Evolutionary, Ecological, and Ecumenical Arts and Media
for Contemporary Worship Services in Liberal Churches
proposal by Connie Barlow
THE NEED - Evangelical megachurches have made their worship services attractive to younger people, in part, by using multimedia resources specific to their Christian mission (e.g., dramatic videos and sing-along slide programs projected onto large screens). These churches, however, tend to be hostile toward the evolutionary sciences and toward ecumenical, interfaith perspectives that encourage global community. Modes of ecological concern deeper than a biblically defensible "stewardship" approach are also lacking in the evangelical churches.
Liberal churches, on the other hand, tend to be open to the evolutionary and deep ecological worldviews and have inclusive interfaith perspectives, but few offer "contemporary" worship on a regular basis. Because churches play important roles in shaping public values, it is vital for liberal churches to be provided the resources to project evolutionary, deeply ecological, and inclusively ecumenical perspectives especially in ways that work well for and can attract and inspire younger generations.
THE OPPORTUNITY - Willow Creek Association is the arm of the Willow Creek Community Church (megachurch) near Chicago that offers online multimedia resources aimed at contemporary worship in Christian churches. Although personal and community issues are central themes, and although the artistic and dramatic execution of the resources are excellent and appealing, the message is embedded in conservative theological perspectives. (Google "contemporary worship" and you will find other such sites all supporting a religiously conservative message that lacks an evolutionary, ecumenical, and deep ecological perspective.)
Surely there is a substantial market for artistic media promoting evolutionary, ecological, and globally progressive views and values that liberal churches and progressive secular groups would find attractive for some of their worship services, cell-group gatherings, discussion groups, spiritual retreats, and conferences. Indeed, if multi-media artistic resources become available that espouse an evolutionary, ecological, inclusive message, then it is possible that liberal churches will be empowered to take the plunge into contemporary worship styles and thus energize their communities and grow their constituency.
Note: There are already plenty of multimedia educational resources that promote evo-eco-ecu values, but educational media are not suitable for contemporary worship. The arts are all important in such circumstances.
PROJECT PROPOSAL - A progressive foundation (such as Foundation for Global Community) could team with a nonprofit to establish the following interrelated elements:
EvoEcoEcu WEBSITE to serve as the hub for an evolutionary, ecological, and broadly ecumenical Arts and Media movement and for the promotion, distribution, and sale of resources.
RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT and ARTIST OUTREACH to encourage the development of arts and media (e.g. helping singer/songwriters with existing audios of songs to find and collaborate with videographers for the production of music videos and/or digital slide programs ideal for contemplative worship or sing-along).
INSTITUTIONAL OUTREACH and NETWORKING for alerting liberal churches and other progressive groups to the existence of these resources and empowering them to hold contemporary worship and related events, including the sharing of resources and ideas that churches themselves develop (e.g. whole service packages)
PROMOTION IN THE PRESS for broad outreach, ranging from press releases to contributing articles/blogs to print and online magazines.
ONLINE OR FACE-TIME GATHERINGS, such as the 2007 "Story Field" conference organized by Tom Atlee and Peggy Holman, with its post-gathering wiki page. Examples would be gatherings to help singer-songwriters meet videographers and sample their wares, or to host church leaders and staff to share ideas for contemporary worship using such resources.
Note: The Unitarian Universalism faith tradition has spawned several websites that would be great linkages or collaborations. These websites do not appear, however, to be actively involved in creating artistic media; rather, they aim to share resources that others make available. EvoEcoEcu website would not be grounded in any particular faith tradition, although links and collaborations with various liberal faiths would be important to nurture. Examples of UU websites: UU Faith Works, Liberal Faith Development (UU), Resources and Links for Contemporary Worship (UU).
EXAMPLES OF PROJECT ELEMENTS (completed, underway, or envisioned) (Personal account of Connie Barlow)
CD: Peter Mayer Sings The Great Story
In the fall of 2006, Connie Barlow collaborated with singer-songwriter Peter Mayer to produce a compilation CD of 13 of his already recorded songs that resonated with her work in presenting a sacred understanding of the evolutionary/ecological perspective. Churches and congregants have enthusiastically purchased this CD at Connie's (and Michael Dowd's) site visits to liberal churches. Earlier today, Connie received this email from one such purchaser, "I can't thank you enough for helping create and turn us on to Peter Mayer. It is one of my all-time favorite CDs in the world."
MUSIC VIDEOS (with text overlay) of the CD: Peter Mayer Sings The Great Story
underway and envisioned
As of January 2009, Connie has created a new form of music video for 3 of Peter Mayer's songs included in the above CD. Each requires about 40 hours of her time: sorting still photographs, inputting the music, and then using Final Cut Studio to fashion a dynamically emotive music video, and overlaying the lyrics in text to enable contemplation and/or singing by the viewers. Connie plans to produce music videos of a total of 8 Peter Mayer songs and then mass produce this set onto DVDs for sale.
She hopes her effort will inspire collaborations by other musicians and videographers, and open up a whole new style of music video ideal for contemporary worship. For example, the music videos she is creating do not feature the artist; rather, still photos are artfully manipulated and precisely timed to evoke the content and emotion of the music and lyrics. The lyrics are then blended into the photographs to aid viewer comprehension and, for some songs, audience participation in the singing. The project required no external funding because it is a joint entrepreneurial venture: Connie is investing her time in the videography; she and Peter Mayer will then split the profits from sales of the finished DVD. Low resolution drafts of the 3 completed videos can be viewed at:"The Play" "Holy Now" "My Soul"
There is a website that already promotes singer-songwriters whose work celebrates positive liberal values and faith. The website is Positive Music Association, and Connie knows one of the founders. Videos on the website are, however, traditional music videos in that they promote the artist, rather than making the song itself the focus (with text overlay for contemplation or participatory singing). Nevertheless, this website would be a great place to find and communicate with singer-songwriters as the first step in promoting collaborations that would result in worship-style music videos or digital slide programs.
DIGITAL SLIDE SHOWS (with text overlay) for SING-ALONGS: Keith Mesecher and the Cosmic All Stars Sing Thank God for Evolution!
underway and envisioned
Keith Mesecher is an avocational singer/songwriter who initiated a "Cosmos" Contemporary Worship (one Saturday evening per month) at his First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego. His rock band, The Cosmic All Stars, provides live music at each event, using their repertoire of five original songs. As with the evangelical megachurches, song repetition is welcomed by attendees, as they become familiar with music and lyrics and thus can sing more freely and joyfully with each repetition.
Connie's role is that she created a webpage on her TheGreatStory.org website to publicize the new CD and to enable Keith Mesecher to sell his CD to customers online. Also, she created a digital slide show of the lyrics to all five songs, first for the February 2008 "Evolutionary Revival" that she and Keith organized and that was hosted at his church.
In January 2009 she worked with Klaus Obermeit, the contemporary service organizer at First Unitarian of Sarasota (Florida) to upgrade the powerpoint slides from the Evolutionary Revival for use in the Sarasota church service (all five songs), which took place that same month. Unlike the live music component at the Evolutionary Revival, for the Sarasota service the powerpoint embedded the music, slide by slide, thus eliminating operator error during the service itself. Nonetheless, Klaus suggested also providing karaoke versions of each slideshow, in case a church prefers to have its choir or soloist lead the singing, using just the slides and the recorded background music.
Note: Connie will seek input from a variety of churches and their production staff to ascertain which software and variations will make digital slide programs most attractive for church use. The end result may, possibly, be downloadable, which will require special development of a webpage through which such downloads can be viewed and ultimately sold.
DRAMATIC SCRIPTS: TheGreatStory.org website's EVOLUTIONARY PARABLES
Eight evolutionary parables (in dramatic script format) already are posted for FREE DOWNLOAD on Connie's website. Connie and her husband, Michael Dowd, regularly use these scripts for spontaneous performance (calling for volunteers to read the parts) at church summer camps, workshops, and minister educational retreats. These unrehearsed performances always delight the audience and get rave reviews!
In addition, several Unitarian Universalist churches have informed Connie that they have used several of these parables scripts for performance during intergenerational worship services ("Startull: The Story of an Average Yellow Star" and "The Lucky Little Seaweed" are the two that have been so identified.)
Simple scripts are used for short live performances at many evangelical churches. These dramas set the stage for the minister's sermon or message that follows. So, with the evolutionary parables, we already have a good start for providing liberal churches with a dramatic component for live performance.
WHOLE SERVICE PACKAGES
Connie intends to work with Unitarian Universalist (UU) colleague Jon Cleland-Host in the project he proposed to prepare online materials that can easily be used by UU worship committees and ministers for designing services to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's landmark book, On the Origin of Species, November 2009. Even after this event, the resources will be quite useful, because a consortium of liberal ministers (The Clergy Letter Project) has been urging its members and others to set aside the Sunday nearest to February 12 every year to celebrate Darwin's birthday. Thus evolutionary worship services would be an ongoing project with a ready market through this particular group. (Some resources for worship services on evolution are already available on the Clergy Letter website, so it would be important to collaborate with and link to that site.)
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