ECVA: Exploring Spirituality and the Arts in the Mountains of North Carolina

August 18, 2005

"Compelling stories, timeless poetry, music inspiring meditation or exultation, dramatic movement, and colorful images‚ the arts are everywhere in Episcopal worship and that is just the beginning." Those were the words used to describe the "Mystery, Muse and Ministry" conference on Spirituality and the Arts held at Kanuga Conferences in Hendersonville, North Carolina, June 19-24, 2005.

The conference was meant to explore different ways of incorporating the arts into the church and worship. Coordinated by Nell Gibson, the conference included keynote speeches by theologian and writer The Rev. Dr. John H. Westerhoff III; actor and narrator Jason Robards III; and teacher/playwright Maggie Edson. Workshops were offered by Native American composer/musician Dennis Yerry, "How Native Americans Use Art to Explore Spirituality"; singer/dancer/music director Jeannine Otis, "Make a Joyful Noise to the Lord: The Prophets Rap"; keynoter Jason Robards III, "Poetic Vocal Performance"; jazz musician/vocalist Bobby Moody, "All That Jazz"; The Rev. Jay Wegman, "The Sacramental Imagination"; The Rev. Canon Tom Miller, "The Stand Up Story"; The Very Rev. Harry Pritchett, Jr., "Picturing the Music"; and myself, artist/ECVA editor Dan Hardison, "Visual Arts and Spirituality".

But this was more than just talk about the arts‚ it was a chance to experience the arts as well. There was an exhibit of artwork that included work by ECVA members. Workshop presenters along with conference participants conducted noonday prayers using music, song, and poetry reading. Monday night provided a reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran performed by Jason Robards and Jeannine Otis with Ron Clearfield on cello. The worship service on Tuesday night incorporated the use of short videos and images of artwork by ECVA artists. Wednesday night was a Jazz Mass with music provided by Jeannine Otis and the St Ambrose Jazz Mass Quartet. And on Thursday night, the service was a combined worship with the Christian Formation Conference: The Family of God - Gathering Around the Table that had the feel of an old-time revival meeting.

The setting at Kanuga was ideal for a conference on spirituality and the arts. Founded in 1928, Kanuga Conferences is situated on 1,400 acres in the mountains of Western North Carolina with scenic Kanuga Lake at its center. Kanuga offers a year-round conference center, youth camps, an outdoor school, miles of walking trails, and an atmosphere for relaxing, meditation, and renewal. The arts and crafts era cottages and furnishings enhance the rustic charm of this mountain venue. And throughout the site - from the rooms and hallways, to outdoor areas - there is a wealth of art to behold.

The one complaint (if it can be considered as such) was that there simply was not enough time. By the end of the week, ideas were already being formulated for the next spirituality and the arts conference. And there was a quick discussion on the possibility of having an artist/writer retreat in the future.

When Jason Robards was asked if he would want to do the conference again, he responded without hesitation "in a minute". That seemed to be the feeling of everyone as the conference drew to a close.. It was a time of learning - from within the conference and within oneself. The conference not only ended positive, but also left everyone with many interesting ideas and possibilities for the future - just as a conference should.

We were all brought together for a reason whether or not we know exactly why. . . There was an outpouring of love amongst a group of people from around the country who had never known each other before. . . Hopefully we will all continue to grow creatively and spiritually to further send the message of true peace and love throughout the world.
-- Artist and conference participant Marion Nash


Also on the ECVA web site:


The mission of The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts (ECVA) is to encourage artists, individuals, congregations, and scholars to engage the visual arts in the spiritual life of the church. ECVA values the significance of visual imagery in spiritual formation and the development of faith, and creates programs to support those who are engaged in using the visual arts in spiritual life.

To learn more about ECVA, please visit