Professor Jerry Holsopple created this stained glass work in which he experiments with the visual aspects of worship. It resides at Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg. (Courtesy photo)

Grant funds collaborative project on visual forms of Anabaptist worship

Jerry Holsopple, professor of visual and communication arts at Eastern Mennonite University, was recently awarded a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He and co-applicant Rebecca Slough, academic dean emerita at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), will use the funds for a collaborative project that looks at visual forms of Anabaptist worship. 

The Vital Worship Grants are awarded to “teacher-scholars” that “strengthen Christian public worship practices” through theology, music, aesthetics, dance, history, or sociology, according to a press release from the institute.

“The chance to interact with six congregations, work closely with students and  investigate how the visual functions in worship combines many of my life passions,” Holsopple said. “I can’t wait to see what we discover and how this will empower the church to enlarge their vision for the visual within their worship practice.”

Holsopple and Slough plan to assemble a team of art students from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), graduate students from AMBS, and congregational leaders from six different Anabaptist churches from a variety of cultures and ethnicities. 

“The overarching goal is to learn how the visual aspects of worship, including specific forms of visual art, function in Anabaptist and Mennonite congregations to support the theology and practice of worship,” said Holsopple. He teaches photography and digital media at EMU.

Another piece of the project will be a documentary video, created by the EMU students, about this collaborative research process.

The team will also collect images created by Anabaptist artists that other congregations can access through a website called “Together in Worship.” Holsopple and Slough recently launched the site along with a bi-national team led by Together in Worship chair Sarah Kathleen Johnson. The site’s logo and color design was created by digital media graduate Missy Muterspaugh ’19.

Holsopple brings an abundance of experience in this unique field. In 2009-10, he was a Fulbright scholar in Lithuania, where he studied icon painting under the tutelage of a Russian Orthodox priest. His own icon paintings were exhibited at EMU in 2010. The following year, Holsopple spoke on communicating values in visual form as the plenary speaker at the Anabaptist Communicators Conference.

“Jerry’s creation of icons is one example of his passion for understanding how Anabaptists engage the visual arts within worship spaces,” said Tara Kishbaugh, dean of the school of sciences, engineering, art and nursing. 

“I think another strength of this project are the multiple layers of collaboration possible,” Kishbaugh said. “First the project was designed by a team of faculty, then they will involve both visual arts undergraduates and theology graduate students, and these teams will also build relationships with the congregations and gather their stories and reflections.”

Holsopple and Slough’s project is one of 17 that the institute will fund in the 2021-2022 grant cycle.

“Teacher-Scholars from a wide variety of disciplines have so much to contribute to congregations and parishes – helping us all see things we otherwise might miss, offering access to essential wisdom for ministry,” said John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Discussion on “Grant funds collaborative project on visual forms of Anabaptist worship

  1. This is so exciting! I’m eager to hear more about what they find in this expansive exploration. For me, the arts are more important than words alone – so glad our church is growing into the beauty of it all!

  2. Great project!
    Somewhere a long time ago I read that icons are written, not painted. Not sure where this came from.

  3. I am eager to see what this brings forth…..Nafziger has done some glass in worship settings that are significant…..we use a hand blown chalice regularly in our communion services and regularly have a small display of “worship arts”……these are meaningful attempts to bring more of the senses to bear on our worship experiences.

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