Paintings and incense and stones…oh my!

Published April 1, 2010

The primary theme in the Interface “Reign of Christ the King” liturgy is “God rules through the wood of the cross,” from an ancient Latin hymn.

Imagine a worship that is a feast for the senses.

The eyes can rest upon photos, paintings and hundreds of metres of jewel-coloured fabrics draped about the church, around, over and under each post and beam of the church. Vivid blue, purple, scarlet and gold textiles billow down from the ceiling.

The nose can catch the aroma of incense at stations throughout the nave.

The ear can hear rich, contemporary music and poems, some written especially for the service, some conceived and delivered on the spot by the appointed “bard.”

The fingers can reach down to touch the cool, mottled surface of the giant rocks scattered around the floor or pick up a brush at the art stations to paint the inspirations that arise from the surrounding themes.

The sumptuous sounds, sights, smells and artwork are part of the banquet that is an Interface Worship service at St. Paul’s Church, Edmonton.

The visionary behind Interface Worship is Jim Robertson, a criminal lawyer by day and parishioner of St. Paul’s. He describes himself as a “worship curator” (a term coined by Mark Pierson, a pastor in New Zealand involved in creative forms of worship) who leads a group of “worship artisans” in the occasional, extraordinary services.

“We don’t necessarily create the art but we create the space for the art,” said Robertson, who also studied religion at Alberta’s Camrose Lutheran College (now Augustana University College).  

The alternative worship concept began in Lent of 2006 with Altarwalk, a liturgical sculpture and spiritual formation exercise consisting of nine prayer stations at St. Paul’s, each with a reflective reading and illustration of a theme. Conceived by Robertson, Altarwalk was intended to help worshippers explore what it meant to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus. The “walk-through altar” was assembled from 21 rocks totaling 900 kilograms, 60 candles and 75 metres of fabric.

(Altarwalk was first displayed at the 2004 national conference of the Christian Dance Fellowship of Canada and has since been installed at other Anglican churches. These include Edmonton’s All Saints’ Cathedral, Baptist and Lutheran churches and the Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alta.)

Since that first installation-cum-liturgy, Robertson has created other services and has ideas for more. He hopes to publish the Interface Worship liturgies so they may be staged at other churches.

The most recently celebrated was an Epiphany service in January that included contemporary music, poetry by a parishioner/”bard” and live, “prophetic painting” by an artist who paints a giant, 4 x 8-foot canvas throughout the service.

The next will be an Easter Saturday service. “It’s a looking back at the cross while looking forward to the resurrection-often referred to as the ‘rending of the veil,’ ” the Rev. Michael Williamson, rector of St. Paul’s, told the Anglican Journal.

Together with his Reign of Christ the King service, the Epiphany and Easter Saturday services make up what Robertson calls his Throne Room series, which focuses on major points in the Christian calendar.

Each service is also highly participatory, with 20 to 25 minutes set aside for congregants to go to the art stations to create art that may be inspired by the liturgical themes.

“We also pay tribute to ancient historical Christian worship forms and patterns and some aspects of Jewish liturgy,” said Robertson. “We’re not trying to necessarily recreate these worship patterns, but it’s more of a historical and cultural tribute to the role they play.

“It’s a recognition of our roots and an understanding that we’re part of this long, historical involvement of God working with his people for his redemptive purposes. So, we see our place in the continuum.”

“There are usually many, many themes in the service,” said Williamson, who said he reads and guides Robertson’s liturgies, so that they conform theologically to Anglican worship.

Leanne Larmondin is former editor of the Anglican Journal.


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