Our congregation in downtown Toronto didn’t completely ignore the color palette of the Christian year. Like many Reformed churches, we draped green runners on the communion table during Ordinary Time. We enjoyed our purple and pink Advent candles. Every year we hung Pentecost and Ascension Day banners in the sanctuary.
Yet it’s probably fair to say most of us in the pews failed to engage with the liturgical colors on display to enrich our understanding of the larger biblical narrative. Even less did we tap into the rich history of liturgical seasons, which became common practice in the Western church going back to the fourth century.
Seasons of Being Home Kit
Seeking new ways to engage the congregation in liturgical colors—and especially the emotions and ideas they express—we launched our Seasons of Being project in late 2019. We planned a permanent large-scale art installation (approximately 6’ x 17’) in the sanctuary plus workshops to involve the congregation. When COVID-19 hit, we had to change those original plans, and our adjusted version is something we believe other congregations might wish to replicate. What follows is a bit about the journey we took and how you might learn from it to create your own version of this project.
In early 2020 we received a generous grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc. Working with artificial lights and colored plexiglass, we envisioned our art installation highlighting specific colors throughout the liturgical year: greens to focus on spiritual growth for eight months during Ordinary Time; deep purples to plea for reflection during Advent and Lent; bright whites and gold for Christmas and Easter to prompt thinking about purity; and exciting reds to tell the Pentecost story. Color feeds the soul.
In spring 2020, we had to rethink our project as our congregation started to meet online during the pandemic. After some soul searching, we decided to provide each household in the congregation with a Seasons of Being kit that could be assembled at home to celebrate the Christian year. This smaller version of the installation we first envisioned proved to be popular and can likely be replicated by other congregations who wish to build interest in the liturgical year.
Since we couldn’t come to the sanctuary, we brought the artwork to the congregation. Each member received by mail or delivery a small model (maquette) of the sanctuary concept for display at home. It’s meant to be a miniature art installation. Remarkably, at least 80 percent of households associated with the congregation ended up continuously and actively participating in our project.
The miniature installation is designed to be interactive and playful. Comprising ten colored tiles (2.5” x 4”) and a grooved wood base (4” x 7.5”), project participants are encouraged to arrange the colored pieces according to the current liturgical season. Color acts as a visual cue to our understanding of a particular Sunday within the Christian calendar. Further, the home-based art installations provide a tangible connection to the church community and a visual aid for personal or family devotions, discussions for Bible studies, or home-based worship. We were able to source our plexiglass materials from local businesses, but the initiative can be replicated using more basic materials or different approaches. We suggest some ideas below.
The miniature art installation is part of a larger kit designed to be a stand-alone package. The elements of the installation can be easily explained to project participants who know nothing about liturgical colors or the Christian calendar. In addition to the art materials themselves, the kit includes a brochure that explains the liturgical colors and their meanings. Participants are also invited to embark on a “Learning Journey” consisting of times to receive information, times to reflect individually, and opportunities to gather and share (online). During our project, many members of our congregation requested additional kits for their (adult) children or friends.
We introduced “The 15-Minute Challenge” to mark the changing liturgical seasons, build deeper engagement, and encourage playfulness. For example, we invited the congregation to explore Ordinary Time by gathering everyday green items in their home and arranging them with their Seasons of Being art installation. This helped participants reflect on this liturgical season and potentially see an opportunity to dig into Scripture and the everyday life of Christ. The exercise challenged participants to appreciate the richness of our ordinary and repetitive lives (especially during the pandemic!).
We received more than twenty-five images of these displays from people’s homes, and each image was a glimpse into their lives and personalities. Some had a green thumb, others a desire to travel, and still others a creative and crafty side (see images on p. 40). After exploring the liturgical colors and seasons together, we could now also appreciate the many exciting visuals we shared together.
To replicate this project with your congregation, consider trying the following:
- Gather a small group to lead the project and tap into gifts within your congregation to fulfill key roles, such as research, art and design, group facilitation, education, and logistics for assembling and delivering kits. Meet regularly to keep the project on track.
- Create a learning journey. How long will the project last? How and when will people receive information and kits? How will the congregation be guided to reflect and experiment on their own and then share together? (e.g., Will they submit images of how they have arranged their mini-sculptures? Will they gather online or in person for group sharing and learning sessions?)
- Research liturgical colors and decide how you would like to share this information (e.g., digitally, in a brochure, or on a website).
- Create a miniature art installation using colored materials of the same material and size. Your budget will determine what is possible. Ideally the materials will be translucent so light can shine through and new colors can be created when materials are overlapped. A base is required for standing materials up to create a small sculpture that can be changed according to the liturgical season. Package the materials in boxes, bags, or other containers that will be available to each household. Our kits were made of a wooden base and plexiglass, but simpler versions could use other materials. The base could be small milk cartons, blocks of crafting foam, or rigid insulation foam with slits cut for standing up materials. The colored tiles could be made from colorful tissue paper sandwiched between clear transparency sheets or self-adhesive laminating sheets, or from colored transparency film used to overlay light fixtures. These and other inexpensive materials can be found in dollar stores, office supply stores, and craft stores.
- Through research of the liturgical seasons and colors, think of ways to encourage experimentation with the kits. (See photos of the “15 Minute Challenge” on p. 40.)
Our congregation will continue to hang banners, drape colorful linens, and burn Advent candles. But we happily discovered that honoring liturgical traditions can move beyond such routines. Together we found that joyful greens, quiet purples, brilliant whites, and loud reds can speak the language of the soul. The final large-scale artwork has now been installed in our sanctuary and serves as a powerful reminder of the liturgical seasons and as a means to enhance our experience of the church calendar.
More Resources on Liturgical Colors
- Colette Volkema DeNooyer, “Coloring the Faith Story: Using the Church Year to Teach the Mighty Acts of God,” RW 12:7.
- Lindsey Goetz, “Children’s Pages for the Christian Year,” Advent and Christmas, RW 137:11; Lent and Easter, RW 138:10; Ascension and Pentecost, RW 139:16; Trinity Sunday, Ordinary Time, and Christ the King Sunday, RW 140:16.
- Peter Mazar, Take Me Home: Notes on the Church Year for Children (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2007).
- Deborah Sokolove and Joan Huyser-Honig, “Church Year Visual Art: A Q&A with Deborah Sokolove,” Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, worship.calvin.edu.
- Julie Stiegemeyer and Kathy Mitter, Colors I See in Church (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2002).
- Howard Vanderwell, “The Christian Year: Colors,” Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, worship.calvin.edu.
- John D. Witvliet, “Q&A: On Liturgical Colors,” RW 71:44.