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 six culturally and ethnically diverse Anabaptist congregations and student researchers to document how visual elements are part of worship and congregational life; 

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 have you asked about worship in the past year?  

  1. How can visual art and the visual elements of worship make a place of identity and belonging for worshipers and create an opening for relationship with God and the worshiping community?
  2. How can visual art and the visual elements of congregational space (including worship) foster greater intercultural awareness, engagement, and competency? 
  3. How can we minimize cultural bias when curating visual art for inclusion on the Together in Worship resource website and assigning searchable key words for website users?

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations? 

The draft video documentary gives abundant examples of how culturally diverse congregations are using visual art in worship spaces and other gathering places in congregational life. After viewing the draft of the video, pastors from two of our partner congregations reported that they could now imagine more possibilities for using visual means for intentionally enriching their worship experience. I and Jerry Holsopple remain hopeful that the discussion guide based on the video that is in process will encourage small congregational groups (including worship committees and spiritual formation groups) to share their experiences and aspirations for using visual art, created by professional artists and artful amateurs, in their congregational life, including worship. We hope there will be more congregational art created that integrates the experience and hope of culturally diverse worshipers. 

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

  • None of our partner congregations used digital image projection as a regular part of their worship. Projection was limited to scripture texts or words for singing. This is an area begging for more research, especially in contexts of significant cultural diversity.  
  • Completing the video has taken longer than anticipated, especially with busy second semester schedules of the videography students. 
  • Finding Anabaptist visual artists from various cultures with work that could be digitized and available on the Together in Worship website is more difficult than imagined.  
  • Unanticipated family care needs impacted the momentum of project work.  

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

One of the joys of this project has been using graduate and undergraduate students as collaborators in the research. All of the collaborators were women of various cultural experiences. Their presence opened up questions that I had not considered. (This was also true of the graduate student who worked with the visual artwork for the Together in Worship website.) Students in both parts of our project stated that they are far more attentive to and appreciative of the visual dimensions of worship than they had been previously. Students working on the video were grateful for the opportunity to experience worship and worshipers in congregations that were new to them. The time needed to manage these collaborators and the partner congregations was well-spent. 

What products will emerge from your project? 

We are on-track to finish the video documentary and the discussion guide by mid-June. The curated images for the Together in Worship website, the video, and the discussion guide should be uploaded by the same time.