Sermon Inspired Art? Yes! [Part 1: Palm Sunday]

Palm Sunday Words at Church of the Pilgrims, Washington, DC

Palm Sunday Words at Church of the Pilgrims, Washington, DC

"How about painting during my Easter sermon?" asks the senior pastor at my internship church. 

We had just witnessed Shawna Bowman creating a communion table and other artwork at the 2014 NEXT Church National Gathering in Minneapolis.  

Sure, I thought sarcastically. Easter, no pressure.  

It's one thing to create a piece at your own pace and your own time but it's a whole other thing to create something meaningful in under an hour, while others are watching, based on the theme and words of another person. No big deal. 

But, in the spirit of improv, which we've been exploring at Pilgrims, I said "yes!" 

Having never done this kind of thing before, I sought out someone who had.  Amy Gray, a fellow Presbyterian and artist at Wesley, gave me some tips from her experience.  I pass them on to you here:

  • Go big - choose a large canvas and big brushes or chunky material so the work can be seen in the back row
  • Be comfortable - choose a medium you're familiar with
  • Prepare - get as much info as possible on the scripture, sermon title, and hymns.  Start thinking about what you want to depict and how you might compose it
  • Give yourself a break - go ahead and make pencil marks ahead of time to guide you in the moment
  • Step back - always feel free to step back and take a breathe or re-evaluate as you go

At the conference, Shawna used chalk pastels on black mat board or foam core.  I loved how the colors popped off the black.  Using this kind of board also highlights the temporary nature of art and life.  So many of our churches imagine art as stained glass that needs to last for decades or centuries.  What does it mean for faithful art to be temporary?

Since creating during a sermon is a new experience for me, I gave it a try on Palm Sunday. After my brief part in leading the service, I plunked down in the back with my board and pastels. This is not unusual at Pilgrims since the congregation has made space for kids and parents in the sanctuary.

I took a few minutes to settle into the sermon.  The obvious choice of content would be the palm procession, but I had a small board that I didn't think would work well.  So instead, as I was listening, I began writing words from the sermon in the shape of a palm, first making the stem and then the leaves.  Using different shades of green gave some depth - highlights and shadows - to the palm.  After writing the words, I outlined the shapes as well. 

Palm Sunday procession at Church of the Pilgrims, Washington, DC

Palm Sunday procession at Church of the Pilgrims, Washington, DC

The sermon shifted to our role as part of the crowd. To separate these words from those about God's action in Holy Week, I used sand colors to create a background around the palm. 

I'm really happy, and a little surprised, about the way the piece turned out. The vibrancy of color matched the New Orleans funeral style of our Palm Sunday procession through the city.

Stay tuned for part 2 about the Easter service!