The Illumination

By: Kathryn Ervin

Posted in Program Updates on May 22, 2017 | View all posts

Art is the bread and butter of the liturgical: the imbibing of space and time, the texture of a most beautiful narrative.

Until I was 7, my family attended a Presbyterian church in our small rural community. This church had a breezeway that connected the Sunday-school rooms to the sanctuary. I can vividly recall the sensation of my shiny black shoes clinking furiously against the polished, grey-green slate during my olympian dash under, through or between the 30-some human barriers blocking me from my final destination, a well worn spot: the third or fourth seat on the second pew, back right. Large windows filled the sanctuary with light; the space was lofty and filled with a crispness cut by the clear, resounding voices of the congregation reciting the Lord’s prayer. During the service, there was always an arm to grasp, a shoulder to lean on or gum to be foraged out of my grandfather’s deep pockets.


I would not solely attribute my later disillusionment with the Evangelical Southern Church culture to its lack of aesthetics; a constellation of factors came to bare. Yet, when I recall the smooth stone walkway of my childhood church that led into the sanctuary, into the heart of the congregation where petitions and praises were raises, I also recall a similar space…Growing up, I spent long summer afternoons reading on the front porch, my chin often resting on the cool grey-green slate—the very same stone (yet less worn and smooth) that paved the way to the most magic and mystery I had ever experienced in a congregation of believers. I was looking for liturgy and just didn’t know where to find it.


Art is the bread and butter of the liturgical: the imbibing of space and time, the texture of a most beautiful narrative. A narrative I would soon learn was the Gospel story.  As an artist, my goal is to create a rich, accessible liturgy through visual experiences. One way I do this is by creating alternative forms of presentation in the arts.


For the past 4 years I have been working with communities to create art scavenger hunts which take fine art experiences into the public square. The most recent iteration of this series, which is called The Treasureish Hunt, was a community event for the Trinity Fellows Academy. This third installment was called The Illumination.


As I write this, I am at the end of a 9 month residency located on the Eastern Shore, in the small community of Royal Oak, Maryland. This program, The Trinity Fellows Academy (TFA), is a Christian non-profit which seeks to equip young professionals with tools to creatively express the life transforming power of the Gospel within their field of expertise. The design and vision of the Illumination was to do just this. The materials found while on the scavenger hunt visually narrated chapters of this story: creation, fall, atonement, redemption, and consummation. As the participants walked across the property collecting their materials, arranging these elements on overhead projectors at the final installation, and celebrated together through song and feast, we collectively learned to inhabit the life of Christ.


This event included a 5 part scavenger hunt, community art making experience, dinner, and a musical performance. The hunt was set up as 4 site-specific installations with a map that guided participants to the final installation, which the participants assembled together. Teams found their way across the property using clues, collecting elements that were used to create the final installation. Readings were provided consecutively at each site, along with lyrics which would be sung during the performance after dinner. This event was attended by 45 members of the community and sponsored with the labor and creativity of the 9 other Fellows.


As the culmination of my research on the theology of the arts in the ecumenical Church, I wanted to produce a tangible example of the intersection between art and the liturgy of the Trinitarian faith. By integrating collective vision and diversity of voice, we produced a beautiful, abstract illustration of the Gospel story.


One of my favorite parts of the event was when we embodied the in-between chapter: a chapter believers understand to inhabit as we are in the “already not yet.” This is the present time between Christ’s ascension and his return. To do this, we forced ourselves to wait in expectation before seeing the final installation completed. While we assembled it directly after the hunt, it wasn’t until night fell and darkness settled that we went out to see what we had produced. By doing so, we inhabited this in-between state, while also celebrating the final chapter of this Gospel narrative, the return of Christ.


When I think over my walk in the Christian faith and my time at TFA, I find that the Lord has been gently leading me on a hunt of my own for many years. Whether it was through various faith communities, my arts education, my family, my friendships, or through the Trinity Fellows Academy, I am finally learning to lean into the liturgies of the Church and those we create to draw us closer to God. I begin to realize that to have faith is to participate in a collective hunt. Some call this sanctification, and some call it a treasureish hunt.


Sometimes it looks like the grey-green stones lovingly laid by those who have gone before. I would like to be the hands and feet that help lay a few of these stone for those yet to come.