Paintings hanging in church sanctuaries. Poetry recited from the altar. Liturgical dancers swaying down aisles.
A variety of art forms are being used by a growing number of congregations during worship services to enrich the religious experience. United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities recognized this intersection of art and religion years ago and has led the way in offering courses and workshops on the subject.
The seminary in New Brighton is holding its 13th annual Summer Institute in Spirituality and the Arts Tuesday through Friday for religious leaders and others interested in learning how to incorporate the arts into worship.
“We’re one of the few seminaries that has an arts concentration in both the master of divinity and the master of arts and the doctor of ministry programs,” said Cindi Beth Johnson, director of community programming in the arts, religion and spirituality at the seminary.
“We see the arts as being a key way that we ask and answer religious questions. We see the arts as a way we teach. We think of the arts as being a living, breathing way for students to learn what’s creative and engaging and relevant and connected to the culture.”
As part of the seminary’s summer institute, participants will explore dance and “movement as a way of being in touch with their own spiritual life,” Johnson said. They also study how theater can highlight social justice issues that churches are interested in, such as eradicating racism and hunger.
On Tuesday, the seminary’s president Barbara Holmes will participate in a panel discussion at the Guthrie Theater about “Clybourne Park,” reflecting on the play’s themes of class and race.
The arts institute also highlights the idea of how art and other objects connect with “our spiritual interior,” Johnson said. Poetry and how it can also emphasize social justice concerns is another area covered.
“It will hopefully give people some tools they can take back with them to their everyday settings … they can use.”