Last summer we moved to a new house about forty minutes away from where we lived before.
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A friend contacted me to ask if I had designed any worship visuals around the theme of missions—more specifically, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16–20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . .”. I’m sure I had done something at some point, but I couldn’t find a thing. Well then, that time is now.
It’s been twenty years or so since video projection took over many of our worship spaces. Because we were so enamored by the new technology—guaranteed to take our worship to the next level, whatever that was—it quietly snagged the top spot in the visual hierarchy of our spaces.
Funerals are odd events. Normally, if you are going to invite all of your friends and family over, you have weeks or months to prepare—think of the resources called into play for most weddings. But for a funeral, the deceased might have left a few notes about Bible texts they’d like to be read or their favorite songs, but often there is very little put down about colors or flowers or who will attend and who might speak. Add the fact that you usually have to pull something together in days, not weeks or months, all while working through raw emotions.
Some years back, a biology professor gave a presentation at our church that included photos taken by the latest high-powered microscopes. The photos were amazing, but what I remember more was the awe in the professor’s voice as she described the complexities of God’s creation in the very, very small world she studied. Even though she’d taught for years, she acted as if she was seeing these splotches and patterns for the first time. Her presentation was a prayer of praise to the limitless creativity of our God.
Over the years in this space we’ve talked about inspiration—where and how and when we’re moved to make something new and fresh. For me recently, it was a something very old: the song “Not What My Hands Have Done,” LUYH 624, PsH 260 written in the 1860s by Horatius Bonar. There were fewer than twenty people at a staff retreat where this song was part of the morning’s opening worship.
At a 2018 Worship Symposium workshop, painter and calligrapher Matt Plescher (mattplescher.com) showed participants how to do brush calligraphy. With Plescher’s permission, his work “God is with us” is adapted here for an Advent/Christmas visual. His original art is available free of charge at viascriptura.com.
Since I first saw pictures of Janet Echelman’s sculpture made from thirty-five miles—yes, miles—of technical fiber hanging over a park in Greensboro, North Carolina, I’ve been thinking of ways to capture some of the same airy, flame-like look for a Pentecost visual for worship.
What if we strung netting of some sort—dyed or left natural—from floor to ceiling? But to keep it from looking like a spiderweb, it needs an anchor of some sort—something to give it focus and a purpose.
I tend to be a bit wary of trends that get too popular too fast. Pinterest, the online social networking app for collecting and sharing ideas visually, was one I was certain wasn’t a good thing—especially for “serious” artists working with visuals for worship. Serious artists—that’s us, right?
It hit me a couple of weeks ago when I realized the worship planning team or someone—the pastor, probably, late Saturday night—used a banner I had designed at least fifteen years ago to signal this Sunday was Communion Sunday. Surely we must have done something different or new since then, right? Nope. I couldn’t think of anything beyond an on-screen graphic done up a couple of years ago for a Good Friday service.
On my way to and from the office are two buildings I can’t get enough of. One, a two-story office building, has the most beautiful roofline of repeating round arches over a lacy infrastructure encased in walls of glass. The other is a city library built a few years back. The design is fairly modern and appears as a collection of square and cylinder blocks of brick set next to each other in the most pleasant way. I’ve heard that taking different routes to get to the same destination is supposed to keep your mind sharp but these two buildings keep me traveling the same roads.
A news story I read today about a popular picture-sharing smartphone app included this quote: “People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day. What they don’t realize is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.” This struck me. It’s common knowledge that pictures speak louder than words and that vision is one of the strongest of our senses. Why then do we have such trouble including pictures in our worship? Certainly it can’t be a carryover from the fifteenth-century Reformation, can it?
I’m old enough to remember worship without projection or large displays. Oh, there were times when a really progressive pastor would lug a clunky overhead projector upfront and supplement his message with rough words or pictures drawn on clear sheets of plastic called “transparencies.” The bulbs were hot, and the fans keeping them cool were loud. And then there was the problem of the transparencies sliding off the glass at precisely the wrong time.
A seven-year-old friend of mine showed me his sketchbook after the service last Sunday. It was a drawing of one of the electric guitars used by the praise band of our church. He was quite proud of his work, but he was quick to point out that the strings weren’t quite right. They were a little heavy-looking, but it was a very well-drawn picture for a kid his age. Afraid Sam would quit drawing guitars because the first one he drew wasn’t perfect, I told him how in art school you get to draw and redraw the same thing over and over until it feels just right.
Last fall I was asked to lead a workshop at a church in a nearby town. I had never been to this church before and knew only a couple of the people attending the workshop. If I was anxious at all, my fears vanished the moment the door swung open. My hosts warmly welcomed me with eager hospitality. The group was lively and fun, and it was obvious they loved their church very much. “Can we show you around?” they asked. And so I got The Tour.
The next issue of Reformed Worship will celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary—number 100.
Anniversaries of any sort are a great time to take a look at what you’ve been doing for months or years or decades and to ask if what you’re doing still works. Has your audience or environment or approach to worship changed, but you’re still thinking the old ways are doing what you want them to?
Sometimes, having an art education can be a problem when choosing books for your kids. There are many fine storybooks out there, but there are also many so-so offerings with overly simplistic storylines and color
palettes that include only primary colors.
And then there are the picture books of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert. Clever and beautifully illustrated with cut and torn paper, they are a treat for kids and the adults who read with them.
All in the Family
When someone makes profession of faith at our church, after all of the important theological questions are answered, my favorite question to ask is, “What talents or abilities might you be able to share with others in our church?” The answers are what you’d expect: “I like kids, so I’d be good working in the nursery or teaching Sunday school”; “I own a business, so I think I could be a good deacon”; “I can sing, so perhaps I could join a praise team.” But never once have I heard, “I can paint” or “I can sew banner
A little over a week ago, my seventy-seven-year-old father died unexpectedly. Although I can’t describe exactly how I am feeling, I’ve had the strongest desire to draw or paint or create something. Anything. I wonder why that is.
I also wonder what we’re going to do with the stack of beautiful cards sent to us, each filled with messages of hope and calls for God’s peace.
Many churches drape a strip of cloth on the cross in their worship space during Lent. Sometimes a black cloth for Good Friday is changed to a white cloth for Easter. Amazing, isn’t it, how making such a small addition to something we’re so used to seeing can be so noticeable!
The visual presented here builds on this idea but adds a bit of coarseness and texture to your cross, which, if your church is anything like mine, is a finely polished and architecturally appropriate symbol of the blood-stained boards our Savior was hung on.
For Christmas last year, my daughter, a sixth-grader, was given a sturdy box filled with 365 pieces of origami paper—one for each day of the year. On the back side of each brightly colored “tomorrow’s” sheet of paper is a pattern for “today’s” origami.
As I write this, we are at day 148, and she has folded 148 pieces of paper, almost to the day. She’s like that. Oh, and of course, we save each and every one.
OK, I’ll admit it. I’m not especially fond of those plaques with large decorative words, usually in capital letters made out of wood, that command us to PRAY or BELIEVE or IMAGINE. I’m not sure why. Probably because they are so popular. Or maybe I just wish they said EAT or SKIP or SLEEP instead. Who knows!
Having said that, I’ll also admit that the design of these baptism and profession of faith mementos comes dangerously close to those wooden words. I justify their use because these are events that should be shouted out.
Just in time for the holidays, here’s an easy one for all you sewers and weavers and other overworked “banner people.” These simple but dramatic visuals are made of lowly colored butcher paper hung from ceiling to floor. We used plain old white glue to add store-bought die-cut letters. Drama on a (time and money) budget!
I don’t know if your church has a projection system in the sanctuary, but the questions and comments I’ve received suggest that if you don’t already have one, you may soon. Because these systems can be used well or poorly, here are eight basic rules to keep in mind when preparing visual presentations for projection during worship.
Involvement in the arts is an important way for kids of all ages to find their place in congregational life. Church is a place where someone can recognize and respect children’s gifts and then work with them to create something unique that contributes to the whole congregation’s worship. Be that person!
The construction of this hanging is simple and the amount of potato printing required will give everyone plenty of opportunity to perfect the technique.
I Say Potato
Here’s how it’s done:
If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you’ve already heard me whine about my struggle to reconcile the fleeting nature of projected visuals with the more tangible and tactile nature of permanent or semi-permanent worship visuals. Bright shiny pixels versus wood and cloth! Here I give up the battle and admit that projection is here to stay.
We all know Pentecost is important—after all, living a Christian life would be impossible without the Holy Spirit. That said, Pentecost barely causes a ripple in many churches. There’s no week of preparation the way there is in Lent. No slow unwrapping of Advent to prepare us for celebrating Christmas. Pentecost simply comes and goes.
Here’s a visual idea using God’s original Pentecost symbol to help highlight the significance of Pentecost in the church year.
This column has addressed the “cross/screen” dilemma once before (“There’s an Elephant in Our Sanctuary,” RW 79). Here you’ll find another proposed solution to the problem.
An artist I worked with some time ago said he would never include a cross in his art in any form. It was simply too powerful a symbol for him. At the time, I didn’t know how to respond. His reverence humbled me and changed the way I think about this most-recognized symbol.
Visually many of our celebrationsaround Advent and Christmasfeature light as a main ingredient.Lighted trees, sparklingstars, warm candlelight, glisteningsnow, bright reflective wrapping andbows—all are turned on “high” duringthis season. Yes, we’re fighting off longgrey days and even longer dark nights—but in so many ways we’re remindingeach other that even though darkness isall around, the Light has come.
For some time, I’ve thought about how to portray music visually. How does one art form honor another? What could be done in our spaces to reflect the prominent position that music has in our worship?
What first comes to mind, of course, are clichés: a huge banner featuring a loopy treble clef. Flocks of brightly colored eighth and sixteenth notes soaring off into the sky. That sort of thing. Nothing wrong with these, mind you (you may have one of these hanging in your church this very moment!), but I was looking for something a little more dramatic.
Lots of people walk or drive by your church building each week. What does it say about you?
You keep the place fixed up. It’s accessible to people with disabilities. You make sure the landscaping is kept up. What else can you do to get your neighbors to visit your church? To pique their curiosity?
How do we use children’s art in worship without the result looking like the local grocery store coloring contest? You know—the ones where the same Easter Bunny is colored a thousand different ways, all of the entries are pasted on the wall, and the winners just happen to be from predetermined age groups and convenient regional representations of the town/city/state/province.
I think we can improve on this idea and incorporate the Crayola contributions of our kids into worship—with dignity!
The large platform in the front of the church I belong to is made of wood. Recently, an hour or so before worship was to begin one Sunday morning, a large light fixture decided it had had enough and fell with a loud clatter to the floor—that is, we assume it was a loud clatter. No one was present to witness it. Because the area of the wood floor where the lamp hit had to be repaired and refinished, everything had to be removed from the platform. The platform furnishings were brought down into the worship space helter-skelter so the repair people could go about their business.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of visuals for worship, I’m inclined to think vertically. So it’s no surprise that much of what I have designed for worship includes wide arching lines running vertically. We could take many pages to explain why this might be, but for now I am happy knowing that my God is much bigger than I am. It feels most right to me to be “looking up.”
Many of our worship spaces were constructed before the era of projection screens. Like my church, they’re likely to have a cross prominently placed up front, with lights and speakers and organ pipes positioned “just so.”
Enter the ten- by ten-foot white elephant some of these same churches have incorporated into their worship—the projection screen. What do we do with this beast?
Like me, you’re probably sick of hearing about mergers and acquisitions. Every day, it seems, I have to learn a new name for my phone company or bank or Internet provider. Sometimes these unions are made in heaven, other times . . . let’s just say things were better as they were.
Nonethless, here’s my suggestion for a merger. A merger that needs to happen: getting the “flower people” and the “banner people” together.
The church I attend celebrated its fortieth anniversary a couple of years ago. The pulpit furniture—lectern, baptismal font, and Lord’s Supper table—had been there from the beginning. During those forty years, the building’s interior had been updated but the furniture had not. It was time for something new.
Earlier this year, my pastor and I discussed number of options for visuals to enhance a four-week series he was planning on the attributes of God.
His ideas were good. He gave me the sermon topics early. He checked in with me periodically—inquiring but not pushy—as one who has a job to do but is used to being at the mercy of volunteers. He did his part well.
As for me, I could not get this thing off the ground. Did I have the designer’s version of writer’s block? Was I losing my knack? Had I finally lost whatever it was that I thought I had?
Earlier this spring, I attended a graduation open house held at a century-old church that had just been completely renovated. After the obligatory meet-and-greet, my friends and their three young daughters joined me on a self-guided tour of the sparkling new sanctuary that had been carefully fused to the original church building.
It was beautifully done—a nice blend of the fixed and flexible. Plenty of space for movement below and soaring space above for sound and light and large visuals.
In past issues, I’ve encouraged visual artists to involve themselves–because it’s unlikely that anyone is going to go out of their way to invite them–with the video projections your church may be planning for its worship services. Here are a couple of guidelines to make sure that these projections enhance worship instead of detract from it. I’ll use a series of Advent and Christmas visuals as examples.
For all of its significance in the church year, creating a visual for Ascension Day is a tough assignment. Christs work on earth was done and he returned to heaven to take his rightful place. The tricky part in representing this idea is the mix of tangible and intangible. We can imagine what it might be like to be among the disciples, but what about the part about Christ being taken into heaven and, as Mark writes, sitting at the right hand of God? Both ideas are critical to our understanding of what Christ did for us.
Picture Jesus Christ in your mind. What does he look like? A face gazing straight at you like the one in Warner Sallman's too-famous portrait? A cartoon character wearing a white robe and red sash (an image formed from years of exposure to church school papers)? A suffering body hanging on a rough wooden cross?
I love type. If youve been reading this column for any length of time, you have picked up on my infatuation with letter forms but also, no doubt, my resistance to traditional banner letters. So much can go wrong so quickly.
Lois Prahlow, one of the banner design workshop presenters at the Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts, had such a clever idea that I couldnt resist passing it onand the inspiration it gave me for a Thanksgiving visual in my own church.
It was a typical, early winter day in Michigan. Cold and wet and gray all over. My schedule for the day was fairly light—only an RW staff meeting to attend. For some time, I'd been wanting to write something about the use of liturgical color in worship, and I was hoping to get some help by asking a few questions. Is using liturgical color in worship an idea that sounds right and logical and helpful? Or is it, in the end, just another worship gimmick? My friends didn't have the nice short answer I was looking for.
Banner block. I know you’ve been there. Your worship planning committee hands you yet another impossible assignment: “We’re having a series on the psalms of lament and would like something that reflects the somberness of the topic yet is bright and lively—after all, we don’t want to depress people” or “We’re having a special service on the quality and character of God.
It happens every time we use a new visual in our worship. One gentleman in my church catches me after the service and asks me what each part of the new visual means. We look at the banner, and I describe how the final piece came to be: what we started with, what problems we encountered while constructing it, and what pleasant surprises happened along the way.
After returning from church a couple of weeks ago, I announced to my wife, "We will never cut another piece of felt for a banner again!" No, it wasn't my final run-in with the flower committee. I had just seen a demonstration of our new three-times-as-bright-as-the-old-one video projector! My wife was not impressed. "People don't want to look at that, they want something real," she said, in the tone I've come to expect whenever I'm on a technology rant.
If youve been following this column at all, you know that I am very interestedand sometimes successfulin setting aside my artists ego every now and then to get other people involved in the creation of a worship visual. As hard as it is sometimes to work with a group of people with varying opinions, the result is almost always worth the extra effort. (And from what I read in your e-mails, some of you are doing way too much of the work yourselves.) For this cooperative project, why not recruit a group who are easy to work with: kids?
It's Sunday morning. You're dead tired. It's been a hectic week, even without the pressure of having to finish the Lent banner in time. After waiting long enough to make sure that none of the flower committee members would show up to "help," it was late at night when you finally got your banner to hang just right.
Did you ever propose a great idea to a committee? By the time all of the “You know, you could . . .” comments have died down, you’re left with an idea not at all like the one you started with. These folks don’t really mean to ruin your design, they just get caught up in the excitement and want to be a part of a good thing. Well, here’s a banner design that simply can’t be over-designed. You can honestly tell the committee that even you don’t know what the final thing will look like!
You’ve done it, I know you have. At some point or another in your banner-making career, you’ve been asked to make a banner design to represent music. What’s the first thing that popped into your head and onto your fabric? A HUGE treble clef surrounded by dancing quarter- and half-notes. You shouldn’t feel bad about this, of course. Clichés are born out of good ideas. They become clichés when everyone acts on the same good idea.
I like banners without words. Most visuals do just fine by themselves if kept simple enough. Sometimes, though, it's just too difficult to illustrate a Scripture passage or concept with a graphic. In those cases we resort to words. But often the words are scattered across too much fabric and end up looking like so many elementary-school bulletin boards.
A few weeks ago, a product-engineer friend of mine and I were talking about church banners. He designs office furniture, so he is aware of the multitude of materials that are available to designers. Why, he wondered, do we often restrict our worship visuals to felt hangings, which we iron as perfectly flat as we possibly can? Why is this medium so universally accepted and why is, say, a wooden or metal sculpture less so?
In the front of the church where I worship, we have always had a beautifully proportioned cross that is mounted against a light-colored wall. This wall is lit from both sides, and where the light mixes in the middle, there is the most interesting vertical stripe of light. Because of its prominence and the lighting, I wanted to do something with the cross--something different than our usual crown of thorns and purple cloth, perfectly draped for Easter. Something for Advent.
Weddings are a lot of work! One aspect of my own wedding that was the biggest shock to me—and probably to anyone who has helped plan a wedding—is how much time and energy are focused on an occasion that is over after a few short hours. All that effort sometimes feels like a waste of time and talent! So what follows is a banner design that—though constructed specifically for a wedding—can be used throughout the year to illustrate the theme of Christ-centered relationships.
In the last issue, we showed you a design for a banner that could be hung for the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. In this issue, we've included a design for use on Sundays when the sacrament of baptism is celebrated. Compared to the communion banner, baptism should have been easy, right? Doves, rainbows, babies, drops of water--symbols abound. As it turned out, of the two, this was the more difficult to design.
After the grand visual displays of Advent and Christmas, it is often tough to get anyone excited about creating visuals for the start of a new year. Here is one that is not too difficult to make. With all of the hoopla surrounding the turn of the new century, this visual serves as a reminder that everything—including time—is held in our God's protecting hand.
Brief notes on the banner's construction and a downloadable pattern can be found below.
Too often the wedding production seems to get cluttered with a parade of professional people--musicians, florists, photographers, coordinators—all doing a "perfect" job in a mechanical way. Perhaps that's why it's always rather pleasant to discover exceptions to the rule--to leam, for example, that so-and-so's mother made all of the bridesmaids' dresses or that the brothers of the groom wrote and sang that very touching, yet slightly off-key song for the service or that a favorite niece made 487 of those hand-decorated cupcakes.
The dramatic description of the wind and tongues of fire found in Acts 2 was the inspiration for this Pentecost banner, designed by Norman Mathias for Covenant Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, Iowa. The banner was submitted by Joanne Alberda.
This baptism banner was designed by Ardy Klassen of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was constructed with the help of some of her fellow church members — Barb Veeneman, Connie Van Dyke, and Jane Buma Haverkamp.
Banners. Different people have different opinions about this form of liturgical art. Some folks don't like the idea of anyone being allowed to hang "just anything" in front of the sanctuary. Others are grateful that someone took the time to change an otherwise drab setting. Some people wish the banner-maker would stick to counted-cross-stitch. Others would have liked the pink a little more mauve to go with the cushions of the chairs up front.