Every so often I paint on stage at church during the weekend services. People who know me have gotten used to hearing me talk about this aspect of my creative life, but a lot of people are a bit surprised at first. I attend Bridgeway Christian Church, a fairly large church in Roseville, California, not exactly the kind of traditional church I was raised in or that many people think of when talking about church. We certainly never had artists painting in church when I when I was growing up, so how did I get to this point?
Several years ago, Bridgeway had a year of learning about different styles of worship, and it was during that year of teaching that I first saw artwork created as part of a church service. As a visual artist, it was incredibly exciting and touched me in a deep way. That same year, I was interviewed for a video and then invited to paint during worship for the first time. It was a frightening, exhilarating and wonderful experience and within a year or so more, I was coordinating other artists to regularly create on stage during our church services.
More recently I was one of the artists onstage during another special teaching on different expressions of worship and I was asked why we create visual art on stage during our services. I was able to give a really brief answer, but I thought it would be good to give a more in depth answer to that here.
The first reason that I paint on stage at church is simply that I am a visual person, that is just how I was made. When I read the Bible and pray, I see images. When I remember, it is primarily in pictures and flashes. When I plan what to do, it is again in imagery – I truly envision things. It can be so bad that I have caught myself walking or driving and realized that I better pay attention to the real world around me because I was seeing something completely unrelated in my mind and I wasn’t as present as I should have been. Conversely, when I want to really focus on a thought or concept, sometimes I have to close my eyes because the visuals around me are too distracting. So images are my language, the way God speaks to me and I speak to God, and how we interact with each other. My art is most naturally a conversation between me and God.
But that only explains why I create images, not why I do it on stage in front of thousands of other people over the course of a weekend. Why subject others to my conversation with God? Because when I am on stage at church, I am available as another tool for the Holy Spirit to use to reach other people. As surely as I am more often sitting in church and not up front, there are so many other visually oriented people sitting in that room when I create there. In fact, the first time I came to Bridgeway with my family, they had incorporated children’s drawings of the Christmas story into the the Christmas program and I was so touched that it brought tears to my eyes.
I cannot count the times that people have come up to me after a service and had them tell me how my artwork had touched them or spoken to them in a powerful way. I have had people tell me that God has spoken to them very clearly through art I was creating, while others have simply said it was wonderful to have visual arts on stage, as that is how they relate to God as well. And any time people are coming forward to talk, there are undoubtedly more who were impacted but did not come up to tell me so. It is always an honor and a blessing to me to know that I can be a tool for ministering to others in my church as well as in a traditional exhibition.
Finally, people often ask what happens to the artwork after the service is over. I will always take works painted on stage back to my studio and give them the finishing touches that all my artworks get: fine tuning, painting the edges and varnishing. Artwork will then usually be on display at the church and available for purchase through a silent auction process, with proceeds directly benefiting the church. (I also receive a percentage, just as I would with a gallery.) It’s always a joy for me when someone has been touched deeply enough to want to live with a piece of art, no matter how or where it touches them.