Curation: The Glue That Holds Worship Together
I first coined the term “worship curator” about 20 years ago after participating in a fairly bizarre art installation that consisted of a series of large ponds filled with paint.
I had been putting together weekly community worship events and theme-specific ambient worship spaces, and what I would now describe as “transitional worship” events, for some years. These transitional events drew heavily on ideas from art installations I had experienced and read about. I was also aware that worship too often was seen as something isolated from its surroundings (saying nothing of the people it was intended for), and I felt there should be more integration/integrity of space, people and content, or context and content. The old McLuhan idea of the medium being the message.
Most worship events I attended or participated in had no engagement with the space they were in and could have been picked up and dumped anywhere. Most of them also didn’t seem to be helpful to me or to my friends as followers of Jesus in our “worlds.”
My “paint pond” experience, described in detail in “The Prodigal Project” in my book The Art of Curating Worship (p.62), affected me viscerally as well as emotionally and intellectually. It got me thinking about how to engage people more with the worship I was offering, and how it might become more immersive and experiential.
So, I began to think of worship as an art form, and picking up the term from art exhibitions, I started seeing myself as a curator of worship events–a “worship curator”–rather than a worship leader. Eventually, I started talking to others in this way, and the term has gained more content and depth as I have read back into it and others have brought their perspectives to it.
I find it such a helpful way to think about designing and leading worship. To help you discover all that is there, I really need to talk first about what I see the curator doing and where the term borrows from.
Basically, the curator in an art gallery setting is responsible for everything that happens in an installation or exhibition: from when people arrive through to everyone having left. This includes the light levels, wall colors, temperature, seating or not, arrangement of work in the space, explanations, flow, juxtaposition of works, and so on. The gallery curator does all his/her work and then steps back and understands that the story she has told may not be the same one that participants carries way. Ultimately, the curator has no control over what story anyone takes from the work.
In the worship context, the worship curator is ideally responsible for the same elements and sees the worship event as a work of art and the elements within that (the “order of service”) as works of art that need curating. Similarly, he/she has no control over what story people will take away, nor what God might speak to people about. The curator’s role is to tell the gospel story as faithfully, creatively, and with as much integrity and understanding of his/her audience as possible. Beyond being faithful, the message of what’s transmitted is in the hands of the Trinitarian community of God. He’s the true worship leader.
You may begin to see why I think we need a new vocabulary and language to describe the processes and understandings we have around designing and delivering worship, and “curator” is just one term in that constantly expanding vocabulary. This view and function allows me to shape up a worship event (whether community, transitional or guerilla worship) that has integrity internally and externally, while still being open-ended in the ways I think worship should be. It’s not about a certain style of worship (e.g. liturgical or charismatic), or about a new style of worship, it’s about how the curator works in a particular context. The principals are transferable across all styles of worship and cultures.
So I describe what I do by saying,
I curate structured & ambient spaces
built around practices
that offer people the potential
for liminal moments of
individual and corporate
with the Trinitarian
community of God.
That’s quite a journey from saying, “I lead worship”! Join me in my podcast with WMC and GCP, and in my following series of blogs. I will continue to unpack the worship curator concept further. Also, learn more about me HERE, and check out my book HERE.