The Value of Art in Church

Some of my earliest memories of Sunday School and church are not about the Bible.  I remember the crafts.  The art projects.  The careful art scattered about the church. 

When I was a child, one of my favorite places in the church was the large closet where the arts and craft supplies were stored.  It was actually more like a small room with floor to ceiling shelves filled with paper and paints and crayons and markers and scissors and glue and felt and sparkles and pipe cleaners and those large rolls of butcher block paper.


While in high school I became a Sunday School teacher.  I remember that feeling of having “made it” when I was the one going into the art closet to collect things for the children to use in class.  Even the children who had trouble focusing on the words of the lesson seemed to find joy in creating something based in the themes of the curriculum of the day.  

One of my other favorite things to do in the church was look at the stained glass windows.  The windows told the story of Jesus’ ministry and death.  When the windows were removed for repair they were replaced in the wrong order.  I enjoyed studying the images in the glass and trying to figure which one came before the other according the the eye of the artist who was telling the story in color and light. 

The cross at my growing up church was a piece of art, too.  It was large, pewter in color hung above the altar.  The vertical and horizontal arms were inlaid with what looked like a large chain and there was a circle at the center.  I spent a lot of hours looking to that cross.

 Art was a significant part of my child and youth experience of church in so many ways.  I was blessed to be in a space that had opportunities for creating art and well placed art that drew me deeper in my understanding of God.   

In the collection of essays For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts,  W. David O. Taylor suggests, “A Christian understanding of art involves a recognition that art does things.   In our Christian history, art mattered.  For good and for ill, it was a key part of the Christian experience.  It taught children to love the Bible.  It schooled viewers in theological stories.  Sometimes it incited violence.  Sometimes it directed Sunday worshipers’ attention heavenward.” (80-81)   

I wonder what it would look like for you to spend time noticing how the art in your community does or does not provide opportunity to ground you in the work of God in Jesus?  Is there room for new artistic interpretation through words and images that can begin to shape and form our faith in new ways? 

The collection of essays I quoted above, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, ed.  W. David O. Taylor, can be a guide to conversation about liturgical art and the gift it can be in faith formation.  It helps to look at the way we curate spaces with words and images so that folks who worship in community are given varieties of ways to engage in Jesus’ message of love and salvation.

By Lori A. Kochanski, Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation

Katherine Neugent