A solemn occasion happens every weekend around the world. Christians of all denominations gather for worship. It may be a regular Sunday service or mass. It may be a special occasion such as an installation service.
It may be a wedding.
Regardless, all worship services at a local congregation or parish are a part of the worship life of that particular faith community. I have been documenting the worship life at my church for several years now. I work to treat the subject of worship with a great deal of reverence.
The thought of this might have started long ago when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. I remember that the University’s Media Development Center had called the offices of University Lutheran Church where I worshiped those years for images of Lutheran pastors at work. I had a few slides that were taken at Valparaiso University at a national assembly of the Lutheran Student Movement. These were pictures of pastors leading bible studies etc. The pastors were not vested and the images were not taken inside. The Media Development Center wanted pictures of pastors leading worship. I won’t tell you how that went.
Some years later, my mother was on a pictorial directory committee. They needed an image of worship at Trinity. I went to the church in one afternoon and took pictures of the sanctuary and came up with empty pews. Not good enough! It was then that I realized that people make up the church. Not just bricks, mortar, and stained glass.
You see, the church is more than that. Much more! My mind goes to the story of the Call of St Francis of Assisi. Christ calls to Francis to build his Church. Francis first goes out and gets some masons, carpenters, and laborers to restore nearby church sanctuaries. Christ calls again from the cross. “Francis, build my church!” This time Francis gets it. Jesus meant people. When Jesus gave Simon his new name Peter in Matthew 16, he calls Peter the Rock on which He will build his church. Jesus meant people so my photos have to include people.
The knack for my worship photography includes above all reverence and respect. Every church sanctuary, every place of worship, is a holy place where people come together to be in the presence of God, to hear His Word, and to receive the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So the photographer must respect that at all times. I work hard at being discrete and not to draw attention to myself. My purpose is to show the world what goes on in my church.
In many traditional or Gothic style churches there are places where a photographer can be out of the way. At my Trinity, I generally prefer just to be near the back of the church, or , even in the choir loft. I also found areas like that in the auditoriums Wausau’s Christian Assembly and Immanuel Baptist where I did capture weddings and other events.
You want to capture people at their best. If you, the photographer, draw attention to yourself or your gear, then you might as well stow away your camera and just sit back. You are showing to the world what Christian worship is all about with awesome reverence for an awesome God. Learning to do this is a process. On the technical side, mistakes can be made. Mistakes are okay. Just don’t let people notice them.
I think of the shepherd window featured here. When I took this, I let the atmosphere of the sanctuary lead me to it. God’s in charge here. This is His house. If the image is meant to be photographed and shared, it will be!