Scratch Liturgy

Creativity here we come

No this is not about getting rid of liturgy – this a very creative idea from my friends Chrissie and Gerard Kelly at Bless in France is about a collaborative effort in creating liturgy

scratch a collaborative liturgy with your friends or small group…

1. Write a communal refrain to speak out together. For example,

‘this is our story. this is our song. praising our Saviour. all the day long’

2. Come up with a one-line framework for people to ‘scratch’ around. For example,

‘Because He is (something), I am (something)’

3. On a flip chart or live projection write out numbers 1 to 5 followed by the communal refrain. Followed by numbers 6 to 10 and the refrain again and so on.

4. Invite participants to take it in turn ‘scratching’ a one-line prayer using your framework

5. Read the scratch liturgy aloud together

Example scratch liturgies can be found here and here.

Taking Worship Seriously by Worship Curator Mark Pierson

Getting creative at the World Vision NZ Staff Day of Prayer

Getting creative at the World Vision NZ Staff Day of Prayer

This morning’s post comes from our good friend Mark Pierson, who has been a worship curator for more than 15 years. Mark Pierson blogs at He is author of the recent book The Art of Curating Worship.


It worries me that we don’t take corporate public worship seriously enough. I’m referring to those who plan and design it. Those of us who experience it are too often well aware that it hasn’t been treated seriously.

I am a worship curator – I design and plan corporate public worship events. If I assume that all I need to convey in those worship events  is information – whether it be about God, Jesus, the Bible, or any other aspect of the Christian faith – I have failed to take my role seriously, and I have sold-short my congregation.

Creativity & imagination in worship

What if worship is about formation of hearts and desires

James K. A Smith, (Desiring the Kingdom) talking about Christian education, says,  “What if (worship) is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires?”  We have often assumed that worship is about communicating ideas and information, then been disappointed when our congregations don’t live more Christ-like lives, and wondered why people of faith act the same as people of no faith.

We have been getting what we deserve. Information doesn’t lead to transformation.  It may be an aspect of engaging with God, but unless a person is affected at the level of heart and desires, transformation isn’t going to take place.

Smith again, (worship) “shapes us, forms us, molds us, to be a certain kind of people whose hearts and passions and desires are aimed at the kingdom of God.” Or it should.

Our corporate public worship events need to be seen more as art forms through which people engage with God, rather than information teaching processes that convey information about God.

Worship - an art form through which we engage with God

Worship - an art form through which we engage with God

This will look different in every worship event, and will be affected by the values, theology, sociology, denominational history, and spiritual landscape of a congregation.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to designing events that might enable people to engage with God, heart soul, mind and strength.  That’s why we need to take our worship curating much more seriously.  It’s not an easy task. It carries huge responsibilities.  It takes training and education, feedback and accountability, and collaboration, and a pastoral awareness to be a good worship curator. It also takes time.

When we take worship more seriously then perhaps instead of describing ourselves as mere (and misnamed) “worship leaders” we will be able to say,  “I am a worship curator: I curate practices in structured and ambient spaces that offer people the potential for liminal moments of individual and corporate formative and transformative engagement with the Trinitarian community of God. I am an artist whose medium is worship.”

Is Believing in A Better World Idealism?

Jesus Calling the Disciples by He Qi

Jesus Calling the Disciples by Chinese artist He Qi.

Yesterday I posted this prayer on facebook:

‎”Jesus may we see in you the ways of life,
May we love justice, show mercy, practice generosity,
And love our neighbours as we do ourselves.”

Someone called these lofty but admirable goals.  One a similar post several months ago someone else called it admirable idealism and another commented – impossible.  How sad when the commands of God are viewed in this way.

Love of neighbour, generosity, mercy and justice are at the heart of the gospel and the backbone of the commands that Jesus invites us to live by.  They are the fabric that is meant to shape our lives at least that is what we tell people or pretend to believe, but underneath do we really think that they are unattainable idealism?

How we live is driven by who we are and what we believe.  Asking people to love their neighbours and forgive their enemies is pointless unless we first enable them to confront their inner disbelief in the attainability of these goals.  Sure we will never love our neighbours as well as we should and forgiving enemies can be very, very hard but if don’t believe it is possible we will never move an inch towards this seemingly unattainable goal.

One of my great role models in this struggle is the apostile John whom we first meet in Mark 3:17 as one of the Sons of Thunder.  By the end of the New Testament he known as the Apostle of love.  What an incredible transformation of heart, spirit and life that must have taken.  And I don’t think that it is surprising that we also hear him called “the disciple that Jesus loved” (John 21: 20).  The closer we walk with Jesus, the more intimately we enter into the love of his presence, the more possibility we have of being transformed and the more possibility we have of loving justice, showing mercy, practicing generosity and loving our neighbours as we do ourselves.

So what do you think?  Is the hope we have in Jesus message attainable idealism or is it a powerful vision of hope and promise for a world transformed and a people reborn?

A response to What is Worship – Ron Skylstad

Today’s post comes from Ron Skylstad  from the Grunewald Guild.  It was first posted yesterday on the Guild blog Scriptorium 



Yesterday Christine Sine posted some thoughts on her blog in a post entitled“What is Worship?” In it she talks about a blog series she hosted over the summer about worshipping God in the real world…and admits that she was a bit disappointed with the response she received from people:

Most of the posts were about traditional spiritual practices like praying and singing hymns in the midst of everyday life.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think that these are very important, but what I was really hoping for were more contributions that unpacked the ways that we can worship God through ordinary everyday acts of life like taking a shower, walking in the park and even reading the newspaper.

She goes on to discuss that we have a really difficult time thinking outside of the proverbial box, but that we need to in order to take church/worship outside the boxes of tradition we have confined them to.  ”To do so,” Christine says, “we must constantly encourage our worship leaders to become worship curators….  Unfortunately this is never easy because it means we also need to take theology outside the boxes in which we have placed it.”  She then asks to hear thoughts regarding these topics, about how we move our understanding of worship outside the church box and into the world.

Now this is something I think about and practice quite often, especially because I’m not all that musically inclined.  Granted, I was in a concert choir for 8 years and I took a guitar class, and I have a wealth of information in my brain about musical groups and the stories behind songs…but I couldn’t play guitar and sing at the same time to save my life.  I can’t keep a steady rhythm going for more than a handful of beats.  I LOVE music…but creating it is not my gift.

This serves as somewhat of a ‘wrench in the cogs’ when music is the primary medium through which worship is done in the church.  This is most likely because music is one of the only art forms the church has considered “safe,” and it’s a form in which it is fairly obvious to figure out how other people in the church body can participate (i.e. sing along).  As I said above: music is a deeply rooted and integral part of my life…but it’s not by any means my primary form of worship.

Worship for me happens during the tending of my terrariums or while doing a water change in an aquarium, or snorkeling down in the river or at the lake.  And as I do so, the lines blur between the micro and the macro…the “inside” and the “outside.”  In that way these glass boxes of plants and fish and water serve as icons of prayer for me, leaping pads into the wider world and an awareness about ecosystems and our understanding/tending of them.


Office Terrarium at the Grunewald Guild lovingly tended by Ron Skylstads

Worship for me is rarely accompanied by music, save the notes and melodies of pure awe, wonder and mystery that accompany such experiences.  It is a form of prayer without words, a form of prayer that focuses on being in God’s presence and saturated with the sacredness of such a resplendent creation.

Maybe the next age of worship leaders won’t be musicians or performance majors…or even be found on a stage.  Maybe they’ll be elbow-deep in a compost pile or hundreds of feet above the ground exploring canopy ecosystems or have a sweaty brow as they prepare jar upon jar of preserves to give purely as a gift to those in the neighborhood.

That would perhaps be a more true liturgy (“work of the people”) than many of us currently experience during a Sunday morning service.

Perhaps the next worships leaders–if we have eyes to see them and ears to hear then–will act more as field guides to the wild world we inhabit, pointing out the thin places of creation and helping us become aware of the bushes burning all around us.

What if churches incorporated living walls inside or outside of their buildings?  What if, near sanctuary vessels of water for people to dip their fingers into, the element was balanced by an aquarium of local fish species which served as a reminder of watershed health and our “neighbors” which aren’t, in fact, human but to whom we are still called to care for…that, as Thomas a Kempis wrote, “If thy heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine.  There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.”

What if the outside properties of our churches were used to their maximum potentials?  Apiaries in the corner…bat boxes beneath the eaves…espaliered fruit trees on the outside walls…vermiculture bins near the dumpster that children help tend and turn over, and red crawlers that they get to take home to start their own at the end of VBS.  What if our worship leaders were those who set up aquaponics systems in the unused and neglected portions of church basements, composing mid-winter meals of basement grown greens and tub-raised tilapia?

What if children learned first-hand about the abundance of creation during Sunday School by collecting eggs from the church’s chicken flock, and the youth group learned about building community by delivering baskets of eggs to those in the neighborhood?  What if the next generation of church leadership and renewal learned how to worship through simply sitting on a bench in the park or training grapevines along a fence or watching bats flutter in the dusk of summer?

And what if, rather than pushing out one dogma/practice completely out of the way for another one, we were instead able to fuse a variety of formats and methods and practices together in our exploration of worship?

These may be tough questions for churches as they all require the taking of chances, the exploration of new ways and new methods, new experiences and the willingness to retell some of our stories in different ways than we have before.  They require not only thinking “outside of the box” but, perhaps in standard Matrix fashion, for us to question whether or not there is actually a box to begin with…that there even exists a division between the “sacred” and the “mundane.”



What is Worship?

Alternative worship - infinite creativity, transformation possible

Alternative worship - infinite creativity, transformation possible

I hosted a blog series over the summer on worshipping God in the real world.  To be honest I was a little disappointed with the response  Most of the posts were about traditional spiritual practices like praying and singing hymns in the midst of everyday life.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think that these are very important, but what I was really hoping for were more contributions that unpacked the ways that we can worship God through ordinary everyday acts of life like taking a shower, walking in the park and even reading the newspaper.

This week I have really gotten into Mark Pierson’s book The Art of Curating Worship .  One of Mark’s motivations for developing the art of worship curation was his desire to connect the worship experience that occurs inside the church on Sunday with his everyday life.  He talks about the need to:

develop an ability to see the stuff of ordinary life – stuff going on in the culture around your community – and bring it into the worship event in ways that enhance the ability of the the worshippers to engage with God with heart, soul, mind and strength.

As I read this I realized that asking people to view ordinary everyday aspects of life as worship is almost impossible when we have never before brought ordinary daily acts into a worship context.  Worship services need to be transformed in the ways that Mark talks about so that our lives outside the church can be transformed into living acts of worship.

You may think this is rather strange, but reflecting on these thoughts this morning reminded me of Peter Seeger’s song Little Boxes which I have added at the bottom of this post as a possible meditation point.  It seems to me that we do indeed live in little boxes – there is the worship box of Sunday morning which some can be as limited as the songs we sing, for others it embraces the liturgy of the service but for most of us it ends the moment we step outside the building.  Outside is the life box with houses made of ticky tacky, and lives all the same – whether we go to church or not.

We must learn to take our worship outside the church box and do so we must continue to take church outside the boxes of tradition we have wanted to confine it in.  To do so we must constantly encourage our worship leaders to become worship curators just like Mark suggests.

Unfortunately this is never easy because it means we also need to take theology outside the boxes in which we have placed it.  As Mark comments:

A worship event should never be about theological purity.  It should always be about ordinary people engaging their messy selves with the transformative person of the God who became flesh and lived in this messiness.

And that for me is where worship and the real world connect.  As we take worship outside its boxes we become more sensitive to the presence of God in every ordinary mundane act of life and eventually all of life becomes worship to God.  Would love to hear your thoughts on this.  How do you think we move our understanding of worship outside the church box and into the world?



Expressive Arts Therapy as a tool for prayer meditation by Kim Balke

This morning’s post comes from Kim Balke, an expressive arts therapist in British Columbia

Daffodil rooted in hand; My life an embodied prayer.

Daffodil rooted in hand; My life an embodied prayer.

I was looking at this drawing the other day and I asked myself, just where did this image come from?  I invite you to do a little digging with me in my prayer garden using a few tools that I have on hand from my work as an expressive arts therapist.

It was during a record cold spell in Edmonton, Alberta, March 2011, that I found myself one evening with pencil in hand, doodling this image, eyes closed, using my non-dominant hand.  I was staying at a friend’s home while taking a course on Art Therapy with Children and Adolescents through St. Stephen’s College, U. of Alberta.  I had taken an hour bus ride back to their home and just walked through the driest and coldest weather I had experienced in my life.  I live in sunny Tsawwassen, BC –er, uhm…sunnier than the city of Vancouver.…Well, actually it rains quite a lot here but at least it is mostly mild all year ‘round when compared to the rest of the country.

I walked through the squeaky snow totally covered from head to toe in winter clothing I had dug out from years living on the east coast of Canada.  I was trying to take the last rays of sunset and deep blue sky into my watering eyes and nose, where the moisture was also turning to ice, mindful of the slippery roads under my feet as I contemplated my day.  My day had been quite a journey through my studies and reflection on children/ adolescents who had suffered abuse and trauma and found expression for their suffering in expressive arts therapy.   This blended with contemplation of my own childhood and adolescence as well as with my work during my EXAT practicum with children and trauma in an east side Vancouver elementary school, and pressing personal experiences of the past year:

all swirling around,

 eddies of snow forming mounds of cold,

over wintery wonders, muffled, covered up,

beckoning, subtle, stirring thoughts

 through sleepy frozen stillness and silence.

In the past year three women in my life died in the same month, and my own mother died (March 5th, 2009).  The course took place just before the one year anniversary of her death.  I had also faced major work transition and challenges as did my husband.

I usually start doodling/drawing in this way with an exercise to check in with myself, my body, to bring me into the here and now.  A simple roll breathing relaxation exercise  would be a good way to start, I thought, but shortly after starting, I found myself wanting to shiver, to shake, shake, shake, shake all that cold snowy heaviness away; to shake it off like a dog after a bath; like a hunted animal shakes off after escaping the hunter.  So I stayed with this feeling in my body until I found myself all warm and waiting…beloved.  The doodle drawing emerged, I added a bit of oil pastel colour; beheld the image and did some dialogue with the daffodil in hand; then moved my body in ways that were an enactment of what I saw before me.  I felt truly that I was this daffodil emerging from the coldest of ground, responding to the warmth of my Maker’s love holding me, calling, beckoning hesitant new beginnings out of the wintry places of my life; gratitude and wonder rooting me into the Loving Hand who is forming me, sustaining me.  I was mindful of the words, Behold, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand (?)

So, what were the tools I had in my EXAT basket that day?

  • Check in:  I began with a relaxation exercise like roll breathing that brings to my awareness how I am feeling, from sensations of delight to discomfort, connecting body, breath and heart in the here and now.  I found an excellent example recently of a check in breathing exercise in the newsletter of by Christine Valters Painter, who is an expressive arts therapist and writer.  In my breathing exercises, I acknowledge my Maker as the giver of life and breath; as the One in whom I live and move and have my being; the Lover of my Soul.
  • Awareness and attending:  as I became aware of what I was feeling in my body, I followed through with some simple movement that gave expression to what I sensed.   For me it was shake like a dog.  By the way, this is a natural, healthy response to trauma and a great way to follow through on letting go of challenging events in one’s life.
  • Openness to the moment:  I had pencils, paper and oil pastels on hand for further expression.  I chose to doodle with my non-dominant hand because I find this activity invites openness and engages right brain contemplation.  I trusted in the creative process (and the Creator of that process) to take me where I needed to go.
  • Dialogue with the image:  as the daffodil in hand emerged, I asked the image who are you, what do you need, want, wish, where do you want to go?
  • Move it further:  an invitation to take what I had drawn back into my body through movement as prayer.
  • Relflection:  I journaled whatever it was that came to mind and heart.  As you can see, I wrote about how I perceived that I was emerging into this world as an embodied prayer, beloved beginner emerging from under a wintry world of late spring.

I hope you have been able to glean a few tools for your own prayer meditations- the expressive arts way.

Using Icons – a Powerful Tool or Graven Images

The oldest icon of Christ Pantocrator, Saint Catherine's Monastery Mount Sinai

The oldest icon of Christ Pantocrator, encaustic on panel, c. 6th century (Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai

Icons are an integral part of orthodox worship and serve a variety of functions:

(1) They enhance the beauty of a church. (2) They instruct us in matters pertaining to the Christian faith. (3) They remind us of this faith. (4) They lift us up to the prototypes which they symbolize, to a higher level of thought and feeling. (5) They arouse us to imitate the virtues of the holy personages depicted on them. (6) They help to transform us, to sanctify us. (7) They serve as a means of worship and veneration. I shall discuss briefly each one of these functions  Read more on the function of icons at the Orthodox information centre

In recent years icons have been rediscovered by growing numbers of followers of Jesus from other traditions too.  For many, icons contribute to the beauty of worship and are like windows that connect us to the realities of the Kingdom of God, bringing these into our prayer on earth.  I love the idea that entering into church is meant to give us a glimpse into the kingdom of God and the icons are reminders of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before.  They can be a refreshing focus for both personal and group meditation.

Icon used in worship Community of the Transfiguration Geelong Australia

Icon used in worship Community of the Transfiguration affiliated with the Baptist church in Geelong Australia

Unfortunately there is probably more dispute circulating about the use of icons than of any of the other tools I have mentioned.  When Tom and I were in Lebanon some years ago we were invited to lunch by an orthodox priest.  What we did not realize until we arrived was that we were supposed to settle a long standing dispute between he and a friend as to whether or not the use of icons of Christ was acceptable.

The friend thought they were satanic, graven images that were expressly denounced in the Old Testament.  Our orthodox friend explained that early Christians felt that the Old Testament proscriptions against making images was overturned by their belief in the incarnation. They believed that because God took on flesh in the human form of Jesus it was permissible to create depictions of the human form of the Son of God.   Although icons are images, they are not simply illustrations or decorations. They are symbols of the incarnation, a presence which offers to the eyes the spiritual message that the Word addresses to the ears.

Why we worry so much about iconic images of Christ and not at all about images of Christ in other forms of art I am not sure, but then of course I am no expert.  So I at least want to present this as one of the options that you might like to explore.  For those that want to learn more obviously a google search will provide lots of resources.  However one book you may like to start with is Windows to Heaven: Icons for Protestants and Catholics by Lela Gilbert and Elizabeth Zelensky


And to round off your education, I some of you may appreciate this video using icons in association with the litany of the saints song by Matt Maher