Broken Pieces

Who knew being a pastor would be so fun?

I just returned from a trip to New Orleans with Calvary member Caroline Armijo. Sometime last year, Saint Charles Avenue Baptist Church asked me to come and lead a retreat for their women’s group. I agreed because I love that church (I used to be an associate pastor there) and those people in particular, and I really love New Orleans.

The group graciously gave me total freedom to choose a topic, and since Saint Charles recently has begun the process of looking for a new pastor, I thought it would be a lot of fun to talk about one of my favorite topics: the dream of the church.

I worked on a retreat program I called: Becoming the Beloved Community. As I thought more and more about what we’d do together, I kept thinking how fun it would be to make a mosaic.

I loved the idea of broken pieces formed into a beautiful whole, but-really-what do I know about making a mosaic? Or, anything else art-related, for that matter?

Who else to call, then, but Calvary member and the person who keeps telling me I CAN be creative if I just let go a little: Caroline?

I called her for advice and our ideas grew.  In the end, Caroline and I went to New Orleans together for three days, and co-led the retreat. It was a powerful and wonderful experience, more fun than work should ever be: I got to talk about my favorite topic; watch a Calvary member use her gifts in new ways; dream with my New Orleans friends about their hopes for the future; and learn to be just a little more creative.

I interviewed Caroline about her experience after we got home. Here are some of her thoughts:

How would you describe the relationship between creativity and spirituality?

Creativity and art help us find quiet moments in our lives and be present. If you approach creativity as being about the process and not the product, you will be surprised by the results. Art is a safe place to completely let go. It is a form of worship that reveals many things to us. Just like a personal spiritual journey, creativity can be very challenging. Art has the power to bring us healing, joy, peace, understanding and fulfillment. It also presents the opportunity to share and grow with one another, as individuals, the community and the world.

What practical ways have you found to intersect the two in your own life?

For me it is an opportunity to be present and work with my hands, and then be surprised by the outcome. If I don’t learn something or surprise myself, the piece is probably not finished nor very successful. Through my art, I find answers to struggles, resolve issues, and/or celebrate when I create something that is pleasing. For me it is a nice way to share what I am feeling. I am deeply spiritual and introspective, but I only really share that side of myself with a few people. But I love showing people what I made. I never lost the little girl in me who brings home what I made from school that day.

What parts of this retreat made leading it attractive to you?

I have taught many workshops in the past but they were primarily based on finished products without a lot of room for creativity. I always make room for that in those workshops, but it is not the primary focus. I am very interested in helping people find their accessibility point with creativity. Plus by being a retreat for a congregation, I was able to directly relate creativity and spirituality throughout the weekend. It seemed like a great fit. Plus, I love Amy, good food and traveling. It was my first trip to New Orleans. I could not say no.

What process did you and Pastor Amy go through to plan the activities and sessions?

Amy came to me with the idea of creating a mosaic. My expertise is in the area of paper, but I am a multi-media artist and I am open to anything. I began by researching about mosaics before our first planning session. I called my cousin, who has made tons of mosaics in all different formats. I looked up techniques, various designs other churches had created, and I read the Biblical passage that was the basis for the retreat. We met and outlined the event. We talked about how the session would go and planned the handout booklet. I created a simple design that I had in mind for the final piece. We went shopping for materials to take with us – just to make sure that we had enough on hand. I made a sample mosaic to refresh my memory of creating mosaics in a college art class. Once we arrived in New Orleans, we broke a ton of plates. Then we sat down with the booklet to discuss who would lead what through each session. I drew the pattern on the board and wrote the retreat information on the back of the wooden piece. After we arrived at the retreat, we would check in at some point between sessions and say, “I think that we should do this or this instead.” There was a lot of flexibility in the process, which I really enjoy.

What are the mechanics of making a mosaic? What elements of the process contributed to the group’s spiritual reflection?

Have a general idea.
The process begins with creating a general idea or literally an outline of the design. You need to have some sort of vision of where you want to go with the process. The idea was a general call to do something, but I think that we all shared the feeling that we didn’t fully know how it was going to look in the end. There was an element of uncertainty, but eagerness that kept us moving forward.

Gather the appropriate materials.
We bought several plates from Goodwill, which we broke prior to the retreat. If the retreat were longer, the group breaking the plates would have been a powerful activity. There is a lot of religious symbolism in taking something broken and making it whole again. Or in this case, taken something cast off, such as an old plate from a thrift shop and repurposing it. A member was shocked that we would break a decorative plate with such a pretty pattern. But the beauty of the project is that she will see those flowers a lot more as part of the mosaic. It is a great symbol of renewal.

Remain flexible.
I changed the design once I saw the materials, which made the piece more meaningful. Originally, I planned to have a marble for each person, but that would have been too much for the size of the board. During the second session, I took notes of the stories being shared by the women of St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church. Some themes popped up. I added a list of words to the board. A group of women discussed the words and coalesced them down into seven, which became the representation of the seven words.

Break the process down into steps.
Once we began the project, there was no way that all thirty women could gather around and glue down a mosaic on a 16″ wooden board. Although I should have been more precise in the different roles, we organically broke up into groups and started with various tasks.

Pick a task.
Some people reviewed the words for the marbles I wrote on the board and created a statement of intent. Others started gathering the dark blue pieces that made up the area surrounding the cross. A group started planning out the cross using the paper pattern I had created. A couple nipped tiles and hammered away big pieces to make them fit. And some just got to gluing immediately. It was a nice experience of people finding their roles in the project and working together. I was like the mid-wife moving around to see how things were going. I spent a lot of time with gluing the project myself. I did get my hands dirty, but I tried to be mindful of letting others work.

Edit and make changes if necessary.
As we began filling the entire mosaic with pieces, we began to realize that the cross needed more contrast with the surrounding dark blue tiles. We began to look at the pieces we had and make changes for a more defined border. This editing process made the cross much more defined. If we had left it as originally intended, the cross would have been a little muddled and hard to see. Contrasting edges are important to make the final piece stronger.

Have a little patience.
We let the adhesive rest over night and decided to grout in the morning after the worship service. During the process, we discovered that a couple of the tiles were loose. We worked together to glue them down and find a better fitting piece if necessary. As we worked the grout, I began to worry that it might be overworked. So we decided to allow it to dry during our drive home. Later that night, Carol, Amy and I worked together to clean off the grout and discover the finished piece. I wish that we revealed the final mosaic as part of the group, but it was time for me to return to DC.

What part of the retreat experience did you find most meaningful?

The final worship service in the chapel – I loved the aesthetics of the physical space. The worship service felt somewhat impromptu but perfect and meaningful, with all of the elements traditional worship elements – music, sermon, prayer and communion. It felt a lot like a small, bare bones wedding. The simplest ceremonies are often the sweetest. Plus it was nice to see our mosaic on display as part of the communion and share the statement of intent for St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church with the group of women.

Would you ever make a mosaic again?

Yes, definitely. I came home and pulled out the sample that I made prior to the trip. I can’t wait to grout it.

I often start with an idea or feeling and then pick my materials based on what I think will best represent it or express it. I think that the retreat experience will help get mosaics back into the rotation. Plus, now I will actually use those broken pieces of keepsakes I have been saving.

How do you think we can be more creative here at Calvary?

I think that there are a lot of creative opportunities available at Calvary. I am excited about the liturgical art we are featuring in the upcoming ten services, coined “Telling Stories.” But I would love to see a working liturgical arts center in Calvary. Maybe that takes the form of a dedicated space, inviting in liturgical artists for presentations, various art exhibitions, small groups and workshops exploring creativity and spirituality, and more. There is a large movement to create DC as a cultural capital. I believe that we can be part of that with our appreciation for music and the arts as part of our worship services and outreach activities. A lot of these activities are already happening at Calvary with the excellent music program, Theatre Lab and our other partners. I think that it would just take a little effort to create an intentional movement and then bring it to the attention of others.

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About Amy

Senior Pastor, The Riverside Church, New York
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