Handmade worship

This article shows how a focus on creativity changed a church’s worship. Through a Worship Renewal grant, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in San Bernardino, California, was able to create meaningful, intergenerational opportunities to express the image of God the Creator in members young and old.

Worship Renewal grants foster well-grounded worship in congregations and worshiping communities throughout North America. This program, run by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, is made possible through the generous support of Lilly Endowment, Inc. While CICW is interested in receiving a wide range of proposals, they are especially interested in projects related to intergenerational worship practices, multicultural worship, and the psalms. For more information on the grant program and to learn more from past grant recipients, visit worship.calvin.edu/grants.

Why does creativity matter? How does it change our worship and how does it change us? Our church’s 2010 Worship Renewal grant gave us a chance to think about and experience creativity as it relates to worship. In a series of hands-on intergenerational workshops we created art for worship, including textiles, poetry, communion ware, and music. In this article we share seven important things we learned.


We used primary colors of Procion MX Fiber Reactive dyes (www.dharmatrading.com/ or www.prochemicalanddye.com/home.php) and mixed our own special hues using percentages and color charts. We dyed twenty-yard pieces of 54" wide 4.5 mm habotai silk purchased from www.exoticsilks.com.

Our color expert Candy Glendenning has a website called CandiedFabrics.com; she can be contacted there.

  1. We look like the Creator! In her book In the Sanctuary of Women (Upper Room Books, 2010) Jan Richardson points out that “the first face that God shows us—there, at the beginning of Genesis—is of God as Creator. . . . This God calls us, who bear the image of God, to participate in the ongoing creation of the world, with every art we can muster” (p. 219). When we began our grant year, we were eager to engage as many people as possible—especially those who claimed they were “not creative.” By emphasizing the process of praying and creating together rather than the products we created, we hoped that many might be able to offer new gifts to the Lord we love and worship. Being creative, especially in our worship, is to be who we were born to be, and to exercise our God-given gifts. We discovered that there is something holy about engaging in the process of creating worship together.
  2. Creativity allows us to offer God new gifts. You wouldn’t get your dad the very same tie for his birthday every year. So why would we offer God exactly the same thing every Sunday when we gather? God does not need or want a new tie! During our grant year, we talked a lot about “handmade worship” as a description of what we long to offer. When we create, we offer ourselves—and in so doing, we delight the heart of God. We have been moved by a line from the daily liturgy at Iona Abbey: “We will not offer to God offerings that cost us nothing.” Creating allows us to invest our energy and effort into the gift we offer each Sunday and to bring new and different things as we grow. This is especially inspiring for pastors who see the same texts roll around year after year; our offerings allow us to engage and see and hear them in new ways.
  3. We can experience our unique belovedness. God does not just love the Mozarts and Michelangelos of the world, those who inspire awe for their ability to create breathtaking beauty. No, God calls each of us by name. Jesus, who valued the widow’s mite and the affection of children and the insufficient lunch of five loaves and two fish helps each of us know what God is like. Against all logic, God hangs my art on the fridge; God delights in me. Furthermore, I am surprised to discover that my brothers and sisters are blessed by my offering. I am accepted and celebrated, and my offering makes our worship together richer and more authentic.
  4. We should level the playing field: Kids and newcomers are every bit as creative as lifelong disciples and theologically educated leaders. Newcomers can offer insights that lifelong Christians may miss. Kids can help those of us who are older relearn the joy of doing something with our hands, of playing with color and line and shape, of discovery, of laughter when it doesn’t turn out quite the way we imagined. They can teach us to trust Christ for the outcome, and not to be afraid. We know that the Spirit gives varieties of gifts, but it is delightful to experience what we already know: that we all, regardless of our stage on the Christian journey, have something to offer the body of Christ.
  5. God is near: Preachers often testify that the Spirit helps them find the right words to say what they long to express. But this blessing is not reserved for preachers or teachers alone—the Spirit helps all who craft gifts for the worshiping community, whether that gift is an offering of words or an effort to express in the arts what words cannot. In using our creativity we place ourselves in intentional partnership with God, seeking the Spirit’s help as we use our gifts to craft a fresh kind of praise, as we take a risk to express the gospel in our own way. I am awed in one way by the art of Michelangelo and in another way by a poem or prayer written by someone whose story and struggles I know full well. I see exactly how faith has sustained that person; I see the grace of Jesus up close and personal, alive in a life much like my own. This is an entirely different kind of awe and wonder. I see Christ at work right here in my community, among my brothers and sisters.
  6. Creativity is fun! True creativity is delightful, joyful, surprising. The One who creates each new day afresh deserves worship tinged with delight and joy and surprise. So do the people of God, who are nourished by what is offered and what is celebrated. As we explored drums and Orff instruments, as we made communion vessels out of clay and created poems and collages in intergenerational groups, we had fun! Delight and joy are magnetic—our congregation wanted others to share the experience. They spontaneously invited friends and neighbors to come and see what God was doing in our midst.
  7. You can create on a tight budget. For a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, people of all ages folded four hundred paper cranes from various sizes of white paper during fellowship hour for several weeks as visible representations of their prayers for peace. Our worship committee hung them throughout the sanctuary on heavy fishing line, creating a curtain of cranes around the cross, a flock of them swooping up toward the choir loft. The cost for materials was next to nothing, but the results were breathtaking. The “repurposed” vertical blinds (see “Come and See,” RW 87) that we made into tongues of fire for Pentecost likewise required enthusiasm and a willing spirit, but a small financial investment. Creativity allows us to make an extraordinary offering out of the ordinary materials we have on hand. This also reminds us of the extraordinary possibility of making a worthy offering to the Lord of the ordinary stuff of our lives!

Pentecost Creations

On a breezy June day, fifty people ranging in age from 4 to 87 gathered to create paraments. Before beginning, we remembered particular garments that had allowed us to “clothe ourselves in love” (Col 3:12): a baptismal garment, the red shoes of childhood, a handmade wedding dress, a graduation robe or preaching stole. We recalled the power of garments to visually delight us and to convey love, joy, and commitment, and we offered prayers of thanks for all the ways God clothes us.

Then we began the task of making “garments” for our sanctuary. Our expert, Candy Glendenning, gave us a quick presentation on dyeing and the effects to aim for, since most of us had no experience with dyeing fabric. Donning plastic aprons and gloves, we divided into four groups. Each group was assigned a color palette and season: greens, reds, blues, and white/gold for Ordinary Time, Pentecost, Advent and Lent, and Easter, respectively. Each group measured twenty yards of silk and soaked it in a solution to prepare it for dyeing. Then they selected a folding or scrunching pattern, decided on the colors they were aiming for, and mixed dyes.

The folded wet fabric was positioned on plastic-covered tables. Armed with eyedroppers, we dripped and dribbled color where we had planned (and often where we hadn’t planned!) We also dyed several scarf-sized pieces in each color scheme that could later be made into stoles and other paraments.

While the fabric “rested,” we paused for pizza and salad. Then we rinsed our fabrics and unfolded them in the sunlight, one by one. Because they were so long we moved to the parking lot and lawn to unfurl them. We “oohed” and “aahed” over the results as we spread them out hand-to-hand. As the breeze picked up, it felt like Pentecost: the silk wanted to become a sail or a flag or a parachute—it was like trying to hang on to a living thing! The Holy Spirit is full of surprises.

The photo on pages 14-15 is of our Pentecost piece dyed in reds. Simple eye-bolts and nylon cord hold it in place and allow easy change. We were delighted to discover how well it matched the tongues of fire we’d made from repurposed vertical blinds a few years ago (RW 87), so we used them together.


Sandy Tice is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church, San Bernardino, California.

Dotti Garcia is an elder who wrote much of the church’s Worship Renewal grant proposal.

Reformed Worship 103 © March 2012, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.