Dover First project illustrates many faces of God

Epiphany paintings

What If…, a delightful children’s book written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato, caught my eye recently in a local book store. I sat down on a little chair and read the 2018 book and became enthralled by the plot and purpose. This book inspired me–and the Spirit inspired me–to consider a “what if” approach to the year.

You see, I serve a wonderful Midwest, midsized, middle-class Moravian church with a true heart for mission and a friendly disposition. Over the past ten years, I have been able to gently introduce and lead the boards and congregation to consider new and innovative ways to worship the Lord. On a personal note, the fine arts have always been a source of inspiration. Finding ways to combine art and worship has been a gleeful challenge. For a Midwest congregation, this paradigm shift has not always been easy to accomplish, but it has been worth the effort—even with the occasional headaches that ensued.

So let me tell you a story of what happened on my way to the Epiphany colosseum of worship this year (a small smile – literary joke).

What if…we invited people in our church family to use their artistic gifts and talents to transform our lobby wall space into a wall of portraits? The Holy Spirit rocked the adolescent good Count Zinzendorf emotionally and spiritually when seeing the painting of Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) by Domenico Feti with the amazing inscription on the bottom that said: “This have I suffered for you; now what will you do for me.” That might just happen again for us.

What if…we used the theme “Witnessing: The Many Faces of God” as our fulcrum point to swing this whole idea? (Note: I based this idea off a book by Beth Booram, Picturing the Face of Jesus; Encountering Christ through Art). I knew that the Moravian portrait painter John Valentine Haidt had painted a series of faith-based Biblical stories, histories and portraits for Count Zinzendorf’s home in the refurbished Lindsey House of London in 1750. We could do the same with our church’s lobby and add our own contemporary twist.

What if…I linked up with 21 artists—20 from our congregation and one “ringer,” a former member of the congregation—and asked them to paint a portrait for the congregation’s lobby. The illustrators could use any style desired…cubism, impressionism, cartoon classics, realism, abstract or folk art. I gave each artist a choice of two emotional expressions to choose from; they picked the one that moved their spirit, grabbed their brushes and hit the canvas.

Seventeen out of the 21 artists in our church family rose to the occasion and created some beautiful, meaningful and personal faces of God. These talented artists ranged in ages from eight to 80. As you can see, we transformed the lobby wall into a showcase of color, emotion, expression, spirit and praise for our living Lord for whom we are created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27) 

What if…during worship we highlighted one-word themes depicted on the lobby wall and incorporated them into the whole worship experience? It worked. We designed each Epiphany worship service to combine the arts, the music, the assigned texts and the word themes to enhance the worship experience. Some moments soared, and others sputtered, but none crashed and burned; I call that achievement. Hey, I live in Ohio, look how many years and tries it took for the Wright Brothers to get something off the ground? So don’t be afraid to fail while trying.

What if…as a church, as a people of faith, we went ahead and prayerfully approached the Lord, seeking new ways to highlight and experience God’s grace to others? As church members throughout both provinces, now is the time to take a risk. Break away from the normal, predictable, traditional ways and enhance God’s grace in the experimental, out- of-the-ordinary opportunities. The way we used to do church back in the 1950’s, like Elvis, has long since left the building. If we do not recognize this truth and turn this body of believers in a new direction, Moravians in North America could just become some interesting historical footnote in the American historical Christian experience. 

Finally, what if…you personally would step out of your comfort zone, your little faith cubicle of life by attempting something new for the Lord as an individual? Lead your board or church task force on a new adventure of possibility? Reach out to a broken friend in love and helped forge a new road for his/her journey of faith?

I have never regretted living with a “what if” leadership style. Join other Christians who seek to share the saving love of Jesus with their neighbors both near and far.  What if …   

The Rev. John B. Wallace is pastor of First Moravian Church in Dover, Ohio. Thanks to Courtney Wallace for the photos.