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Outdoor Advent Calendar

Advent calendars aren’t just for chocolate! For Advent one year, we jumped into the Advent Conspiracy and explored what it looked like to worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. Our church is located at a busy intersection that sees thousands and thousands of cars a day. So we decided to capitalize on that with an outdoor Advent calendar.

(Aside: Don’t neglect your outdoor space, creative church! It’s a great way to get noticed, be playful, and use your collective voice for the Kingdom of God. Push yourselves to think beyond the church sign. In fact, outdoor art is a great way to get away from the church sign debate if that is an issue in your congregation.)

We used doors (got them from the local Habitat ReStore). One for each week. We attached a plywood panel to the back of each door, painted our desired image/message on the plywood, and opened 1 door each Sunday. There’s no end or limit to what you paint or say, what style of art you use, or who can help create this. In fact, one of our members came to help on painting day, and it just so happened that her brother was in town and he was actually a graffiti artist! Come on, Holy Spirit!

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Things to think about ahead of time:

How to get your doors to stand up: lots of options like a frame, a support, anchors…

Type of paint to use on the material of your doors, and a sealant since they will be outdoors for a month or so.

 

What to do with the doors after Christmas. There are SO MANY uses for cool doors in worship, prayer rooms, youth rooms, hallway message boards…

Come, Follow Me…

A Cloud of Witnesses

For All Saints Sunday one year, we asked people to bring in homemade Saint cards. Saint cards aren’t an official tradition you’ve never heard of. We made it up!

On the preceding Sunday, the church was asked to think about the Saints in their own lives- the people who had an impact on their lives and faith in significant ways. They could be people they knew or know, historical figures, anyone really that had meant something to them on their walk with God. We asked them to choose pictures or write the names of their saints on index-sized cards and bring them to worship. Creativity was encouraged.

During the week, I hung string between the windows along the sides of our sanctuary and filled the string with clothespins. (Our pastor called it “Holy Clothesline”) Early in the worship service on All Saints Sunday, we invited folks to hang their cards up. We had blank cards available for those who missed the message last week or just forgot. I also used this as an opportunity the week before to talk about Saints with the kids in our afterschool program. They made their own cards and we made a special trip into the sanctuary to hang their Saint cards up. This served double duty, both as a chance to share some Gospel with these kids and to help fill up the Holy Clothesline.

You could display your congregation’s Saint cards any way that works for you, but what was particularly neat about our set-up was that once the cards were up, we were literally surrounded by our own great cloud of witnesses.

Collaborative Murals Aren’t That Hard… Really

DISCLAIMER: I am not a “painter”. I don’t know color theory. I don’t know (yet) which paint brush is appropriate for which type of paint. Working with canvas is a whole new world to me. If I can guide people in creating something like this, you can too!

My congregation created this 4 foot by 8 foot mural for Advent this year. Our Advent theme was “I Will Sing” and we invited the congregation to think of why they still sing in the midst of it all, and to claim their God-given song. I wanted to create a large community art piece that fit the theme but could be hung year-round (so, not super Christmasy). I came up with the broad design of the words we sing to the world flowing out across the painting and the colors moving from dark to light.

The mural is made of 4 separate canvases, using acrylic paint, paint pens, and metal letters of the Hobby Lobby variety. I set out the canvases and paint in the fellowship hall (our gathering spot) and invited people to pick up a brush before and after worship while they were chatting and drinking coffee. Some people (kids especially! They are great for leading others into creative adventures) dove right in. Others needed some convincing. Still others didn’t want to participate and that’s totally ok. This was a very open ended project, but even with open ended art, some guidelines are useful when working with groups. (see below)

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My guidelines:

  • I drew the shape that would contain their words before painting day. I explained that only words could be written within those lines, and the surrounding area is where they could paint.
  • I asked everyone to sum up the song God gave them in one word, and write that word, using a paint pen, somewhere within the lines.
  • I pre-selected a color pallet for each panel and asked folks to use only those colors on that panel.
  • As for WHAT to paint, I simply asked people to think abstract as opposed to particular pictures. Think lines and shapes… we still ended up with some flowers, but they are really beautiful.

That’s it! Those were the only “rules” I gave them and this is what they created. I was blown away!

If you have some people in your congregation who like to paint or draw, it’s good to bring them in as helpers. They can encourage the people who don’t know they are artists yet, and redirect the 3 year old about to dump the red paint on the green panel. Inevitably, someone won’t follow directions. That’s ok! Everything is fixable or workable. I had to paint over and redo a misspelling and do some color touch-ups later. It’s more important that people feel welcome to join in and create something together than for them to get things right.

Come to think of it, that’s a great approach to church in general…

Old hymnals? Make them new again.

Lots of churches have old hymnals lying around. Nobody really wants them but everyone feels a little guilty throwing them out. Maybe they aren’t as useful for Sunday mornings anymore, but old hymnbooks are still full of beauty. Theological truths, historical connections, familiar songs that trigger old memories and feelings… plus, the pages themselves can become a canvas!

You can watercolor paint right onto the pages and still see the music beneath it! My daughter (pictured) and I used this as a nightly devotional for a while. Our goal was to paint a page together every day, and while we painted, we talked about the words in the song or sang it if we new it. My then 1 year old son even joined us sometimes. Anyone can paint with watercolors!

This makes a great retreat activity too! Have folks pick a hymn that is meaningful to them, let them make it beautiful anyway they choose, share it and send it home with them. Sunday School or Afterschool children enjoy this activity as well. Just be prepared- hymn lyrics can inspire some big theological questions from kids.

(If this connects with you or someone in your congregation, make sure you check out the world of Bible Journaling. Amazing!)

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