Translating the Bible into the visual

Students create art installation for congregation

Donna Schulz | Saskatchewan Correspondent

A unique art installation graces Rosthern Mennonite Church’s stage these days. Created by the Rosthern Junior College (RJC) worship arts class, it depicts themes found in biblical texts for the six Sundays of the Easter season.

The collaboration of the class and the church began with a conversation between teacher Jill Wiens and Craig Neufeld, Rosthern Mennonite’s pastor. Neufeld says the six-week Easter season gave students “more to chew on” than a single Sunday would have done. And the time frame for this season fit well with RJC’s schedule.

Bev Janzen and Denise Epp, who normally prepare visual elements for the congregation’s worship, did not hesitate to give their job over to the students. Janzen says her first response was, “What a good idea!” Neufeld admits that, for him, “The biggest challenge has been letting go.” But for Janzen, the challenge of letting go has also been the greatest reward. “To trust them and see what they’ve done has been really good,” she says.

Using banners and artwork they created themselves, as well as items found in the church’s storeroom, the students assembled a multi-dimensional display portraying the joy of the season. In an introduction to be printed in the church bulletin, the students wrote, “We worked with an overarching theme of new life, growth and hope symbolized by the sunrise and the flowers bursting through the snow.”

Each item used in the installation speaks to something found in one of the biblical passages the students were given. A grouping of books near the piano reminds viewers of the stories the women told to the disciples, as well as the stories each believer has to tell. A pathway up the centre of the stage represents the Road to Emmaus. Large stones symbolize Christ, the cornerstone in the building of God’s kingdom, while a ladder at the back of the stage represents the role believers play in helping to build God’s kingdom.

Referring to the various elements of the design, Neufeld says, “That’s one of the things I appreciated about these kids, everything has a purpose in the visual.”

Wiens also appreciates her students’ ideas. “I was most proud when they actually came up with this,” she says, adding, “I think they did a good job of speaking to the scriptures. They demonstrated understanding of how to take scripture and translate it into a visual element.”

Neufeld values the collaboration between his church and the school, saying, “It strengthens the partnership between us. It gives the students an opportunity to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.”

While curious as to how his congregation would receive the installation, he says he feels confident the response will be positive.

Worship arts is one of three elective Christian ethics classes offered to students this semester at RJC, the other two being social ethics, and peace and justice studies.

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