“You don’t want worship just to be about downloading information,” says Cincinnati Micah Group member and minister Mandy Smith. Right at the heart of communication is revisiting the atmosphere of worship. Helping people to be transported to a place where they encounter God’s presence and find reinvigorated worship is very important in a Church setting.
Mandy Smith has come a long way, since arriving in the USA from Australia over two decades ago. When she first began her expressive experimentation in linking creative worship and art, she realized this was a great way of articulating the worship experience.
In her book, Making a Mess and Meeting God: Unruly Ideas and Everyday Experiments for Worship, Mandy acknowledges the need in churches to give tools to those who worship differently. “My artistic expression has changed over the years and is reflective of what God has been doing, from being very controlled in my artistic expression to letting myself go”, she notes. Mandy relates an interesting painting experiment in her book that involves a “paint with your feet” project, that actually relates to Micah 6:8. She reflects: “when I paint, I am humbled by the creative process. And I connect with my Creator God who made the colors and lines and textures and light.”
Enabling others to experience God in more expressive ways than simply sitting in a service is something Mandy seeks to pursue in creative worship settings. “Being comfortable in what I can control, and what I can’t control, and being familiar in that in-between, is quite important.”
This can be challenging, especially in more formal and somewhat traditional environments. Mandy sees formal worship practices as traditions that the church has followed for many years. She believes, nevertheless, that there is an important link between tradition and expression. “Art is commonly perceived as a feminine trait, while traditionally, preaching is seen as a powerful masculine trait”. Moving beyond these typical stereotypes is important in the context of the Church.
Integrating art into a holistic worship experience is Mandy’s passionate pursuit, This is an important part of her ministry, as she serves as a minister at the University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. For Mandy, the convergence of worship, preaching and justice is expressed on the canvas just as it can be expressed on paper or in music. “It’s more about the process than the product, as art makes you feel like part of the bigger picture’; that feeling of being part of the community is what helps people to connect to each other and to God”.