loving relationships emerges from Eastern Orthodox theology. John Zizioulas (a twentieth century theologian and current bishop of Pergamon, Greece) is the modern reframer of Trinity as “communion,” picking up where the Cappadocian fathers left off in the fourth century, CE. Fuller professor of systematic theology, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen translates and condenses Zizioulas for us:

God cannot be known as “God,” only as trinitarian persons in communion: “Man can approach God only through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.” Outside the Trinity there is no God. In other words, God’s being coincides with God’s communal personhood. For Zizioulas, then, the being of God could be known only through personal relationships and personal love. Being means life, and life means communion. (The Doctrine of God, 137)*

Being means life. Life means communion. This is in conflict with the ancient Greek view of the unique individual as a “person,” a view widely held today within and without Christian circles. For Zizioulas and the fourth century Eastern fathers “person” does not/cannot exist outside of relationship. Our being is defined not by our singular, discrete essence, but precisely by our relationship to other people.

Triune God is the prime example of this kind of communion. Taking the evidence of scripture together, there is no God without the intimate, loving relationship exchanged between Father, Son, and Spirit. In reflection of the one after whom we were created, we do not ‘exist’ except in reference to others and especially in relation to the I AM who granted us being.

This is what Mark Galli means when he says that “… our primary duty in life… [is] to love others so that they can come into existence.”

Wouldn’t your Trinity Sunday curation take on a whole new flavor if you went with this angle? What if your answer to ‘what do I want to say?’ becomes: “God’s interpersonal relationship is our model for loving others into existence.” What song lyrics would you sing? In which direction would the Eucharist move? Would you still emphasize the vertical? Or would the horizontal be emphasized more?

Next time you are planning for a holy day or a scripture text for which you’ve curated worship more than once already, try seeking out an alternate theological perspective. Reframe the theme and then, within that new perspective, practice reframing cultural objects. This dual-reframing technique creates new opportunities for worshipers to authentically commune with one another and with God.

Image © iStockphoto


*Internal quotation from: Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and Communion. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985.

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