Let Us Play: Expressing Our Faith through Dance

March 19, 2013

RICHMOND, VA

“It offers another mode of teaching and encouragement to reach people who might not get it through the traditional worship services.  It’s one more avenue to bring us closer to God.”

Sharde’ Chapman uses liturgical dance and other creative art forms to more fully live out her faith and help others to learn more about their own.

“We also call it ‘praise dance’-it is dancing to the gospel or Christian songs in ways that are meant to enhance the message of the song, increasing understanding whether you’re young or old or even if there is a language barrier.”

Chapman began dancing at age nine. She grew up in a Baptist church but later found herself pulled toward many Presbyterian ideas calling them “more accepting” and offering “a lot less dichotomy among individual congregations.” She attended Rhodes College, in Memphis, TN, a college rooted in the Presbyterian faith, and graduates from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, in May.

The Young Women’s Leadership Development (YWLD) programs offered through Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/PW have played an important role in her continuing on her path in her faith.   A colleague was doing work with the National Network of College Presbyterian Women (NNPCW) and, at her request Chapman did a workshop on liturgical dance in 2008. She’s been involved ever since – including becoming a part of the CORE Team which guides the direction of Racial Ethnic Young Women Together (REYWT) programs.  She’s been a part of the team for three years, serving as moderator for two of those.  

“It has helped me see that there are people who look like me and are doing the work at even the highest levels within the church,” she said.  “I don’t think that young people know they can be a part of the church at the national level – but youth leadership programs [within RE&WM/PW] make a place for youth from all backgrounds.”

Leadership and working with and being an advocate for the youth is not new to Chapman.  At 24 years old, she has been involved in youth ministry since she was in her teens and she now works with the Children’s Defense Fund as an Ella Baker trainer. The role means she is responsible for training those connected to reading programs and other advocacy programs focused on helping minority students. We asked her why she is so moved to help youth.

“Probably because so many people guided me in my life,” she said. “I know how important it is to connect positive to positive in our future, and I really believe it is easy for us to just let people fall through the cracks. We do it as a society with the elderly and with children. We sometimes forget about them but they have value. These children will someday become adults who have a voice and they should know they can make a difference.”

Most recently, she focused her attention on those who, like her, are working in educational ministries. She was asked to host a workshop at a leadership development event for the Association of Presbyterian Educators Conference (APCE) held in Orlando in February 2013. 

Using the conference’s “Let Us Play” theme, Chapman demonstrated how liturgical dance could be used as part of Sunday worship, offered resources and training, and connected with other educators within the church.  It’s her second time to attend APCE, and she says she made sure to take part by attending others’ workshops as wells.

“It gave me good ideas on how to be more creative and get others, especially the youth I work with, to be more creativity in their approach to their faith and faith messages.”

Young Women's Leadership Development (YWLD)

YWLD connects and equips young women and assists them in identifying their leadership strengths and goals, while also providing spiritual nurturing.

The Office of Young Women's Leadership Development empowers young adult women to participate in national events, such as the General Assembly and the Commission on the Status of Women.

Participants find their experiences have provided them with highly developed leadership skills. To learn more about the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) head to apcenet.org.

Chapman plans to continue her education after graduating from seminary. Her next step is to get her PhD in Religious Studies.

“Hopefully I’ll be teaching college and serving in the church in some capacity,” she tells us.

Meanwhile, Chapman says her dance will always be a part of her faith life. She’ll continue to use it within her youth ministry work-where she finds the most spiritual reward.

“It’s really inspiring. The boys I work with are becoming young men,” she said. “It’s wonderful to just to see them excited about dancing and being better at the craft and learning how they too can minister even at a young age each time the congregation responds to them.”

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