What Star Is This?

Communal Art for Advent

At the August 2014 meeting of the worship, music, and arts committee of Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the youth on the committee suggested an art installation project for our Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons. Her name is Avery West, and her suggestion was that we create a large origami star mobile to hang from the ceiling of our sanctuary.

The committee was enthusiastic. Central has a vital liturgical arts ministry and has had many major art installations in the sanctuary, including paper lace banners, woven fabric ribbons for Pentecost, huge quilted banners for Lent, and paraments designed for every season throughout the year. One of our most beloved art installations is an origami crane mobile called “A Wind and a Prayer” that was first hung over the main section of the sanctuary in 2008 to recognize the International Day of Peace on September 21. The congregation folded origami birds during the Lenten season as a prayer practice and they hang in the sanctuary each year with names and prayers tucked inside. It is like having the prayers of the people flying over our heads.

The origami star project seemed perfect for our Advent/Christmas/Epiphany journey. One of our favorite hymns is “What Star Is This” by Charles Coffin. This hymn touches on the prophecy in Numbers 24 that “a star will come out of Jacob”—the inward light of the Spirit, and Christ as the Light of the World. We decided to go for it!

Avery showed the committee how to fold the stars and managed to make it look quite easy. She also suggested that for some of the stars we use recycled bulletins and for others fine art paper. With this plan, the recycled bulletins would provide a connection to the worship of the congregation, and also would proclaim a message of caring for the earth. The art paper would give the installation a sparkle and shimmer appropriate for the stars.

The committee discussed ways to communicate this art project to the congregation and decided to create star-folding kits in sandwich bags that included the instructions for folding the stars, 12 pieces of square paper (a mix of art paper and recycled bulletins), and the due date for returning the folded stars to the church office.

You can find instructions for origami stars of various degrees of difficulty on Pinterest. The pattern we used can be found at tinyurl.com/RWstar.

For a similar take on this project with folding instructions for simplified stars that even very young children can make, see “Stars of Wonder” in RW 93.

There are written instructions and a very helpful video.

The congregation took to this art project with gusto! We actually had to create more folding kits because so many members were interested in folding stars. Since our congregation had also purchased the new Presbyterian Hymnal earlier that year, several members used pages from our previous 1990 hymnals to create the origami stars from the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany hymns from the hymnal. The creativity of the congregation was amazing!

The committee asked Rev. Steve Bacon, a clergy-affiliate member of our congregation, to build a wooden star frame from which the strings of origami stars would hang. He agreed and painted the wooden frame gold. He attached eye hooks along the frame about six inches apart, providing space for forty strings of stars.

The committee was overjoyed by the response of the congregation. We actually received more stars than the mobile could hold. Many committee and congregational members took the extras and used them as ornaments on their Christmas trees at home. I personally folded a large number of stars from the old hymnals and had an all-music origami Christmas tree that combined these stars with homemade ornaments that my mother and I created when I was a child.

The due date for the completed stars to be returned was November 15. This gave the committee members time enough to string the origami stars on long pieces of fishing line in order to have the mobile hanging in the sanctuary for the first Sunday of Advent. We had several fun “stringing parties” to accomplish this task.

Spools of fishing line, large sewing needles, and safety pins were all that were needed to accomplish the stringing of the stars. Each string had a combination of stars folded from recycled bulletins and from various art papers (silver, blue, cream, bronze, and pearlized white). The fishing line ranged from 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) in length, so that each strand of stars varied from 36 to 45 stars per strand. There was a 2- to 3-inch (5 to 8 centimeters) space between the stars on each string. A safety pin was attached to the top of each string so that on the day of hanging we only had to pin each string through an eye hook on the frame. The frame was temporarily lowered to a height just above our heads so that the pinning was quite easy.

After the strings were attached to the frame, it took several people to manage the stars as this installation was hoisted to the ceiling. Our remarkable maintenance supervisor, John White, crawled up into the sanctuary attic to pull the mobile up toward the ceiling. The frame would swing from side to side as it was raised, and many helping hands were needed to keep the strings of stars from tangling as they swayed.

Finally, the star frame reached its final position and the stars glimmered over our sanctuary, picking up on the colors of the ceiling and walls, and complementing the wooden features in the sanctuary. The movement of air in the sanctuary kept the stars ever so slightly in motion. It was truly a breathtaking sight! The words of the hymn came to life: “What star is this, with beams so bright . . . ‘tis sent to announce a newborn king . . . while outward signs the star displays, an inward light the Lord conveys.”

David A. VanderMeer serves as the director of music and fine arts ministries at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey and president-elect of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians.

Reformed Worship 121 © September 2016, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.