Video by Scott Gronholz
The street our church sits on is lined with shop after shop, luring people in to buy coffee, cards, food and clothes. My favorite shops are the ones that, especially in the midst of a hectic day, make me smile. Store-owners think carefully about what to put in their windows, about what will cause people to pause and consider coming inside. What will inspire people to think about how they might beautify their homes and lives?
How is the Church coming across to people from the sidewalk?
This observation makes me wonder how the Church is asking those kinds of questions. How is the Church coming across to people from the sidewalk? How are we inviting people to come inside, or to even take those first steps onto the property so that people might discover deep beauty and experience the reconciling love and grace that no money can buy?
Our church is privileged with the only green space on the business section of Queen Anne Avenue. It’s a small lawn–maybe covering a third of a long block–but it’s relatively large when compared to others’ tiny spaces. As the Avenue becomes more and more dense with shops and tall apartment complexes, we are realizing how our front lawn can be a place of rest, of renewal, of invitation.
Right now, Bethany Presbyterian is inviting the community to come onto the lawn to experience a rather large art installation. This bright, beautiful and intriguing creation was constructed by Roger Feldman, a member of our church who serves at Seattle Pacific University as Professor of Art and co-chair of the art department.
For a long time I’ve admired Roger’s art from a distance. This year a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program enabled us to start dreaming about having one of his pieces in our own front yard. A significant chunk of the grant funds goes towards “congregational renewal” with the purpose of exploring how congregations can be “centers of reconciliation” — places where people learn, discuss and practice how to be God’s instruments of reconciliation, and particularly racial reconciliation.
Our congregation is part of a growing collaborative effort (currently with 4 other churches) that we are calling “Worshiping Together.” For several years we have been holding an annual Sunday morning worship service together, hosting discussions on racial reconciliation, exchanging pulpits, playing softball, and sending our youth groups on service trips together. The art installation has given us a new avenue for gathering and growing together.
The theme of the installation is reconciliation, but you probably wouldn’t know that upon first glance.
The theme of the installation is reconciliation, but you probably wouldn’t know that upon first glance. Roger does a lot with colors, curved walls, textures, angles, symbols, entryways, but he doesn’t tell people exactly what he wants them to experience. He hopes that the Holy Spirit will speak to people through his art.
Without giving away too many clues, Roger says this about the installation, which he has titled “Change”:
The components of this installation include two walls with jagged tops. These walls refer to brokenness, with individual fragments bound together. The smaller round wall refers to an individual’s experience, while the larger circular wall alludes to community. The little doorway in the larger circular wall requires adults to humble themselves as they come through, while children can walk in directly. When one walks around on the inside of one of the curved walls, unknowingly, they have changed direction by 180 degrees. That is what reconciliation requires, a change of direction, a re-orientation. All kinds of social issues are connected to the concept of ‘reconciliation,’ to the point where issues of justice, economic integrity, and inclusive thinking outweigh limited points of view. Reconciliation is a global human concern and this piece simply asks one to examine their assumptions. ‘Change’ is about that process.
The Worshiping Together churches hosted a gathering a couple weeks ago to hear from Roger and to experience the installation. We reflected on how the colors of the African American flag, the texture of the burlap bags, the size of the doorway, the images of the sky, clouds and roots, stirred our imaginations and challenged us to consider issues that need to be addressed, hopes that we want to proclaim, or ways of living that we want to practice.
For me personally, the most meaningful aspect of the piece is that there is space in the center–between the smaller and larger curved walls–for a community to gather. To me, this space represents the Church, centered and rooted in Christ, practicing individual and communal repentance as heaven meets the earth.
Gregory Wolfe writes a captivating statement which I believe captures the power of our installation, in his book, Beauty Will Save the World:
Art, like religious faith in general and prayer in particular, has the power to help us transcend the fragmented society we inhabit. We live in a Babel of antagonistic tribes–tribes that speak only the languages of race, class, rights and ideology. That is why the intuitive language of the imagination is so vital. Reaching deep into our collective thoughts and memories, great art sneaks past our shallow prejudices and brittle opinions to remind us of the complexity and mystery of human existence. The imagination calls us to leave our personalities behind and temporarily to inhabit another’s experience, looking at the world with new eyes. Art invites us to meet the Other–whether that be our neighbor or the infinite otherness of God–and to achieve a new wholeness of spirit.
When I walk by our lawn, the big, bright, intriguing installation lures me in–and makes me smile.
All are invited to come experience the installation, which will be at Bethany Presbyterian Church (1818 Queen Anne Avenue N, Seattle) until November 26. If you are interested in talking to Roger Feldman about an installation for your campus, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, rogerfeldman.com.