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Lighting for Mood & Meaning

Lighting for Mood & Meaning

Tips from a lighting director for expressing visual representations to create a cohesive, impactful message.

"As lighting directors, you need to find your own voice and speak to the needs of your congregation."

Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla. Features a 2,500-seat sanctuary with space for a 100-piece orchestra and 150-voice choir. It's a church full of space, with high-reaching ceilings. As lighting director, it is this author's job to create a mood in this impressive facility.

Though my role is "Lighting Director," I feel my job is more that of a painter than an engineer. More than anything, I feel it's my duty to paint a compelling story of our liturgy, our worship expressions, and our sermon content. My job is to create an engaging mood that enhances the overall meaning of the service. As such, more than just lighting must be considered.

Asbury is blessed to have a "Sermon Journal." This document is created by pastors and staff every few months and includes a series of daily readings that expand the Sunday sermon into a weeklong devotional study around the topic of study. Our communications team creates a graphic for each series, and the production team carries this theme through to lighting, stage design, and projection.

Too often, there is a separation between church and technology. By creating a strong, unified theme, we are able to avoid such rifts. Whether your lighting team uses a "Sermon Journal" or something else to establish cohesive themes, here are three steps to remember:

1. Start with Scripture Whatever your role in the church, you should read through the scripture several times as you prepare to program lighting. What is this scripture sharing with you? What is the focus of the sermon? Now, it is up to you to bring the mood of the lighting to this message.
2. Listen Spend time really hearing the songs that shape your worship service. What are they saying musically? How can you support that with lighting? What are they saying lyrically? How can you support THAT with lighting? What's the core message of these songs you are about to sing?
3. Grow Relationships We have tech staff that meets with our pastoral team. The closer you are to the source of the message, the better you will be able to convey it through your craft.

To help shape a church's message it's necessary to have the right tools. The Ashbury lighting team has many elements available.

Ashbury has installed a five-projector environmental projection system enhanced by LED wash lighting. This system enables us to paint the space with color and images 180 feet wide and 30 feet high. We can move from stained glass to an ocean to snow all in a matter of moments.

With all the tools available to us, we employ these three key elements:

Imagery For each series, I seek to find images that serve to enhance and support the story we are sharing. I start with this large image that will define the mood of the room.
Color When I think about a series, I develop palate of colors to use. I suggest you read all you can on color theory and carry a color wheel with you when programming. Using a monochromatic palate can be effective in creating a sense of calm and unity. Using contrasting or conflicting colors can help to create tension and grab attention.
Lights All lights have a beam. How can you shape the beam to share your story? A broad wash might open your room up to highlight architectural or stage design elements and draw attention to specific elements in your building.

The central thing we do as we light a stage or a room is direct attention. Where we focus the light we focus attention. Making one area of section lower in intensity draws our attention to the area where we have used a greater intensity of light.

Let me provide a practical example of how this has worked for us. A recent sermon series was "Wrestling with God," exploring the paradoxes we find in Scripture.

Our sermon journal used artwork by Gustave Doré of Jacob wrestling the Angel. I found some great artwork on TripleWideMedia.com that matched the style of this painting and decided to use this "woodcut" black and white style as a theme for the series. Removing color and focusing on black and white fit with the theme and created a new look.

The songs in this series focused on the work of Jesus on the cross, and the images we found of Jesus on the cross at TripleWide completed the package. I used broad wash lights to create monochromatic color washes over the band and spotlights to direct attention to the singers. During the worship set, I used highlights of contrasting colors to create tension and release within the songs. I resolved to a monochromatic light for the sermon in which challenging, contrasting concepts were discussed.

As lighting directors, you need to find your own voice and speak to the needs of your congregation. Hopefully, they will leave your service feeling that it was designed and created to speak the glory and power of God.

TIM OTTLEY is lighting director for Tulsa, Okla.-based Asbury United Methodist Church (asburytulsa.org).


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