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Experiencing the gospel through art

You wouldn’t call the artwork that adorns the walls at Peace, Aiken, S.C., “traditional.” But the church building isn’t traditional either.

When members at Peace were looking for a location, they decided they wanted to be in the downtown area, even though there wasn’t any space to build a new church. “We had to buy a pre-existing building,” says Jonathan Bourman, Peace’s pastor. “That meant we needed to sacralize a space that wasn’t a traditional church. The art needed to work in that area—to make it speak Christ and also communicate who we were in a way that was consistent with the architecture.”

The congregation’s name, “Peace,” was the message members wanted to communicate to the community. “For quite some time, Peace has had the vision to communicate through art its mission to bring real peace to real people through Jesus Christ,” says Bourman. “We wanted to evoke what the Scriptures say about Shalom.”

The congregation selected three messages of peace to convey: Luke 2:13,14, when the angels proclaimed, “Peace on earth”; Mark 4:39, when Jesus commanded the storm on the Sea of Galilee, “Peace. Be still”; and John 20:19,20, when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection and said, “Peace be with you.”

Bourman artwork
Top: “Calm in the Storm” is based on Mark 4:39, the account of when Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Bottom: “Luke 2” depicts the familiar Christmas story. This artwork, along with “Upper Room,” is part of a three-part series called Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace.

“We connect it with our Christian life: We are born again when baptized into Christ, he is with us in the storms of life, and finally we die and rise with him,” says Bourman.

WELS artist Jason Jaspersen created the Shalom series over a three-year period. Bourman then conducted Bible studies, where art in general as well as each specific piece in the series were discussed. “Pastor did a great job of helping us to think about art,” says Lance Traver, a member at Peace. “The discussions we had . . . helped us see the depth of the pieces and how they fit with Peace’s mission.”

Traver admits that his initial reaction to “Upper Room” was “less than positive.” He says, “The painting is dark, and some of the characters are distorted. When you first see it, it makes you wonder what the artist was thinking.” But he says his opinion changed as the congregation studied the piece together. “It still may not be my favorite piece of art, but after reflecting on it you come to realize that it has much depth and it invites you to ponder what it might have been like to be in the upper room with Jesus.”

Bourman says the artwork is meant to invoke conversation as members and guests examine it in the hallways leading to the sanctuary. “Art has a way of arresting you, and we want people to be arrested by it—to experience the gospel another way.”

Read Bourman’s article, “The upper room,” that highlights more about that piece of art and how it can help us experience anew Jesus’ appearance to his disciples.

Volume 109, Number 04
Issue: April 2022

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