Beauty from her hands

Stories
10/06/2011

Beauty from her hands 
Deena Shupe, a potter in Wisconsin,
created 35 communion ware sets that
were used at the 2011 Churchwide Assembly.

It's about the same size, shape and age as Manhattan, according to James Kasperson, a retired ELCA pastor. That's how he describes Madeline Island, Wis., his home.

Accessible by a 20-minute ferry ride and known for its sandy beaches and wooded trails, Madeline Island is a popular tourist destination. It's the only island open for commercial development of the 22 islands that make up the Apostle Island chain on Lake Superior, off the shores of Bayfield, Wis.

Madeline Island took on special significance for the ELCA this year. The 35 sets of communion ware used in worship services at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly were handcrafted at Woods Hall, James' studio and gallery on the island.

He says it took local potter Deena Shupe two months to make all 35 communion sets. Each piece is made of stoneware with oatmeal glaze accented by bands of red, green and blue shades. Each set includes a chalice (cup) with a large stable base, matching flagon (pitcher), paten (plate) and anointing bowl.

Deena has lived on Madeline Island for the past nine years. She uses the island as her inspiration for making "earthy" pottery.

The communion sets added elegance to worship at the Churchwide Assembly. Each set was made available for purchase after the assembly, with the exception of three.

A gift expressing solidarity

In a special presentation during the Churchwide Assembly, Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, invited bishops of three synods to come forward. On behalf of the assembly, he presented each bishop a communion ware set.

"Every time these communion vessels are used, may they remind you of the unity we share in Christ Jesus, of the centrality of worship in the life of this church, and of the ongoing support of your brothers and sisters in Christ," Hanson told the bishops.

The gifts were made to acknowledge the solidarity among ELCA members in times of crisis. The bishops serve synods whose congregations have been heavily impacted by natural disasters this year.

Bishops receiving the communion ware were Mark Narum of the ELCA Western North Dakota Synod, Bismarck, N.D.; Julian Gordy of the ELCA Southeastern Synod, Atlanta; and Gerald Mansholt of the ELCA Central States Synod, Kansas City, Kan.

Tornadoes destroyed the property of Christ Lutheran Church in Cullman, Ala., and Peace Lutheran Church in Joplin, Mo.

Four church properties in and surrounding Minot, N.D., were heavily damaged by flooding: Peace Lutheran Church in Burlington and Augustana Lutheran Church, Christ Lutheran Church and First Lutheran Church in Minot.

Narum says pastors in his synod used the communion ware a week later in a special Holy Communion service on August 24 at Augustana Lutheran. The church property sustained heavy damage from floodwater.

Members of Augustana "have completely gutted the upstairs of their facility including the sanctuary, offices and fellowship areas. The entire upstairs has been stripped down to concrete, brick and cinder block," Narum says, adding that the only item remaining in the sanctuary today besides the eternal flame is the stone altar. It's uncertain when the congregation can rebuild the church facility.

The benefit of partnerships

Woods Hall Craft Shop, where the communion sets were made, is a ministry of St. John's Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ on Madeline Island. The ELCA and United Church of Christ are full communion partners. James' wife, Marina Lachecki, serves as pastor of St. John's.

Full communion is not a merger between two churches but rather a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith, a mutual recognition of baptism and sharing of the Lord's Supper. The ELCA has six full communion partners.

For more than 50 years, the craft shop and studio has served "as a way to offer residents on the island something to do during the winter months and, more importantly, offer an income stream to help sustain them," says James, who helped put together the initial proposal for the ministry.

"There are only 300 residents on the island during winter," he says. The population swells to nearly 3,000 people in the summer.

"The studio is open year round, and we offer a variety of craft classes to residents and visitors, anything from weaving to pottery and much more," says James, who is a weaver.

For James, Woods Hall not only nurtures relationships and builds community, it's also a place that celebrates the joy of creating for others -- something he takes great pride in, especially this summer during the Churchwide Assembly.

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