Rev. David McAllister
Rev. David McAllister

October 2018


October 26, 2018


Art that Comes and Goes, and Art that is Permanent  -  Part Two


An art collection in a church provides us with an interesting dichotomy between valuing something of worth and caring for it, and being willing to live a life in Christ that encourages us to let go of our attachments to things.  I certainly highly value the art of a church, and feel that the permanent installations of art, and artworks carefully collected, should be valued, appreciated and well taken care of by all.  On the other hand, art that comes and goes allows us the opportunity to appreciate and value it, while then being able, having accepted the gifts that come to us through that art, to let it go.


Art that comes and goes can take many forms.  Decorations in an altar area are an example of an art form that is intended to speak to folks for a certain period of time, perhaps the Advent or Lenten season, but that then is taken down and let go after that span of time.   Of course, we may store away the actual materials for use in some other way, but we don’t usually package it all up for storage in order to bring it forth in the same form or arrangement in the next similar season or experience.  Or, perhaps we do store it in just that way, and do bring it back in as close a form as we can manage in the future.  But is that as effective a use of time, space and creativity as we can manage?


Nancy Chinn, in her book, Spaces for Spirit: Adorning the Church, shares a couple of insights in this regard.  She says, “Think about it.  Would you hear the same homily at each service?  Would you wear the same clothes, sit in the same place, or breathe the same way each service?  Of course not.”  I would interject that, in many churches, in my church, most people do indeed sit in the same place each week, although they do wear different kinds of clothes and interact in the time in different ways.  She continues, “I would argue that nothing is static in worship, and when it is, we grow so familiar with it that we no longer see or hear it…We have a problem with visual art.  It is thought of as too expensive, too time-intensive to be temporary.  Personal histories and personalities are stored in every stitch and stroke.  So we store and bring out the same banners year after year.  What do we miss? 


“By working with temporary materials, costs are far less.  By working with the community to make and install the work, the amount of time spent is usually equivalent to the number of human hours spent creating a special service of music.  We are a visual choir, creating original work.  By demanding that the work change, we give room to new creative thoughts, and best of all, we are able to bring the Word of God freshly to each community.  What is permanent is the record we keep in slides or scrapbook of each installation that we do.”   (Quotes from p.70)


Nancy published this book in 1998.  Nowadays it is even easier to document our work, preserving a record of what we have done in digital form and in video archives.  But her insights are as pertinent now as they were twenty years ago.  Giving room to fresh creative thoughts, and bringing the Word of God to the gathered community in new ways, are certainly what we are called to do.  Art that comes and goes helps us to accomplish both of those goals in beautiful ways.




October 19, 2018


Art that Comes and Goes, and Art that is Permanent


Years ago, in a shopping center parking lot, my wife and I discovered some beautiful tree bark laying at the foot of several of the trees that provide beauty to an expanse of asphalt.  So, we collected that bark, put together a wooden framework of a cross, and attached the bark to the framework.  It became a beautiful cross that we hung in the midst of a bare wall in our worship space. 


We had no vision of this becoming anything in the way of a permanent installation.  The bark was just so beautiful, and we wanted to share that with the church in a meaningful way.  We first put it into place at the beginning of the Lenten season that year.  Then, when we mentioned that we were going to take it down after Easter, there were objections, because many of the members of the church felt it should stay in place.  So, we left it there, until it came time to decorate for Advent.  Just because of what we do in the sanctuary for Advent, the cross needed to come down.


My wife and I stored the cross in an upstairs room, thinking that perhaps we would bring it out again for Lent, two or three years down the line.  Well, once the Advent and Christmas decorations were put away, that sanctuary wall seemed particularly empty.  That was okay with me though, because it emphasized the change in liturgical seasons, and beckoned something fresh to come again as the Lenten season rolled around.


However, folks in the church were not willing to wait for something new to appear.  They wanted that cross to be rehung against that bare wall.  Although we waited a couple more weeks in order to put it into place closer to the coming Lenten season, people were insistent and so we rehung it earlier than we had planned.  That choice was made in part because I do believe that worship is an activity of the community of faith, and even though I make many of the choices about our worship experiences, this is their space and they wanted to have that cross in that space.


That cross has become a semi-permanent fixture in the worship space, although it does come down for Advent and a few other times of the year.  And, being a cross, it is certainly appropriate to have it in place throughout much of the year.  But it does raise questions about our choices regarding art that is decidedly permanent, and art that is really meant to come and go.  With the later kind, how willing are we to let it go, and when does it work to have it reappear, if at all?


I will share some thoughts on those choices next week.




October 12, 2018


Art that is Permanent, and Art that Comes and Goes


I was in a buffet recently, and in the large entry area, where people wait to be seated, there is an amazing mosaic floor.  I have actually seen it before, and I am as impressed now as I was the first time I saw it.


Mosaic is an artform that I have enjoyed from an early age.  Perhaps that is because I couldn’t draw too well, but I could follow a pattern and glue pieces of stone onto the backing that came in the art kit I received as a child.  In any case, the joy of mosaic has stayed with me.


When I was fortunate enough to visit Israel many years ago, one place I wanted to see perhaps more than any other was the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes, in Tabgha.  I had always admired the mosaic of the loaves and the fishes and was not disappointed to see it in person.  Scholars estimate that it was created in the 6th century.  There is no doubt a great permanence to this beautiful work of art and faith.


Most churches have permanent artworks of some kind, from stained glass windows, to crosses mounted on walls, or, as with my church, a cross in front of our baptismal.  Some churches are fortunate enough to have collections of art, be that paintings, sculptures, or mosaic installations.  These serve to inspire, instruct, and connect us with the creativity that people express in wonderful ways.


When I think about the art of a church, I usually bring to mind these permanent installations.  But there is also the art that comes and goes, which we interact with during a specific season or series of events, which is then removed, returning the space to its former appearance.


I invite you to reflect on that art that comes and goes in your church, and I will write more about that next week.




October 5, 2018


World Communion Sunday


I always look forward to World Communion Sunday.  Briefly, in case people are unfamiliar with it, the first Sunday in October was designated, many years ago, as a time for Christian traditions around the world to all celebrate communion on a single day as a way of demonstrating and experiencing Christian unity.  There are so many ways in which theology and practice tend to divide us, but having everyone gather symbolically around the one table that Jesus gave to us is a way of drawing us closer to one another.


In some years I begin the worship celebration with the projection of a variety of images of Jesus from a wide range of perspectives.  I include artwork from around the world, and across several centuries, in order that people see some familiar images as well other images of artwork that depict Jesus as seen through the eyes of people from different nations and cultures.


Another option is to search out artists’ views of the celebration of communion that depict practices from the church worldwide.  Not only will the gathering of Jesus and the disciples in the upper room be envisioned in a multitude of ways, but even the depiction of the bread and cup will remind us that we have different ways of receiving the gifts from Jesus’ hands.  Yet, through all of those differences, communion is celebrated and we can rejoice in that together.


I have also enjoyed collecting chalices through the years, and I like to bring several into the worship time, displaying work from places around the globe.  In addition, it is a great joy to either bring in a variety of types of bread, or to even have someone bring in fresh baked bread for the worship celebration.


Finally, since our congregation is blessed with many people from different countries and cultures, we have some of those people share the Lord’s Prayer in their native languages.  It gives us one more glimpse into the diversity and joy of the church worldwide, and it celebrates the unique relationships that we share within our smaller church.


There are so many ways to make World Communion Sunday come to life.  I hope you will enjoy the experience in your church as much as I will enjoy it in mine.




Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.


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Copyright, David McAllister, 2015-2023.