Allen Chapel AME Church, 2021

Kalamazoo, Michigan

To enrich worship by engaging the arts in order to promote healing and understanding in the midst of social injustices. 

Provide a brief summary of the purpose and goal of your grant. 

The goals of this project were to explore the interconnectedness of art, worship, and social justice in our congregation, create more opportunities for collaboration with other organizations and churches. We created a year long small group series exploring the connection between art, worship, and social justice. We identified several Old Testament prophets and several instances in the Gospel accounts of Jesus where we can examine social justice through a Biblical lens. We released an interactive element for our small group to explore the connection between art, worship and social justice seen in these passages. We collaborated with our ministry staff, our drama team, local artists, and musicians for this project from week to week. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year? 

In recent months violence has escalated in our own community. Also because of the pandemic, many residents have struggled to find food, housing, and basic necessities. In the midst of this, our congregation has also become more racially and culturally diverse. Because of these community issues and changing demographics, there are two questions which have driven our grant project this past year: How can we break from traditional, ineffective style of worship and truly offer an inclusive worship space of healing and comfort to those in need? How do we respond to the social justice-related current events and issues of our time in a manner that invites differing perspective, viewpoints, and where people can find their voice, listen, and learn? 

In what ways has your project engaged your congregation so that it impacts the worship life and habits of the congregation? 

In hosting public conversations for feedback, we have discovered that our grant project has truly impacted the worship life of our members. More members want to get involved in creating more exciting worship services. Additionally, more families have started to come back to church. Members have invited friend, co-workers to attend services. Other local organizations are interested in collaborating with us on future projects. Our children are eager to work on more social-justice related projects. We have also discovered important history about our own church and we are presently looking to create a church museum for the public. This is exciting and we are very thankful for who God is using us to spread a message of justice love, and hope!! 

What criteria have you used to evaluate your plan to foster vital worship? 

Feedback was very important to the outcome of our project. Throughout the during of our grant project we were interested in learning how our events impacted our congregation. On a monthly basis, we provides resources so that church members could share their reactions, ask questions, give feedback and present interesting ideas, thoughts, comments, and give new discoveries and insights about what was gained during the worship experience. Our members were tremendously impacted by the unique connection between art, music, and social justice in the bible. We have also hosted coffee with Pastor Southern, online discussion chats, and worship gatherings to talk about speakers, artists, and musicians. These outlets have proven to be very effective! 

What issues have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)? 

Some people are not familiar with biblical stories, characters, or events. In some communities, Christianity and the bible were used in a harmful manner to divide, judge, and separate. Additionally, many people do not see how social justice is important in Christianity given historical atrocities and current events. This proved to be an interesting opportunities in showing how love, tolerance, and justice are truly at the core of the Christian gospel message. Because of this, special justice-based scriptures and biblical prophets spoke to the hearts of the church members much more clearer than ever before. Also, because there have been so much violence in Kalamazoo, these scriptures seemed to renew hope, communal well being, and unity! 

What would you like to share with other Project Directors? 

We are thankful for this opportunity to show how social justice is important from a biblical context. More importantly, we want to find additional ways to continue our project. We are looking for opportunities to create a workshop, booklet, seminar, or training sessions for other churches who may want to look at the intersection between art, music, and social justice in the bible. Also, Pastor Southern is interested in publishing a short book of social justice, the Christian Gospel, and jazz music. Any suggestions that you have for us to continue our project would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!