Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), Rebecca Slough

Elkhart, Indiana

To explore how the spatial and visual dimensions of congregational worship shape diverse Anabaptist communities, in order to create resources that facilitate culturally-informed reflection on visual arts in worship and to curate visual art resources for use in Anabaptist worship. 

Researcher(s): Rebecca Slough and Jerry Holsopple 
Academic Discipline:  Worship/Liturgics and Visual/Communication Art

Project Summary

Our project explores how the spatial and visual dimensions of congregational worship in diverse Anabaptist communities shape their experiences of worship by: 

  1. collaborating with leaders from four culturally and ethnically diverse Anabaptist congregations and student researchers to document how visual elements are part of worship; 
  2. creating a documentary film and discussion resource to facilitate culturally-informed reflections on how the visual dimensions of worship express and form communities’ theology and practice; and 
  3. working with students to search for and curate visual art by culturally and ethnically diverse Anabaptist artists to appear on the Together in Worship website. 

What questions about worship and your discipline will be guiding your project?

First level ethnographic questions (who, where, what, how, why) to get at the stories behind the present visual elements. 

  • How are the visual elements and/or artwork shaping the congregation’s cultural identity? 
  • How do the visual dimensions inspire or support the congregation’s acts of worship? 
  • What do the visual dimensions orient the congregation toward?  
  • What theological themes are present in the visual dimensions of the congregational worship space? 

How do you envision this project will strengthen the worship life of congregations?

We hope that pastors, congregational worship leaders, and artists will 1) gain a deeper appreciation for the formative role that the visual dimensions play in worship; 2) use these visual dimensions with greater creativity, intentionality and respect;  3) open conversations among worshipers about how visual elements affect their worship; 4) practice deeper discernment for choosing visual worship elements; and 5) build stronger relationships between congregations and the artists in their midst. 

What do you expect might be your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

Our congregational partners will need some level of fluency to describe how worship’s visual elements inspire, support, or enhance the congregation’s worship. We anticipate that not all of our partners will have well-formed responses to some questions.  

The student researchers and videographers need a well-focused orientation for this congregational research and art curation. A clear yet flexible research design, taking intercultural issues into account, is needed to reach our goals. 

What do you hope to learn from the Grants Event and other grant recipients?

I hope to find synergies between this research project and the other projects that colleagues are pursuing. Given the opportunity to explain aspects of the project will help me clarify my presentation and questions, which will contribute to the orientation with students and discussions with congregational leaders.