March 3, 2017 Published in Arts & Style, Spiritual / Religious

Witnessing Worship: Connecting Through The Lens Of Faith

In the Spirit, Nina Tisara (Courtesy Photo)

Never before seen together, Nina Tisara’s intimate and dynamic photographic series, Converging Paths and United in the Spirit, will be combined for a three-month exhibit titled Witnessing Worship: Connecting Through the Lens of Faith.  Witnessing Worship invites us into a deeper understanding of ourselves and one another through an intimate look at the diverse worship practices of yesterday and today. The exhibit will run March 17 to June 17,  in the Gallery at Convergence on Quaker Lane.

In 1984, photographer and Fairlington resident, Nina Tisara set out to document the diverse architecture of churches that lined her route from home to her studio on King Street but soon realized what she really wanted to photograph was worship, not buildings.

 “Although I have long been interested in the subject of worship,” Tisara explains, “the compelling motivation for the project was that my son David had become a Bible-quoting, ‘born-again’ Christian. I had been brought up in a nominally Jewish home and as an adult, joined the Unitarian-Universalist Church, which significantly, has no sacred text. It was very hard for me to communicate with David, the chasm in beliefs was so wide, and I hoped that witnessing the worship of others with an open mind and open heart would help me understand him and bridge that chasm. Though David and I reached a place of peace (love was never in question) neither of us changed our beliefs. David died of cancer in January 2008.” 

Tisara wrote to the 73 churches and congregations in the City of Alexandria that were listed in the phone directory, asking for permission to do something very unusual – photograph people engaged in worship. The result was an invitation by most to enter into these sacred experiences through the lens of her camera. Converging Paths was exhibited at The Lyceum from December 1985 through April 1986. 

Ten years later, Nina Tisara teamed up with the Alexandria Black History Museum to photograph worship experiences in even more of Alexandria’s African American churches. This exhibition was called United in the Spirit

“When I re-visit the faces in the photographs, I am reminded of the passionate beliefs of the worshipers—beliefs that are in many ways very different from one another. What I found at the time of the project and what I see now is that no matter what the differences, there is a unifying sincerity, openness, generosity, gentleness and kindness. Time after time, people welcomed me into their prayer circles and invited me to hold their hands. I couldn’t then because to hold hands meant putting down my camera. Now that I’ve retired as a photographer I can at last hold those hands. 

The matter of diversity in beliefs seems ever more relevant today and with it comes the opportunity for strength and healing by opening our hearts and minds, reaching out and holding hands.” 

“Witnessing Worship,” said Artistic Director and Pastor of Convergence, Lisa Smith,is an important exhibit for this moment in time. The historical nature of these photos allows us as viewers a bit of distance from the subject matter, which allows us perspective and the chance to be curious again: about one another, about faith, about ourselves. There is nothing ideological, political, or theoretical here. It is all practice and experience. We see people like us engaged in religious acts that are foreign to us, and we see people who are in some way different from us expressing things that are so familiar and personal. We are drawn into these old stories, and it makes us curious to know what stories are happening now. It makes us feel safe to share our stories. Perhaps listening to one another’s stories is a good way to begin seeking unity.” 

Witnessing Worship will feature community events designed to provide space for honest conversation about the struggles and joys shared by our local community surrounding race, religion, gender, politics, and communication. In addition to the opening reception and artist’s talk, Convergence will host an online photo project inviting people to share current photos of worship, a storytelling event and a community dinner focused on the role of food in worship.

March 17 – June 17, 2017
Opening Reception and Artist’s Talk:  Friday, March 24  7:00 – 9:00 p.m. 
Free and open to the public

The Gallery @ Convergence
1801 N. Quaker Lane
Alexandria, VA, 22302

Fridays 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m and by appointment.

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