26 April 2011

Church Patronage of the Arts

Dear Artists (painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, actors, composers, etc.):

I am working on an article about church patronage of the arts for the Comment online magazine.

Have you ever had a piece of work commissioned by a church? Have they ever paid you for a newly composed piece of music, a poem, a play, a work of fiction
, a drawing, a painting, a mural, a sculpture, an installation, or a performance? If so, would you please share some details with me (either in a comment here or via a personal email)? I would like to know, especially:

- Who initiated the project, you or the church?
- How much creative control did you have over the project?
- How was the piece or performance used -- in a worship service, in the church building, or in some other way? Did the pastor announce or discuss it from the pulpit; did he incorporate its themes into his sermon?
- Were you paid for the piece or performance? If so, just for time/materials, or the going sale value of the work?

- What advice would you give to artists seeking church commissions?
- What advice would you give to churches looking to work with artists?

Thank you!

~ Sørina


scruffy said...

Hi there,

i had a long time working relationship with a former pastor of mine. At the time i was one of the worship leaders. We were all amateurs, only the coordinator was paid. The boss gave us a lot of freedom of expression and he encouraged us to work thematically with the sermons. We had what we felt were very organic flows from worship to teaching and back.
At some point, i started doing little monologues based on the scripture of the day. These turned into full blown multi-player skits at times and dramatizations of scripture. Once again, the boss was extremely encouraging and it seemed like these were well used in the service. Mostly we placed them between worship and the sermon to kind of buffer the announcements and more "business" portions of the service.
When that pastor moved out to Colorado to pastor another congregation he asked me to video one of my monologues based on a sermon series he was doing out there. i was surprised and a bit humbled to receive a check for that. i don't feel entirely comfortable accepting money for "worship." i ended up donating the check and we just haven't really hooked up to do anymore. At times it sounds like the perfect job to me but would i still love it if it was a job?

i'm interested to hear other's takes and experiences. To me, the most important thing was that it didn't take people out of the text but opened it up further and helped them see it from maybe a new perspective or at the very least set the stage for the Pastor to step in and explain. Head and heart. If it was just entertainment then i feel i missed the mark.


Rosie Perera said...

Scruffy, thanks for sharing your experience. That was very interesting to hear about you feeling kind of uncomfortable accepting payment for creating worship art. What do you think about pastors accepting payment for preaching (I'm sure some of them feel kind of awkward about it). I preach from time to time in my lay-run church and I don't get paid for it, nor does anyone in our congregation. But when we invite guest speakers, we do pay them an honorarium. What is the difference? I would certainly feel weird about getting paid, but "the worker is worth his keep" (Matt 10:10).

In a similar vein, how about applauding for worship artists when they complete a solo "performance" in a worship service? I've had mixed feelings about that on and off. I used to attend a large church in Seattle where there was a big emphasis on very high quality music in worship. We would never applaud the choir for their anthem, if I recall, but if there was a soloist doing special music at some point in the service, they often got a spontaneous ovation. And we always hung around to listen to the organized play an elaborate organ postlude after the service was over and applauded her. It never bothered me. In my current tiny church, we've had a new guy attending for a few weeks who used to be a professional rock musician. The other day he played an amazing rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for us. It was very moving, and I felt the dead silence afterward almost embarrassing, because of who he was (a newbie to our congregation) and his skill. But we don't applaud in our church. I wonder how he felt, whether he felt welcome there or not?

Iambic Admonit said...

Excellent points, both of you! Thank you, Scruffy/Shane, for sharing. I'd love to know more about the monologues, just because I'm curious (but you've already shared lots with me for my article): were they literary? stylized? in Biblical personas? poetic? colloquial? --just asking from a writer's point of view!

scruffy said...

Money makes everything awkward in my opinion. It brings into question motives. i've seen both sides of this coin, pastors who were probably paid too little but were embarrassed to ask for more and pastors who seemed shameless about salaries and benefits that slowly bled the congregation dry. Don't muzzle the ox and all that. Paul didn't take a salary but said it was perfectly within his right to do so. In the end, each church and pastor really must work out what's both fair and allowable to their consciences, i would say and it's probably going to be different for each congregation. How's that for walking the fence? ;)

Applause. We're not to seek the approval of men but how can we not celebrate each other's gifts, especially in praise of our Father? i've endured those awkward silences and i've seen standing ovations. If David could dance in his Fruit of the Looms and as long as the recipient isn't feeding off the approval i'd prefer to err on the side of celebration.

As for my work, it ran the gamut from just stylized readings and framing of scripture to sort of op-ed pieces to stories based on biblical characters. i'll leave the titles Poetic and Literary to those who hear and read them, i just really like putting words together in ways that make people think.

wurdgurl said...

Yes, in Traverse City Michigan, in the early eighties, I was working in stained glass. A pastor of a small church asked me to construct a window that could be framed and hung inside a window of the sanctuary. The piece was based on their church logo and measured about three by three feet. The illustration was a crown surrounded by a complete circle stylized people holding hands. Very nice little piece.

Iambic Admonit said...

Dear Wurdgurl:

Thanks for sharing your experience! It's too late to go into my article, which is already available (, but I'm glad to hear it nonetheless and hope you get back into working with churches. Are you a professional artist?