The meaning of Advent through art
Over a span of four years, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Atlanta, an ELCA congregation, created a series of prayer weavings that linked its Advent liturgy to the church’s mission in the world. Every Sunday, members were given a blue- or rose-colored strip of fabric on which to write a prayer for the world.
The people were asked to voice the yearnings of the world on these little strips of cloth. There were prayers that the hungry would be fed, that the oppressed would be freed and that peace would come between nations.
There were also prayers for the schools, for teachers, for students and for the neighborhood around the church. There were even prayers for other churches and other faith communities. As the congregation came forward to the altar for communion, they laid the cloths over the communion rail. As more and more people came forward, more and more color was added to the worship space.
It was powerful to see all the colorful strips of cloth coming forward with the congregation. It was as if they were linking the world’s need for healing to our own need for grace. "In a sense, every Sunday in Advent we brought the world to the table with us,” said Bradley Schmeling, pastor of St. John’s. “The strips of cloth represented all the cries that go up in the darkness. The world was with us in the liturgy, and Christ was present to us all.”
After worship, the strips of cloth were gathered and brought to the coffee fellowship hour where people were invited to weave them into a chicken wire frame. Everyone was able to participate, weaving someone else’s prayer into one beautiful expression of love.
“I loved reading the prayers,” said Laura Crawley, a member of the congregation, “because it made me feel like they became my prayers, too. When I touched those strips of cloth, I touched the suffering in the world. That’s really what we’re called to do as Christian people.”
After the coffee hour, the woven prayers were carried back to the sanctuary and hung as a piece of art. As the four weeks of Advent moved toward Christmas, the prayer weaving grew and moved the congregation toward the celebration of Christ’s incarnation. After four years, the congregation now has four beautiful pieces of art that represent this blessed season.
“Seeing those panels every year makes me pray again for the needs of the world. It’s so easy to get busy with life and get caught up in my own struggles. The prayer weaving helps me to connect with those who suffer that I don’t encounter every day in my life,” said Myrna Lance, who is office administrator for the congregation. “They remind me that we really are a sent people.”