One of the great challenges of the creative life, dear reader, is trying to get what’s in your head, the vision that your mind’s eye sees so clearly, to come into existence in real life. There are times when what you’ve got in your head is exactly what appears when you string yards of fabric from one end of your sanctuary to the other.
There are times when you discover that you thought you wanted and what looked good are two different things. And still it works.
And then there are times like these:
Those, my friends, are supposed to be trees. I know. They don’t look very much like trees. My dear G. told me that when he first saw them.
Here’s the story: For the first time in who knows how long, we had a Homecoming Sunday. Now, some people confuse homecoming with an event called Rally Day. A common mistake. Rally day kicks off the programatic church year. Homecoming invites everyone who’s ever been connected with the church to come home (hence the name). We’ve had a lot happening at Westfield the past couple years and had a lot we wanted to show off. So, we set a date, invited a former minister back to preach, and I decided on a theme: Roots and Wings.
So, obviously, I wanted to play on the roots we have and where we were growing to. Which means trees were the perfect visual for this Sunday. I headed to our local $1.99/yard fabric store and scoured the shelves for just the right fabric. I came across a lovely roll of sheer brown for the trunks and some light greens to suggest foliage.
Then came the logistics. How were we going to suspend them? We have screws hidden everywhere in our balconies, so there were lots of options. The most reasonable solution seemed to be to create the trees as giant windsocks.
I found pipe insulating material at the local home improvement store, and duck taped together three lengths of it. In the middle, I added a hula hoop wrapped in white duct tape (hoping it was blend into the white of the room.
Next, I tied the hula hoop to the larger tubing with fishing line. The line puckered the outer ring, which was cause for concern as first. But then, I got over myself and justified it as a more dynamic representation of foliage.
Next, I suspended them from nylon lining running from one of our high windows to its mate across the room. I draped the green around the outer tubing, tied the brown from the center of the hula hoop and hoisted them into place.
And we had “trees.” And they were fine. The problem is (and my dear Westfield folks can attest to this) fine is rarely good enough for me. They hung tall and proud; they got the point across. But they just weren’t what I had envisioned.
Truthfully, I wasn’t going to post about it. But then I thought about the emails I get from churches trying to start this kind of thing and the conversations I have with folks about doing visual worship. Many people are intimidated by the whole idea. “What if it looks bad?”
Here’s what I have to say to them:
(1) Hang the trees anyway. Visual worship is all about engaging worshippers. If it doesn’t look exactly like you thought it would, who cares? If people can’t figure out what it is, then they’ll ask. And you can start a conversation about the meaning of the installation, about what it points to.
(2) It ain’t about the trees. Here’s the truth about visual worship. It’s not about the installation or the altarscape. It’s about God. If your work is an effort to point toward the Divine, you’re on the right track.
(3) Get someone else to look. I walked into church on the first Sunday morning they were hanging and my lay moderator said, “All you need is some ribbon!” She took one look, was able to discern what would enhance the effect we were striving for, and had a solution. I wish I had asked her to take a look on Wednesday, not Sunday!
(4) Get outta the way. In the church, on the whole, we buy into this whole Holy Spirit thing. So let the Holy Spirit do her thing! The trees stayed suspended, and we shared in meaningful, Spirit-led worship between them. Take a look:
We blessed welcome mats as a sign of our commitment to welcoming all people regardless of who they are or where they are on life’s journey.
We shared Holy Communion (with a welcome mat at the altar–what a sight!)
When we served communion, three generations of Westfield pastors served. What a witness to God’s ongoing work in this world.
My favorite pictures are from after the service. We took a “Westfield Family Photo.” It took a while to get everyone in place. But we finally did:
My favorite picture is from after the formal photo was taken. I love how everyone is themselves, how everyone fits, how everyone belongs. Kids have rushed up to me, people are hugging one another, others are making their way to the fellowship hall to put out the dishes for the potluck. It a family photo–in all it’s beauty and messiness.
That evening, I was flipping through pictures and thinking, “these are my people.” And I’m so grateful for it.
And I SO appreciate all that you do for us! Your visions enhance our worship so much and inspire me to see things in new ways. The installations always illustrate your message so well, too.
When I first saw the pictures, trees did not enter my mind. However, after your explanation, I could visualize them as trees (in an abstract way).
As one who is trying to bring visual worship into my church, I am wondering how you come up with your ideas. Also, are your visual images seasonal, specific to a certain theme or series of sermons? How long do they remain in place, etc. Any resources you can share?