May 10, 2011

The results are in

Okay. It isn't official yet, but I can safely say that the Risen Savior triptych will not happen. Last week there was a WELS district pastors' convention hosted at Risen Savior, and some of us, myself included, thought that it would be a good idea to poll the pastors as to what their reaction to the triptych was. The model was on display, and a detail of the triptych was provided on each survey. Thirty or so pastors were there, as well as a few laymen, and we received 22 surveys back. The results were heart-breaking for me.

The questions were based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being least favorable and 5 being most favorable.
  1. What is your impression of adding the triptych to the chancel? The average score was 1.9, the overwhelming majority being 1s.
  2. Does the triptych assist in the mission of Risen Savior, which is 'Equipping believers to share the risen Savior, Jesus?' The average, again, was very low at 2, the majority of which were 1s.
  3. Is liturgical art important to your worship experience? The response here was evenly scattered, with a few low scores, but mostly 4s and 5s. The average was 3.4. 
The survey asked for written comments as well, and they provide a glimpse at the reasoning behind some of the scores. Some questioned the use of the church's money, while others commented that it didn't fit with the chancel, because it covered up part of the cross. One commenter didn't want to see any depictions of death, and another criticized the lack of body hair on Jesus and Adam. But overwhelmingly, most comments focused on the implied nudity. While several responses complimented the symbolism and strong theology, they warned that the nudity would distract or even offend people, and thus, should be avoided. Some went so far as to call it "suggestive" and "risqué."

What does this mean? Most of the Elders agreed that with so much opposition to it from pastors, and essentially with not one, but two, main obstacles, that the triptych would not be a good fit for Risen Savior. The majority view was that such an important project should not be pushed on the congregation without a consensus, and such a consensus is obviously impossible.

It is heart-breaking, because it proved my thesis more right than I hoped it would be. Conservatism, a sparing attitude toward the arts, and the fear of causing offense are driving the church (I think) ever deeper into mediocrity. I argued in my thesis that a minimalist, sparse, and utilitarian aesthetic most often accompanies a spiritual sparsity, such as it did after the Enlightenment. How long will it take for the church to realize that an artistic vacuum is not a good thing?