Pilgrimage Through Holy Week


As the daughter of two Westminster Choir College alumni who worked in Presbyterian churches, Sacred Music major Ashley Ross grew up “steeped with a love of the church and traditional worship.”

“But the older I got and I saw traditional worship dwindling in some American churches, it saddened me, and I thought about how I could make a difference in my church,” she says. “I thought about how worship was formulated and what it did to the person, and I thought about how it could be different.”

As a result, for the past eight years she’s been exploring experiential worship — worship that taps all five senses: smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch — to connect with God and the Holy Spirit.  She’s shared experiential worship practices with her choirs and her students, teaching them to think “outside the box,” creating stimulating, engaging and alive worship services.

“I guess I did something right,” she says, since the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) and Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM) learned about her work and invited her to present a session on experiential worship at their national conference in Galveston, Texas this past winter.

When she returned from Galveston and shared her experience with professors Steve Pilkington and Tom Shelton, they invited her to present what she had done at the conference to Westminster’s Sacred Music Lab.

Honored by the invitation, Ross says, "I feel passionate about the concept of teaching a person to fish, rather than giving them a meal. That’s what we do here at Westminster.  We teach our students to serve and have an impact on others’ lives.”

She shared the concept of experiential worship with the class along with her experience with prayer stations.  The students’ reaction to the presentation was powerful.

“The concept of physical action isn’t really new,” she says.  “The idea of working it into worship and your own creative expression is where the newness lies.”

The class experimented with prayer stations by placing them in locations in Bristol Chapel and individually engaging with them.

“The stations have such an intimate but not invasive experience,” she points out. 

Based on their personal experiences, the students offered to work with her on the project, titled Pilgrimage Through Holy Week, and to place the prayer stations in different locations on the Westminster campus. Each of the seven stations is set up and maintained by an individual student.

The stations will be in place from Monday, April 15 through Monday, April 23.  They’re open to both the campus community and anyone else who would like to participate.  While the stations are in place during the Christian Holy Week, they offer opportunities for meditation and spiritual engagement for all.

Pilgrimage Through Holy Week

Seven Meditative Stations

  1. Letting Go
    Location: Williamson Hall rotunda
  2. Affirmations in the Sand
    Location: Main Bristol Chapel Entrance
  3. Finding Direction
    Location: Cullen Center
  4. God Speaks
    Location: Talbott Library lobby
  5. What Separates You From God?
    Location: Outside the Scheide Student Center
  6. You Are Dust
    Location: Taylor building entrance
  7. Labyrinth
    Location: Outside the Cullen Center, on the quad

Each location includes a scripture reading and suggestions for physical and meditative participation.