Building Peace, One Brushstroke At A Time

Building Peace, One Brushstroke At A Time

Reblogged from: Herald Magazine’s “Connect | Engage | Inspire”
by Katie and Zac Harmon-McLaughlin

We’re among the first to cringe when congregational life begins to focus more on facilities than mission. However, our buildings can be tools for mission if we choose to view them that way.

Five community groups regularly use the facilities of the Orange Congregation in California: Rossier Park Elementary School (85–90 kids plus teachers and administrators), the Orange Art Association, and three Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups.

As a pastorate, we walked around our facility and asked, “If you didn’t know anything about who we are, what would you discover from our building?” We met one white wall after another. The fellowship hall (the space used most by outside groups) brought blaring emptiness. A white wall, 47 by 15 feet, was blank with possibility. We decided on a mural to cover the entire wall.

We hired Josh Shipley for the daunting, exciting project. We asked him to design and paint a mural that would express who we are and hope to become. A mural that would appeal to a wide audience from elementary kids to recovering alcoholics. A mural that wouldn’t be overtly “religious” to respect the school, but would minister to everyone who used the room.

We gave him one theme: peace. If people leave our building knowing nothing else about us, let them know we yearn to pursue peace in our lives and world.

The painting began with a few splashes of color in the upper-right corner. As the painting began, we also began a study of the five mission initiatives and what they mean as we follow Christ into our community. The painting became a metaphor as each week we learned more about who we are called to become.

The image became clearer. We internalized the painting process as our journey to Pursue Peace on Earth—the bold strokes of color, the tedious detail, the time, energy, and creativity it takes to put it all together, and the courage required to try something new.

The mural begins with a tree covered in the glow of a setting or rising sun. Wind catches the tree and carries its leaves into abstract waves of color, embracing dreams of inner and outer peace. Or perhaps, the mural begins in the abstract, and we follow the leaves, the dreams of peace, back to the clearer image. Either way, you can’t help being caught in the movement of peace the mural inspires.

A woman from AA shared: “I can’t think of a better backdrop for these meetings.” Others mentioned the blessing of children being immersed in dreams of peace every day in their school.

When Josh finished, we worshiped in the fellowship hall, allowing the mural to be our focus. We breathed in deeply, recognizing our shared breaths with the people who daily use this space and now will find a blessing in this message of peace. We are more aware of their presence than ever before, more aware of what we share and who we are called to become together.

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