In the spring of 2014 I had the opportunity to visit Light of Hope Presbyterian Church in Marietta, Georgia. There I heard about their recent Pentecost celebration. It was clear that the visuals they created for their celebration had a significant impact on the congregation and could be an encouragement to the broader body, so I asked Pastor Edwin Gonzalez-Gertz to describe the process and final visual.
Pastor Edwin Gonzalez-Gertz of Light of Hope Presbyterian Church in Marietta, Georgia, describes how the season of Pentecost has taken on a life of its own for the church and the community. The impact extends far beyond the church walls. The prayer tree out front and the colorful windsocks hanging from it represent the people’s prayers for their community, both local and global.
The pictures of the inside of the church sanctuary are from 2013, the first year the church decorated for Pentecost. The symbols used were water, wind, fire, dove, and the sound of the wind.
The table in front was covered with a red cloth and smaller satin cloths of gold and orange. To represent the mystery of the Spirit as he deals with us, the smaller cloths were arranged randomly—not square or flat, but laid in slightly different shapes and positions. The cloths, the doves, the candlesticks, and the water pitcher reminded the congregation to look for beauty in the midst of chaos. The water connected the Spirit of God at Pentecost to the Spirit of God that hovered over the waters at creation.
At the front of the church behind the pulpit were visual representations of orange, yellow, and red flames. These were simply plastic tablecloths draped and pinned up at various heights, letting the plastic cloth drop, creating the flame effect. A fan was placed out of sight on each side, creating a soft movement of the flames and adding the sound of the wind to the experience. A further sense of mystery was created by a fog machine that was running before the service. (Upon entering the sanctuary, one church member misinterpreted the fog for smoke and was afraid there was indeed a fire!)
Not pictured, but also used as a visual, was the appearance of flames in the baptistery. This was accomplished by placing a small battery-operated cauldron in the baptistery before the service. (These cauldrons are available online through specialty shops and use no actual flames.) Pastor Edwin carried the “flaming” cauldron out of church after the service, symbolizing the Spirit as it indwells God’s people as they go out to serve.
The visuals described above were memorable for the people of Light of Hope Church and were repeated for Pentecost 2014 with one added element: the use of outdoor windsocks to represent the working of the Spirit through the prayers of the people.
Pastor Edwin found a variety of inexpensive windsocks online ($5-20 each), distributed a simple order sheet to the congregation, and explained his vision. The people were encouraged to order (or buy on their own) a windsock that would represent their prayers for a specific part of the community or distant family. For example, windsocks were ordered in the colors of the local school, to represent the local fire department, and to commemorate a country where family members lived.
After their monthly communion service the church held a luncheon, at which time the people wrote their prayers on windsock streamers with fine-point permanent markers. Several women who were proficient in calligraphy offered to write the prayers if the people requested.
During the week prior to celebrating Pentecost, the windsocks were hung across the front of the church from a single line. Following the service, they were taken down and carried out by the people, and a service of dedication and prayer followed as the windsocks were hung in a large tree, which was dedicated as the church’s Prayer Tree. The children held the windsocks as adults climbed ladders and hung them securely.
The impact on the congregation was powerful as they saw their prayers for the community blowing in the wind. The impact on the community was also significant. Congregants took pictures of their windsock and sent them with a note to specific people or groups that they were praying for. So the local school received a card with a picture of “their” windsock and a personal note that said, “We’re praying for you.” The fire department received the same, as did all of the 42 agencies or persons represented by a windsock. In addition, a wooden plaque was hung on the tree with a map showing the location of each windsock and what it represented. Paper maps were also printed and are given to those who stop by the church to look at the windsocks.
The windsocks were left in the tree until mid-October as a visual testimony of the prayers of the church for the community. They were then taken back inside and hung in the entryway and halls of the church, adding not only color but visual reminders of the continued prayers of the people and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Though the windsocks had to be taken inside because of the winter weather approaching, the congregation felt that the Prayer Tree had become important to the entire community and that leaving it bare for winter seemed inappropriate. They arranged to have solar lanterns hung on the tree for the winter season.