I watched two videos on the making of Christ the Light – both are telling.
The first shows us the function of a church to a community. As one of those people without medical insurance, I was so very impressed by the care extended to those like me.
The second video explores the complexity of thought that went into the making of the cathedral architecture, shared by the architect himself.
It is such a high calling, if not the highest ambition in creative design—to create something that expresses the theology of God, in this case in wood, glass, and concrete. I would consider this the highest occupation as an artist, an effort in creation to honor that which is and He who has graced us with His Mercy and His Poetry.
I often advocate for the importance of a church saving its money in order to afford the commission of a master artist.
A church symbolizes the synthesis of all that is human and all that is holy in the Spirit. The only true choice, for me, is to create something beautiful and unique, expressing the love of The Master in image and symbol, evocative, thoughtful, profound, layered. As a created space it amalgamates the intellect, the spirit, the physical, and the emotional in tangible deed. Serving that is the highest call, the greatest honor in the creative field.
Plug into that space a church of people actively serving their community in love and care… imagine it. It begins with the people.
I photographed eight out of more than 1600 churches in Memphis. There were only eight that I could find with the kind of art I describe. (I’m sure there were a few more, but it’s worth noting that when I described my project to the people of Memphis, many made it a game to name them – and they always guessed the right eight on their first try.
Inside St. John Episcopal Church are murals by a famous artist, John Henry DeRosen. A Pole and second-generation muralist, DeRosen escaped from Nazi terrorized Europe. He eventually made a name for himself with his unique style in religious murals. His Large Christ dominates the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.
St. John’s Episcopal of Memphis commissioned DeRosen in 1951, and it took him two years to paint the eight murals within St. John’s. It was expensive, yet this church felt like it was money well spent to commission a master.
Art can tell the story beyond words; it can launch the imagination, fix the memory, and start conversations.