Their tagline, "reshaping worship together" sums up what I think they/we were after. But they also needed to figure out how the reshapers or users of "pre-shaped" worship were going to access the designs... and in the world of Planning Center Online and various denominational worship resource companies, Clayfire never figured out how to break into the industry.
About two years ago at Christianity21 event in Minneapolis I met Linda Parriot and got reacquainted with Sally Morganthaler, they were beginning a project around worship that would combine resourcing churches as well as catalyzing artists who design worship and art experiences. The project would be both an affiliate of Augsburg Fortress Press' new imprint, Sparkhouse, and a sort of online resource store.
I joined up with the team as they were commissioning original content for the online resources. Sally and a few others moved on around the same time because they were more committed to the catalyzing and collaboration than to an online resource site. I enjoyed working on a fresh collection called "God's Grand Work of Art" with friends like Tim Omara, Aaron Strumple, Todd Fadel, Josey Stone, Margaret Ellsworth and my brother, designer Jonathan Bronsink. The collection was one of dozens designed by artist who not only lead worship music, paint, or preach, but who design worship as formational practice of missional life. Influenced by the work of Mark Pierson, Clayfire coined this practice as "curation."
Then last summer I met up with Jodi-Renee Adams, Eric Heron and Lilly Lewin to plan a worship gathering at the Wild Goose Festival. Eric had been leading a blog discussion on this for quite some time, and many of us had worked together before. But working at the goose was a chance to welcome other artists into the conversation and introduce this line of worship design thinking to pastors and missional leaders. Here's a picture of an experience curated that included the use of yarn passed between participants as a symbol of shared prayers.
Then, this fall I had the chance to work with Mark, Jodi, Shawna Bowman (in the pic above) and ephemeral artist and Methodist campus minister, Ted Hatten. We co-facilitated a seminar in Chicago called The Art of Curating Worship (after Mark's book by the same name). In that space I really grew to trust the vision and focus of the Clayfire organization. While they did need to make the business start up work (and the actual online subscription program had to roll back to beta because of so many quirks) they had carefully connected the success of the business and the online resources to the re-imagining of worship. Not enough could be said about the courage to try that!
So, this Monday, when I learned that Clayfire would be unplugged I was sad but not surprised. It was at once a struggling business venture and a burgeoning group of theologically nuanced creatives who could (and still might) reshape the practices of church. For sure, these theological-artist and others were doing this before Clayfire, but nevertheless this was a rallying point and I met great people because of it.
In the art of throwing pottery, the potter often discovers that the clay just doesn't want to become what she had in mind. If, in the middle she forces it one way or another the entire vessel collapses and throws slag and bits of unfired clay over the potter, the wheel, and the room. Sometimes potters luck out and an unexpected work of art emerges. And then sometimes the pot seems to be done but it just doesn't feel right... it ends up sold at a discount because it never fits... Sometimes its not until they are fired in the kiln that pots fail, because the slip and scoring weren't strong enough for the handle to hold or because the glaze bled.
So the question is what do we make of Clayfire? A failed business idea, or an early iteration in a host of ways forward in congregational formation and worship arts? I'm sure that there remains more to be seen from the world of worship curation and I hope that Clayfire's legacy will play a significant role in whats to come.
What do you hope for the future of worship shaping, and what organizations, groups or networks have you found most supportive of this kind of work?