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"An Exquisite Artform Consumes Our Hearts, Minds, and Spirits Entirely:" Craig Lemming '17 on Theology and the Arts at United.

Recent alum Craig Lemming gave the following testimony on Theology and the Arts at United during a fundraising dinner for The Intersection: Wilson Yates Center for Theology and the Arts this past summer:

Four years ago, when I came to United for my admissions interview, I did not know just how life-changing my choice to pursue a Master of Divinity Degree with a concentration in Theology and the Arts would be. At that time, having worked as a professional musician, I was fully aware of the revelatory power of the Arts. What I did not know was exactly how to make meaning of the Divine essence of the Holy who is knit into those breathtaking moments when the impact of an exquisite artform consumes our hearts, minds, and spirits entirely, and resurrects us to new life. I needed to know why that frisson – that sudden, strong feeling of the thrill of being alive – succeeds in connecting us with the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of Life, through the Arts.   

Singing and dancing are inextricably bound up in an African childhood. Some of my earliest memories of growing up in Zimbabwe involve the Arts. Music, dance, theater, paintings, poetry, film, textiles, and sculpture infused our life in Zimbabwean classrooms, churches, playgrounds, public spaces, and homes. As I discern and live into my calling to serve as a Priest in the Episcopal Church, I am often reminded of how the abundance of life was communicated and celebrated in the vibrant artforms which accompanied daily life back home in Zimbabwe. Now that I have graduated with my MDiv from United, I realize the reason why this Seminary has always felt like home: it is because of the Arts. Arts accompany the daily life and rigorous work of Theology in this sacred place. Music, dance, poetry, theater, paintings, photography, film, textiles, architecture, and sculpture infused my theological learning here at United with that frisson – strong feelings of the thrill of Being. As a Priest, called to love and serve young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor; to minister the Word of God and God’s Holy Sacraments, and to nourish all people with the riches of God’s grace, I am so grateful that, thanks to United Theological Seminary, I can integrate Theology and the Arts in my ministry. As I usher those I serve across life’s thresholds, bearing witness to the presence of God in the midst of life’s joys and sorrows, I give thanks that that frisson – that sacred thrill of Being – will be present in the Arts that will be my companions on the priestly journey ahead.

I will hold in my heart the poems I fell in love with when I studied Poetry in Search of the Holy with Professor Pamela Wynn. I will hold in my heart the music, photography, theater, paintings, poetry, architecture, sculpture, films, and short stories I fell in love with when I studied Theology and the Arts, Film as a Theological Text, and Religious Expression in Short Stories Across Cultures with Dr. Jann Cather Weaver. I will hold in my heart the exquisite beauty of God revealed to me in my directed study of Eastern Orthodox Iconography with Dr. Wilson Yates. And I will hold in my heart the Process – the slow and sacred process – of creating theological art which I fell in love with during our Arts Practicum with Professor Cindi Beth Johnson. The great blessing I now enjoy is the opportunity to share all of this wisdom that has been so generously invested in me with those I serve in North Minneapolis, in Linden Hills, and beyond.

In closing, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you who support Theology and the Arts at United Seminary. You changed my life. The superb faculty, the scholarships, and the educational resources your financial support affords, are remarkable gifts to be cherished. Know that your generosity lives on in the lives of those whom United’s seminarians serve in world. Know that thanks to your support, that frisson – that sudden, strong feeling of the thrill of being alive – is changing lives. Know that thanks to your generosity the prophetic, healing, and renewing power of the Arts is resurrecting those who are lonely, those who are struggling, and those who are spiritually famished, to new life. For all of this we give thanks to the Holy Presence – that eternal frisson of being fully alive – in whom all of us live and move and have our being.

The Rev. Craig Lemming '17 is a Zimbabwean native and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from New England Conservatory, a Master of Music degree from Indiana University, and a Master of Divinity degree with in Theology and the Arts from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He is the Volunteer Chaplain for Circle of the Beloved - the Twin Cities chapter of the Episcopal Service Corps - working with justice-seeking young adults living together in prayer, simplicity, and kinship with the marginalized.


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