Telling the Story

At Blackhawk Church in Madison, Wisconsin we did a teaching series called “The Story.” The series was designed to tell the story of scripture from beginning to new beginning. We wanted to help people see that the story of the gospel is the story of scripture.

As part of the series, a graphic artist, Kortney Kaiser, created visually stunning images to help tell each part of The Story: The Prologue, In the Beginning, The Plot Thickens, The Hero, The Rescue and A New Beginning. The graphics were printed in our bulletin and displayed on screens during services. They were also available to download at the end of the series. See the images and hear the basic outline of “The Story” here.

Through “The Story” we wanted to communicate the reality of the fall and the very real restorative power of Jesus. Early in the series, when talking about creation, we told the story (through an artful video produced by Melissa Lazare) of a visual artist in our congregation (Jonathan Kramka). We showed video footage of him creating a large painting (acrylic on canvas). We then brought the painting out onto the platform. We used the creation of this painting as a metaphor for the creation narrative. Watch the video story here.

When teaching on the fall (The Plot Thickens), the teaching pastor took out a knife and cut Kramka’s canvas, effectively destroying the painting. He then marred the painting with black spray paint. This metaphor created a visceral experience for people. There was an audible gasp when it happened. They had gotten to know the artist and his work. When it was destroyed everyone felt the tragedy and injustice of it. See footage of the painting being destroyed here.

Later in the series, when Jesus entered the story (The Rescue) the painting was brought back out. The canvas had been repaired and the painting restored by original artist. The spray paint had been painted over. The knife cuts had been sown up. Poignantly, the scars were now part of the painting. The scars are part of the story. We used the restoration as metaphor; the destructive power of the fall was put right through the work of Christ.

This gave members of the congregation the opportunity to see a wrong (a work of art destroyed) made right. It brought the realities of the fall and the cross down to earth; it helped them become less abstract, theological concepts. It allowed us to not only understand scripture, but also to experience it. This is something art can do like nothing else.

This is an idea that could easily be replicated in other churches. The key factor is finding an artist willing to participate in the project. They have to be willing to let their work be destroyed and willing to spend the time repairing it. The repaired painting was eventually displayed in the church’s atrium for all to see. If the visual graphics (both still and video images) are helpful, any church is welcome to use them. Videos of the messages are also available online.

6 Comments

  • Cole Matson says:

    This is one of the most powerful and innovative uses of artistic creation in a worship space that I’ve heard of. Well done. Are you familiar with Julian of Norwich and her words on how the scars of our sins will be the glory of God in Heaven (as evidences of the greatness of God’s mercy)?

  • Paul says:

    Thanks Cole. I’ve not heard of Norwich myself, but one of our speaking pastors used that concept in a message during this series. “The scares are part of the story.” Perhaps Norwich inspired him.

  • Michael Carter says:

    The church needs this! Thank you. And praise God for the scars.

  • Jenn Cavanaugh says:

    Thanks for sharing, Paul. I LOVE this. Especially “The scars are part of the story.” This Lent our church hung a series of large printed canvases by Seattle artist Paul Tonnes in the sanctuary that shared that motif of having been slashed and repaired. The sermon series dealt with deep hurts and healing, and the visuals around us were such powerful signs and symbols for the congregation in that season. (If you’d like to see an example or read more about it, .) It seems significant to me that when the disciples had trouble recognizing the risen Lord, he showed them His wounds – still there on his glorified body. Makes me think Julian has something there.

    The other thing I love about this is it sounds like it could create space to really sit in the stages of the story and thus experience it as drama. Most of our worship services rush to tell the whole narrative in one [stand, sit, stand,] sitting. I think the reason we love Holy Week so is because we are allowed to fully and appropriately grieve and fully and appropriately celebrate instead of being called on to do both in constant and rapid succession. I’d love to hear, Paul, if you did anything else with the service planning (tone of prayer, musical selections, etc.) to set a separate mood for each service. How did people handle the weeks in which they and the destroyed canvas were left hanging?

  • Elizabeth Noyes says:

    I am thinking that one aspect we had not thought of in putting together our St. James show was to include a post-exhibit (performance) request for feedback from our parishioners, especially words about whether or how they were MOVED by the art work. Written responses are SO important for the artist, for the parish and an aid to help viewers focus on the meaning the work had for them. Thanks for this.

  • Nancy Kaellner says:

    I was at this service and it was very shocking and disturbing for the pastor to mar the beautiful original artwork. There was a profound gasp in the room, followed by silence. It really moved me in realizing how disturbing our sin is and how it ruins something beautifully made by our Creator.
    But because of His amazing Grace, He restores.

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