Letting in the light for Lent, Easter

Published 9:08 am Sunday, April 9, 2023

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By Marina Shankle, for the SNAP

Visitors to First United Methodist Church in Norwood for Lent and Easter probably noticed something special about the church’s windows.
Pastor Mark Barden, who has led the church since July 2021, decorated the windows with a series of installation artwork celebrating Lent and Easter.

“In 2015, when I was working on a Doctorate in Arts and Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., I became infatuated with the utilization of installation art in worship settings,” Barden said.

From then on, Barden has experimented with creating artwork to bring Lent and Holy Week alive.

“As I prepared for Lent, I began to visualize windows in the worship setting covered in black with symbols from Lent and Holy Week cut out, allowing the light from the outside to filter into the room,” Barden said. “I’ve adapted the concept to each space of the churches I’ve served based upon the type of window.”

Barden uses black bulletin board paper and projects the image he wants to display on the window on the paper to trace it. He then cuts out the image with a razor knife and next folds the top edge over and tapes it down to create a pocket for hanging the artwork on a curtain rod in the window frame. He designs images representing aspects of Lent and Holy Week to hang in windows around the church.

The first time Barden created this type of art installation, he pastored a church in Elkin.

“It had three tall windows with panes of clear hand-blown glass. I thought of each pane as a piece of a puzzle,” he said. “Each week during Lent, I would add pieces with parts of the symbol cut out until the entire window was filled, revealing the symbol cut out on a black background. It was interesting to hear worshippers trying to guess what symbols the window would reveal when all the panes were filled.”

Stained glass windows at his current and previous churches added an extra challenge to creating these art installations.

“I adapted it by using a single background covering the entire window with cut-outs for each symbol. The stained glass provided a unique fill for the symbols with its various colors of glass,” Barden said. “After gathering all the materials, it took on the average of three to four hours to complete each window. This year, I had 14 windows, which were completed during the entire Lenten season.”

The window symbols at FUMC included palm branches transitioning into ashes for Ash Wednesday; a cross, a towel and basin representing Jesus washing the disciples’ feet; bread and a cup for the Last Supper; Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane; a Roman whip, the crown of thorns and nails; Jesus carrying the cross; Jesus crucified between two thieves; a Roman soldier; and a tomb sealed with a rock.

“With Lent as a penitential season providing a time for reflection,  contemplation of our mortality and acknowledgement of our sin, darkness seemed to be an important element for the worship setting,” Barden said. “So starting with Ash Wednesday and on each subsequent Sunday in Lent, windows were covered weekly by black paper with symbols cut out of it. This gradual darkening of the worship space throughout Lent created a foreboding sense of mystery as Jesus’ crucifixion approached. By Holy Week, worshippers noticed a considerable difference in the lighting level adding to their worship experience during Lent.”

On Easter Sunday, the covers were removed, with the return of light symbolizing the light of Jesus’ resurrection.

Barden said that the process of creating this artwork brings him a sense of joy and that the act of creating art is as important as or even more important than the completed artwork itself.

“I believe the creation of art is a spiritual discipline in which the Holy Spirit draws us into the presence and deepens our relationship with God who created us,” he said. “Over the centuries, we Protestants especially have lost a sense of the value of spirituality in art. Lost is the sense of spirituality and connection with God that was experienced by Christians long ago creating the icons we admire today. Creating and approaching art can be a spiritual endeavor and interaction between God and humans. Art can be a window into the spiritual realm that is transformative for one’s life.”

Barden said he is especially joyful when he sees others draw closer to God and learn more about God and themselves as they experience his artwork.