The Importance of Visual Beauty in Worship

The Importance of Visual Beauty in Worship  

By Meghan Schultz

I am a stay-at-home wife and mom with four children, but I wasn’t always. Before  my first child was born, I worked in advertising as a graphic designer. I’ve always loved fine art and have been doing it since I was thirteen years old. I am affected by what I see, and I can’t help but pay attention to visual details around me. The shadows cast by the sun shining through a window, the undertones of paint colors, symmetry in floral arrangements, the placement of furniture in a room, even fonts used on signage: all demand my attention and can even affect my mood. That can be distracting, but I have learned to use these things to help me focus, and I have found that this works for my children as well.

Let me back up a bit. Three years ago, my husband and I packed up all of our belongings, loaded our kids into their car seats, and moved from Virginia Beach to Fort Wayne. We had a simple goal: find a great place to raise our children and a solid Lutheran church. What a blessing this has been. We love Fort Wayne! We also love our church, and we are thankful that God guided us to Redeemer. Redeemer was the first, and only, church we visited. It far exceeded our hopes and expectations. We found pure doctrine, an emphasis on catechesis, and a diverse congregation, which included young families. We found beauty throughout the church, visually and aurally, and in worship. We also found a love of art.

Even if you aren’t highly visual like I am, visual details still bring to mind past experiences and stories, both Biblical and personal. This is true anywhere—the Allen County Courthouse, the park, the library, our homes, and also at church. The visual aspect of worship at Redeemer is one of the many things I treasure there for myself, my husband, and our children, and I believe that it deepens our understanding of the faith.

Upon entering Redeemer it’s impossible not to notice the beautiful artwork. There are crosses everywhere, and the architecture itself is elegant and purposeful.  The church building is not just for the sake of beauty; it was designed deliberately for worship. It directs our attention to the altar. That beauty and attention to detail is carried throughout worship. The order of service from the hymnal and the way it is conducted is meant to direct our attention to Christ. The pastors are robed in vibrant, intricate vestments, and the music fits seamlessly into their choreographed movements. Everything they do and say is intentional. It has been thought out beforehand. Most of it is the same each week or season and has deep, historical roots and Biblical references. Lutheran worship is about receiving Christ through Word and Sacrament, not about our pastors’ personalities. Lutheran pastors and musicians should work hard to make sure that their actions and words do not get in the way of why we’re really there, and I am thankful to Redeemer’s pastors and musicians for their faithfulness. But I am also thankful to our forefathers and their efforts to make the visual components help with that also.

What I mean by that is that the beauty in our church buildings and services matter, not just at Redeemer but everywhere. I know from experience that it’s not only the adults who take notice. My children regularly ask questions about what’s happening in church and why. They want to know why all the fabric in the front of the church changes to purple around December and again in the spring. They ask why everything is stripped from the altar on Maundy Thursday and why the crosses get covered in black veils. They ask why we cross ourselves and why the pastors genuflect. Even my toddler points to the crucifix and says, “Jesus. Owie.” Their observations of all of these visual things lead to conversations about our faith, and our faith is what’s most important to us as a family.

I am particularly thankful that art is appreciated at Redeemer, and it is an honor to put my talents to use in the church. Redeemer has graciously accepted two of my pieces. I love being a stay-at-home-mom, but I am also grateful for the opportunity and the challenge to paint and design for the church. I collaborated with the pastors to design a coat of arms, which is used on both printed and digital materials. It incorporates many theological symbols and colors as well as the Hebrew word for “Redeemer” in the center. The digital version of the coat of arms really came alive, though, when an incredibly talented craftsman hand-carved it into a gorgeous, wooden sculpture, which now hangs on the balcony in the church. I also painted Luther’s Rose and six separate paintings to go with it, each one a symbol for the six chief parts of the Small Catechism. I know this sort of thing isn’t for everyone, but I am thankful to be part of a church that looks for individual talents to put to use, and I’m also glad for the chance to give something back.

Moving to Fort Wayne has been one of the best decisions we’ve made for our family. There are many reasons for that, but much of it has to do with our church and faith. We are fortunate to be raising our children alongside other Lutheran families. We are blessed to be at a church that feeds us spiritually through the Sacraments, with sound theology, excellent preaching and teaching, an emphasis on catechesis, and reverent beauty throughout worship. While we wouldn’t choose a church that is beautiful on the outside but lacks pure doctrine, I am thankful that Redeemer, and Lutheranism in general, has both.