Col. Janet Munn
Arts In Action | Testimony Series | Col. Janet Munn
My attitude made a complete reversal in an instant – from bored disengagement to energized alertness. I was a Salvation Army cadet, preparing for ministry in The Salvation Army, and attending a mandatory event on 14thStreet, in New York City. To that point, the meeting had not held my attention or interest, but when Captain Gilberto Vega stepped onto the stage of the Centennial Memorial Temple, and began to dance, to move, to interpret the song being presented by Captain Donna Peterson, I was captivated. In that moment something in me ignited. My sense of kinesthetic creativity had lain dormant but in this moment was awakened with a new means of worship expression for me. I suddenly saw a way to express spiritual truths through physical expression. What a revelation and a relief!
A few months later I had my first opportunity to present a creative movement piece in chapel at the School for Officer Training (SFOT) where I was preparing for ministry. This opportunity hinged upon the flexibility and openness to the arts and creative expressions of worship from the leaders of the SFOT – Lt. Colonels Paul and Kay Rader. When the day came for my chapel I was absolutely terrified, partly due simply to the prospect of doing anything from the platform, and partly due to the unusual nature of my creative piece. At the time (30 years ago!) the term ‘dance’ was too provocative for acceptance in corporate worship settings, and so I avoided the term initially.
By the time of my commissioning six months later, a sacred dance piece was featured during one of the main meetings of commissioning weekend (1987). This felt like a significant breakthrough and level of acceptance of this (at the time) unconventional art form.
In the early years of my full-time ministry with The Salvation Army in the USA Eastern Territory, opportunities for dance increased exponentially. From the dance groups for children and teenagers in the inner city of Camden, New Jersey, to the Massachusetts youth and young adults being featured at the Eastern Territorial Congress in Ocean Grove, New Jersey (1992), to the development of an early iteration of a divisional arts ministry (Youth Arts Ministry) in the Massachusetts Division – the arts, including dance and movement in various forms, had quickly been welcomed as a means of worship, as a context for youth discipleship, and an inclusive place of faith expression for people not necessary drawn to the more traditional Christian music and worship practices of the day.
Today, it feels like seeing a dream come true – to be an eyewitness to the growth and development of the arts in The Salvation Army Eastern Territory through the Territorial Arts Ministries Conservatory, and more recently, Army On Its Toes, as well as the presence of divisional Creative Arts coordinators throughout the territory.
The establishment of The Glory Shop, an arts-discipleship program/year at Theatre 315, is a further recent evidence of the place for the arts in the eastern territory, and particularly as a context for creative discipleship, evangelism, worship, and theatre productions. What a joy!
Only eternity will tell the countless lives impacted with the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through these arts expressions. I am grateful to God to have been a participant in this rich season, and marvel at the high quality of dance and arts presentations being offered in worship to Christ in these days.