Previous Themes


2015 | From Generation to Generation

Time brings change to every person and community.  In the midst of time’s flux, every Christian congregation proclaims the gospel, offering good news to the children and youth of its own household and beyond, as well as to those who are growing old.  In a society where persons are often segregated by age, congregations are, remarkably, communities where old, middling, and young share life together.  At the same time, many wonder whether aging congregations will indeed be able to see the faith transmitted to new generations.  This theme invites congregations to explore how worship, music, and the arts embody the psalmist’s hope:  “from generation to generation we will recount God’s praise” (79:13).

In a culture where different age cohorts reportedly understand themselves and their world in markedly divergent ways, how do worship, music, and the arts help people of different generations to hear the gospel, and how might they do so more fully?  How does, and how might, this happen both within congregations and through outreach?

Further, the lives of Christian people are formed by how the church frames the milestones that mark individual journeys through time, such as birth, maturation, marital commitment, and death.  How do worship, music, and the arts enable persons and communities to embrace life passages as opportunities to receive and respond to the grace of God, and how might they do so more fully?

2014 | The Human Body and the Body of Christ 

Christian worship, music, and the arts are the work of many bodies gathered into a single body, which is known in faith as the body of Christ.   Washing and eating, singing and swaying, hearing and seeing, adorning and touching, gathering in and going out, this body, the church, boldly responds to God’s presence for the world in the human flesh of Jesus.  The physical selves of those who worship are essential to the church’s praise and prayer—and, further, sharing compassionately in the suffering and joy of embodied others is essential to the church’s work in the world.

Even so, the church often fails to honor the human body in all its beauty, strength, vulnerability, and need, and strong forces in society and culture undermine physical well-being and integrity.   Some bodies are idolized while others are disdained, making embodiment itself a site of anxiety or terror for many.   Meanwhile, technological advances have raised anxieties over whether relationships are helped or hindered by online connectivity.   In this context, how might the theological, liturgical, artistic and technological practices of Christ’s body offer challenge, healing and hope?

Embodiment is so inescapable that this theme could be discerned in almost any expression of worship, music, or art.  However, there are points in life and in worship when the physicality of human existence requires and receives special attention.  As local manifestations of Christ’s body, congregations can and do offer such attention by shaping sound, touch, matter, and movement to communicate God’s grace.  What bodies cry out for the church’s attention today?  How do the worship, music, or art of the body of Christ inspire faithful responses to the suffering and joy of embodied others, and how might they do so more fully?  What might congregations offer to, and what might they learn from, contemporary debates about the changing role of embodiment in the formation of identity, relationships, and community?

2013 | Hark, the Glad Sound: Inviting New and Returning Christians to Worship

Reaching out with the Gospel to those who are not active members is a concern all Christian congregations share, even though they often use different words to describe it (evangelism, outreach, mission, church growth, hospitality). Throughout Christian history, creativity in music and the arts has played a crucial role in opening Christian worship to new or returning participants. Through the crèche of Saint Francis, the hymns of Wesley and Watts, the architecture of the Los Angeles Cathedral, and countless other projects, church leaders have developed fresh liturgical and artistic forms that speak powerfully to their contemporaries in the midst of changing contexts. Doing so requires theological discernment, cultural sensitivity, strategic savvy, and confidence in the grace of God. Today many strong congregations are working to develop creative approaches to outreach. The 2013 summer seminar will gather teams of leaders from such congregations. For their own mutual learning and for the sake of other congregations who yearn for insight, we shall ask how contemporary congregations are reaching out to proclaim the Gospel in a society undergoing massive change in technology, religious belonging, generational division, and other aspects of social organization, and also how they might do so more fully. How can and do congregations reach out to groups who are underrepresented within the congregation (for example, young adults, non-English speakers, families with young children, those with disabilities, artists)? How might they assess and negotiate the hold of tradition and the allure of the new in worship, music, and the arts? How should they think theologically, as congregations, about the relationships between the language, sounds, and images of Christian worship and those of popular culture?

2012 | Keeping Time/Life Passages

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away,” we sing with Isaac Watts. How does a congregation worship God from the midst of the days, weeks, years, and stages of life that shape its experience of time? How do, and how might, the worship, the music, and the other artistic expressions of the church—which are themselves fleeting and temporal—help contemporary people find abundant life within time’s ever-rolling stream?

These perennial questions have special saliency in our 24/7 society, where many people are at a loss for both time and wisdom about time. Christian worship is deeply formed by patterns that give shape to time—Sundays, seasons, hours of prayer. Further, the lives of Christian people are formed by the church’s framing of such temporal passages as birth, maturation, spousal commitment, and death. This theme invites congregations to engage questions about rhythm, tempo, and pace in the passages of life and the practices of worship.

2011 | Worshiping God in this Place

In a mobile, fast-paced society marked by fragmenting ties to locale and alienation
from the natural world, this theme invites congregations to consider the actual inhabited landscapes upon which they live out their ministries. How does a congregation’s literal place in the world shape how it worships God? And how does participating in worship, music, and the arts enable the people of a certain place—for example, of a city, a historic district, a rural area, a watershed—to seek the welfare of this place?
Some congregations may attend to one small neighborhood while others explore regions marked by distinctive histories, ecologies, or cultures.  However, all will be seeking to enhance awareness of the designated place as an arena of God’s grace through projects in worship, music, and the arts that can be shared with other congregations ministering there.