Are plastic flowers, electric candles, and disposable communion cups approriate in worship?
As congregational leaders make decisions about what they will use in worship, the following observations are helpful to keep in mind:
- There are no carved-in-stone set of rules to determine what materials and art are appropriate for worship.
- Materials and art in worship are nonverbal means by which the gospel can be communicated and reflected. Selecting appropriate materials and art is not just a matter of taste, but of theology.
- As the church is both local and universal, decisions about materials and art need to take into account both the local culture as well as the universal (catholic) nature of the gospel.
- The materials and art used in worship should serve and enrich, rather than obscure or trivialize the gathering of God’s people around the Word and the Sacraments.
- Congregations are best served by making careful and theologically informed judgments about environment and art, rather than making off-the-cuff decisions.
There is no Lutheran rule book on materials and art, but there are serious, gospel-friendly questions that congregations need to answer as they make decisions about materials and art.
Materials and Art Checklist
- Are the materials used (candles, flowers, paraments, banners, communion vessels, vestments...) truly worthy of the gospel they serve? Worthiness is not so much a matter of expense, but of quality and authenticity.
- Are the materials used beautiful by community standards? Do they express a noble simplicity or simple elegance?
- Do the materials serve the liturgy and appropriately express the liturgical season and specific celebration?
- Are the materials "from the people" — reflective and expressive of the congregation’s ethnic cultures, art, and sensibilities?
- Do the materials represent the best the community has to offer, reflecting the gifts and giftedness of the worshiping community?
- Are the materials authentic and real, representing the best of God’s good creation?
- Are the materials friendly to the environment? Do they reflect good stewardship of God’s good earth?
- Are the materials lovingly made or chosen specifically for your parish needs, rather than purchased from a store or catalog?
As in all matters of worship practice, the pastor, informed by church tradition and denominational recommendations, has the responsibility to teach about such practices in the congregation. As the theologian in residence, the pastor is called upon to use his or her best discernment and to give theologically informed guidance to parish altar guilds and worship committees as decisions are made about the materials and arts used in worship. Decisions made should be faithful to the gospel and responsive to local needs.