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New Book Looks at Religious Symbols
April 18, 2006

A new book from a member of the team at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship visits a sometimes provocative topic in Protestant worship circles - religious symbols.

But Visuals for Worship is designed to help churches reintroduce the imagery, metaphor and motifs of Scripture's often-historical visual images back into modern-day worship.

Steele HalsteadIn the book author and artist Betsy Steele Halstead of Calvin combines images of 29 symbols with explanations of their theological and historical background as well as their biblical references.

The book comes with a bonus CD-ROM for downloading images and material, making this resource practical and easy to use.

Steele Halstead notes that while churches today are renewing or expanding their use of symbols, the history and meaning of such symbols is not always understood by the people in the pew.

Indeed when she lectures on using visual art in worship, she reminds worship planners, "Instead of asking how we do it, first ask why."

Symbols, she says, work like communal shorthand to those who have the key. By the same token they can be bewildering for those who do not have the key.

That's why she believes churches should go beyond simply using more Christian symbols or using them more often.

Congregations need help to see what those visual images mean in the dialogue between God and worshipers.

"Symbols may becoming more familiar," she says, "but that doesn't mean they are more understood."

Her own woodcuts explore the mystery, complexity, and beauty behind the meaning of Christian symbols such as a circle or harvest wheat.

She expects that worship planners will use Visuals for Worship side by side with The Worship Sourcebook (a 2004 publication from the Worship Institute that offers a collection of calls to worship, prayers of confession, and other spoken prayers and litanies for use on particular Sundays and during specific seasons of the Christian year).

The two books, she says, will complement each other as worship planners choose visual art for worship service bulletins, written liturgies or large screen displays.

Visuals for Worship is published by Faith Alive Christian Resources and the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship.