I don’t usually cover the arts within the Church but the topic we’re discussing today captured my imagination. I’m interviewing Paxson Jeancake, Director of Worship and Arts at East Cobb Presbyterian Church in Atlanta (www.ecpca.org/worshipmusic) and author of The Art of Worship: Opening Our Eyes to the Beauty of the Gospel. He is also founder of Rhythm of Worship, a ministry that seeks to serve the church and cultivate the creative process by offering musical resources, foundational teaching and practical training (www.rhythmofworship.com).
Earlier this year, Paxson issued a Call to Artists at his church to create works based on the theme of the Ascension. In March, he distributed a brochure outlining the idea and, to help artists get engaged with the theme, he included relevant scripture texts from Psalm 24, Luke 24:50-53, and others. The work that resulted was fascinating and meaningful for the church as a whole.
Participant Molly Blass, who introduced me to Paxson, had this to say: “The Call to Artists has been used of God in many ways in the life of our church. Chiefly, it helped showcase the creativity of our Creator God but it was also a great display of the way He has gifted His children. The positive reaction to my essay has been a huge encouragement to me to pursue writing, and to use it in a way to bring glory and honor to Christ.”
LeAnne: Tell me where the idea for this Call to Artists came from and how you arrived at your theme.
Paxson: We had actually done a call to artists about four years ago based on the theme of images of servanthood. Fewer people participated in that one but it set a precedent for the one we did this year.
The Easter Season includes the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ as well as the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. But Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday are often not as recognized as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So, in order to help our church engage fully with the Easter season, we asked artists to submit creative works on the following theme: “Ascension: Setting Our Sights on the Realities of Heaven.” The works fit into three categories—literary arts, visual arts, and performing arts—and were displayed in the gym on Ascension Sunday, which was May 20th.
I’ve always wanted to celebrate the arts. Music is my first passion, but I also love photography, dance, drama, and the visual arts. My wife and I were finishing up our second CD worship project. On my way to the church one day, I had a chorus going through my mind which seemed to have some potential. When I got to my office I immediately began to craft what became the song, “King of Glory.” As I began to study and meditate on Psalm 24, the biblical foundation for the song, I was led to some interesting insights regarding the ascension of Christ, an often neglected aspect of His life and ministry. One commentator noted that, with respect to the ascension of Christ, the disciples saw His “going.” Psalm 24, however, is a view into his heavenly “arriving.” For me, this was a profound insight and I’m still thinking about its implications.
LM: How many people participated? How was it received by the church at large?
PJ: We had sixteen submissions which were displayed in the gym on Ascension Sunday. The worship service focused on the theme of Ascension and after that, people had a chance to explore and linger in the exhibit. The whole day was an immersion into the Ascension.
Our pastor called it a “win/win” because we were able to celebrate the arts as well as an aspect of the life and ministry of Christ that often gets overlooked.
LM: You provided a program for people to use as they walked through the exhibit, right?
PJ: Yes. I had asked each artist to include a brief paragraph about the creative process behind the work. I love the creative process, both mine and hearing about others’. I wanted to be able to educate our people on the creative process, to give insight into it, since a lot of our members don’t live and move in the creative world.
On Monday, Paxson will talk about two of the pieces submitted.