Banners help Central Plains churches talk peace
Peace and justice group offers traveling art, worship materials to spark discussion
The Freeman (S.D.) Network for Justice and Peace is using art to help churches across Central Plains Conference of Mennonite Church USA talk about peace.
The group enlisted Michelle Hofer, artist in residence at Hutterthal Mennonite Church in Freeman, to design two three-dimensional banners to travel between churches, organizations schools or camps.
Todd Jones, pastor of Hutterthal Mennonite and a member of the network, said the project began for use in area congregations the group represents.
“Once it got going, we thought, ‘Let’s not keep this to ourselves,’ ” he said.
The group chose sermons, meditations, songs and Scripture readings to guide churches as they host the banners. They have made their way to eight churches, including one outside of Central Plains Conference, in Iowa.
Jones said the project was a big undertaking — including grant writing and fundraising — but also rewarding. It gave the group renewed energy and a new sense of purpose.
“For that reason alone it’s been an incredible blessing, well worth the time and energy,” he said.
Talk, act, change
Throughout its existence, the Freeman Network for Justice and Peace has had many conversations about the difficult task of helping congregations use a Christ-centered perspective on peace and justice to talk, act and maybe even change.
Finally last fall, Jones said, they asked: “What if we provided some kind of visual for churches that then they could not only lay eyes on but talk over, talk through?”
They enlisted Hofer’s help early on, and she took to the idea, listening to the themes and scriptures they wanted to include and ruminating on them.
“I kind of thought, how am I going to include all of this?” she said.
But as she wrote in her artist’s statement: “I woke one morning with a clear vision of a grand satin-velvety lion, and I recognized it as direction given by the Spirit.”
One scripture the group suggested was Isaiah 11, which presents an idea of what a community of peace looks like.
Hofer has always been drawn to the “peaceable kingdom” paintings by Edward Hicks, a Quaker icon. She used them as inspiration.
“It exploded from there,” Jones said.
The banners are made mostly of adhesive fabric pieces cut out, pieced and ironed together to depict the animals of Isaiah, a lamb and lion together, with a child in the lead.
“That image really resonated with us,” Jones said. “We felt like there was a lot of space in there to ask, ‘What does that mean, and what does that look like today?’ ”
Hofer said she often thinks of her art as metaphors.
“This one is very metaphoric,” she said. “Different animals eating together very much ties to how we relate to each other and get along with our neighbors and those we have difficulty relating to.”
It was a bigger task than she anticipated, and she enlisted the members of the network, as well as her two daughters, to help cut out pieces.
“It was a good reminder of how hands-on justice and peace are,” Jones said. “These are not just ideologies.”
The network and Hofer wrestled with the whole chapter, including some violent imagery.
“How do we reconcile some of that as we work toward this peaceable kingdom?” Jones said.
They included those discussion topics in the guidelines and resource materials they provide to each church that hosts the banners.
“We realized early on that what would a church do with [the banners] without a little bit of help,” he said.
Hofer said they included phrases from Isaiah 52:7 to encourage people to dig deeper on their own. And “Psalm 34:11-14” is written on a rock in the image.
The project is self-sustaining at this point, with no cost to participants.
“We want them to be able to sit with them and enjoy them and hopefully wrestle with them and what it means to be a just peace church,” Jones said.
The project was launched at the Central Plains annual conference in June.
Jones said the project will continue as long as churches are finding it useful.
“I would love to see them be presented in every Central Plains congregation,” Jones said. “That would be amazing.”
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