When Israeli forces occupied the Palestinian city of Bethlehem a few years ago, they used the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church as a staging ground, breaking the church's stained glass in the process.

Instead of sweeping out the mess, church members collected the glass to make art, jewelry, wall hangings and pottery.

"The idea is you take the brokenness of the situation ... and find life even there," said the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.

Westminster was so inspired by the Bethlehem church's use of the arts in its worship, it formed a special partnership with the church. The result is the Palestinian Art Festival, which will be held at Westminster May 3-6.

Featuring dance, poetry, music, film and art from Palestine, the festival highlights the idea that art can increase understanding among faith groups. The Bethlehem church's pastor, the Rev. Mitri Raheb, will also preach as part of the festival.

"You can take away just about everything from individuals ... in terms of material livelihood," Hart-Andersen said. "But you can't take away their song, poetry, the stories that formed them as a people. By nurturing that dimension of the human spirit, peace, we hope, will have a better chance of flourishing."

One of the highlights of the festival is the exhibition "Room for Hope," the result of a juried call for art from artists living in the West Bank, Gaza and part of Israel.

Westminster -- which also incorporates paintings and other art forms in its worship -- believes the festival can play an important role in encouraging peace.

"There's a new and hopeful dimension to resolving the conflict in the Middle East," said Hart-Andersen. "Part of it has to do with what we're trying to do. That is to recognize these are people with culture, history, stories, art. Deeply human spiritual aspirations. That's the same whether you're an Israeli Jew, a Palestinian Christian or a Palestinian Muslim."

Rose French • 612-673-4352