Saturday, August 07, 2010

review of jonny baker’s book curating worship

Curating Worship by Jonny Baker (although it should really be Jonny and co. and Disclaimer:  I am one of the co.!) is an excellent addition to the emerging church/missional church discussion. 

Curating worship is a term used to frame an approach to worship that is neither liturgical presiding nor fronting a band. Rather it is the skills of framing other people’s elements. It’s a ethos of participation:

“In many church circles the only gifts that are valued for worship are musical ones or the ability to speak well. This attitude needs shattering, and opening up so that poets, photographers, ideas people, geeks, theologians, liturgists, designers, writers, cooks, politicians, architects, movie-makers, storytellers, parents, campaigners, children, bloggers, DJs, VJs, craft-makers, or just about anybody who comes and is willing to bounce ideas around, can get involved.” (12)

Or in the words of the Uniting Church, Basis of Union, “the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service.” Or in a Baptistic understanding, the priesthood of all believers. So curating worship is an approach by which the priesthood of all believers, with their diverse gifts, can find corresponding service in public worship.

What Jonny wants to do is write a book because “creative processes can seem mysterious and unattainable, even intimidating. The hope is that lifting the lid off the process and thinking might help demystify curating worship, and encourage people: ‘You can do it!’ (7)

He does this through what he calls 12 interviews with people involved in curating worship experiences around the world. While Jonny calls them interviews, I actually think they are conversations in which Jonny engages in lengthy to and fro. Because they are companions and friends, because relationships are established, Jonny can push and probe, asking some tough questions:

  • Does it matter if emerging churches remain small?
  • Arn’t some communities actually leading as artists and not curators?
  • What are the theological implications when alt.worship communities close?
  • What is the place of intellectualism?

Which makes this one of the most honest books I’ve seen from inside the emerging/alt.worship conversation. It also means a book in which the medium is the message – a book on curating in which the main author actually curates, shining the light on others. The range is rich – from public exhibition artists to pastors, from New Zealand through Australia to USA and UK, from those at the centre of churches to those off the edges, from lay to ordained.

The book has another heartwarming upside and that is the way it locates itself in a dialogue not with the church, but with the creative world, particularly the notion of curating as it has been researched in art and museum studies. What this means is a book that does not have to gain momentum by scoring points against other practices and practitioners in worship, which makes for a generous and creative read.

Curating Worship is an excellent read that marks a moment of maturity in the emerging/alt worship movement. First in articulating a clear and unique theology of worship. Second in conducting a critical conversation. Third in genuinely modelling a collective approach to authoring.

PS If you live in Adelaide and want to purchase a copy, I have a boxful of 20 books.

Posted by steve at 03:10 PM


  1. Bugger. I live not in Adelaide, but I do wish to purchase this book! I’ll keep my eyes peeled round Christchurch way, fingers crossed. Failing that, Koorong.

    Comment by Ryan — August 9, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

  2. steve thanks so much for being the first person i am aware of to review the book. i have been away so only just got back online. i so appreciate your sense of its honesty, shining a light on others and mature conversation. i now regret that it has just my name on the front and not everybodys who is interviewed. hindsight – be good if we had it before if you know what i mean!

    Comment by jonny — August 11, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

  3. Hiya

    I hope this book gets a wide circulation, and will try to read a copy, I feel there is a real hunger for the idea’s captured in Steve’s review

    all the best, Su

    Comment by su bowman — August 11, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

  4. Ryan, I can post you a book in New Zealand. It will cost $30 for the book plus postage. Let me know


    Comment by steve — August 26, 2010 @ 10:29 am

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