Curating Worship by Jonny Baker

(Seabury Books: New York, 2010)

“Curation” has become a popular word of late (not just in relation to worship) to describe a certain form of collaborative and enabling leadership and management.  It is a metaphor from the art world, where the curator of exhibitions has the role of presenting work in an engaging and meaningful way for it’s audience.  I like the Wiki description:

Curation is generally the selection of, care for and presentation of the objects entered into a collection, whether that collection is physical (such as items in a museum) or digital (such as entries in Wikipedia). The emphasis of curation may vary among:

  • The selection process — such as the use of expertise or expert advice to decide what items or content should be added to a collection or archive.
  • The caretaking process — controlling the decay of historical object (such as census records) or biological specimens (such as insects or flowers).
  • Presentation — determining how objects or records are displayed, including what metadata will be displayed along with them.

Jonny’s book is a series of interviews with exciting artists and christians, largely from the alternative worship movement, who have been involved in creating interactive sacred art in public and church settings.  Sometimes these events are clearly identified as worship, sometimes they are just open invitations to interact with a sacred story.  My favourite project described in the book is the Advent Beach Boxes – 25 privately owned beach boxes (yes, real ones) coordinated to open one each day with an art installation about advent in each one.  Thousands of people came to walk along the beach and engage with something of the christmas story through those boxes!

I am really intrigued by the curating conversation, and have myself made the shifts to this style of leading worship intuitively.  The shifts are not a surface change of style, they are foundational assumptions about the nature of human knowing and interaction with God.  My confidence in the Trinity revealing Godself have remained solid, whilst my confidence in humanity as interpreter of that truth has plummeted!  The themes which stood out for me in this book, reading great story after great story, were:

  • the power of collaboration – great ideas plus a hard working team get an event up and running, but then the interaction and contribution of all who are present add to the power of the experience, especially when this event is worship.
  • the power of art – most of the bible presents truth in story, all of the bible presents truth in the context of relationships.  Art can reconnect us with the creative elements of revelation as it recaptures something of the dynamic of our ‘oral tradition’ (i.e. words prior to the printing press).
  • humility – to ‘curate’ worship as opposed to ‘lead’ worship (or ‘preach’ the sermon) is able to be more open ended, question oriented, unimposing of one’s own perspective.

2 thoughts on “Curating Worship by Jonny Baker

  1. Visited the Beyond beach box mob in Brighton in 2009. Interesting group of ‘ordinary’ Christians trying stuff ‘out of the box’ without getting too weird… Nice! See also Mark Pierson’s new book on this theme… The Art of Curating Worship. A different take on it…

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