Last night, I met with Pastor Amy Kienzle at Lutheran Church of the Messiah (129 Russell St) mid installation of an art show that opens tonight at 7pm. For all you heathens, today is also Ash Wednesday.
The show titled Via Delorosa: Meditation on Mortality is a “sacred exhibit” – a take on The Stations of the Cross, which are different scenes of Jesus’ crucifixion from his arrest and conviction through his entombment.
Half of the show takes place at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Williamsburg (334 So. 5th St) and was co-curated by the Pastor there – Ben McKelahan, along with Pastor Amy and Baxter Alexander – a local musician and artist.
As “redevelopment Pastor,” whose challenge is to “lead a visioning” of the church to figure out ways to grow and connect with the community, Pastor Ann has a big job to do. She is also the Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church on Milton St, also a very large church relative to its average Sunday service attendance of 20. Average attendance at the Messiah church on Russell St, where the exhibit takes place, is just 9 churchgoers.
Along with the Winter McGolrick Park Farmers Market, this art show is one of the many ways Pastor Amy is trying to open up the doors of the church. She said it’s important the church supports things that are important to the community, like art and local food. Another idea she mentioned is a “dinner church” – a Sunday evening service that is based on an ancient and fuller eucharistic meal or agape feast using food from Sunday’s farmers market.
When inviting artists to participate in this particular show, rather than literal depictions of the stations, the curators asked they pick out more universal or secular themes, like shame or agony, so viewers of all faiths or none can participate. Many of the artworks are presented within a makeshift alter and invite viewers to take off their shoes and sit beside the piece in order to have a more interactive experience.
One of the most striking pieces in the show is a large sculpture by Andrew Jordan – a glowing Venus of Villendorf made of clear packing tape and set on a cardboard pedestal. Pastor Amy thumbed through a Bible to read to me Luke 23, verse 27-31 the station when “Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem”:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Perhaps a metaphor on church attendance, this piece brings attention to the fact that Lutheran Church of the Messiah is still open, explained Pastor Amy.
I appreciated how sincerely involved Pastor Amy was in the organization and conception of the show. She took a generous amount of time to walk me through each station and shared a deep understanding of each piece, clearly having deliberated with each participating artist.
Self-described artist, writer and activist Betty T. Kao invited me to the red carpeted church alter where she meticulously layed out a collection of photos of a performance piece she had completed the night before in the Butoh method, which she explained is a “gut wrenching” Japanese performance art form that began there after World War II.
Her images joined to form a cross depict the “Kiss of Betrayal” starring show curator Baxter as a glittery gold Jesus with Betty herself passionately delivering the deathly kiss.
The piece that I personally connected with most was the last station –
“Jesus Laid in the Tomb” by artist Rochelle Voylez. The installation is under a staircase in a chapel-like nook in the back of the church. A series of bottles hang by strings, each containing a prayer or devotion. Underneath, a white cloth is stretched and the installation is solemnly side lit by a stained glass window. As I sat in a church pew before the piece I was struck by a real sense of serenity and maybe a little awe, an “aha” moment of this is what church is supposed to feel like. I want to go back and sit longer with that particular piece.
Via Dolorosa: Meditation on Mortality opens tonight March 5, 2014 at 7pm at Lutheran Church of the Messiah with light refreshments and conversations with the artists. To follow at 8pm is a Service of Sacred Music including Gregorian chanting along with the Imposition of Ashes.
The show runs until April 18th, and will close with a procession from Messiah Church to St. Paul’s where the closing reception will take place.
Visiting Hours for Viewing, Prayer and Meditation
@Messiah (129 Russell St)
Sundays 11am-2pm & Wednesdays 6-8pm
@St. Paul’s, Williamsburg (334 S. 5th St.)
Tuesdays 1-5pm & Saturdays 1-4pm