New Mission Mural Depicts Spirit of Methodism
Artwork by Lisa Katzenstein
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By Elliott Wright
A new mural depicting the spirit of Methodist mission was previewed in mid-April at the semi-annual meeting of directors of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
The as-yet unfinished work by staff member Lisa Katzenstein shows the global reach of the inclusive Methodist theology from John Wesley in 18th-century England into the present. It points toward the future with a reminder that tomorrow depends on decisions made today.
The 4-foot-by-6-foot mural has been months in preparation. Four quadrants are divided by the figure of the cross. The story line begins in the upper left corner with Wesley passing the Bible to successive generations. It moves counterclockwise through various cultures and historical eras, coming in the lower right corner to a saddle and saddlebags, emblematic of the continuing call to carry the word of God. It then moves directly upward to a pregnant figure representing the future modern United Methodists will define.
The plans for the mural developed in response to a request from Global Ministries’ chief executive Thomas Kemper for a painting reflecting the theme “In Dialogue with Wesley to be Relevant in Mission Today.”
Katzenstein said consultations with many people helped shape the work. “The very act of collecting brings both the richness of dialogue and varied ideas,” she said, “and, at the same time, it reflects the very collective messiness that lives in the words ‘God’s mission’.” She added that it is a “journey of finding that social justice is inseparable from the Gospel.”
Combining acrylic paint, objects, and fabric and paper appliques, the mural explores themes such as hearing and doing the word of God, the migration of people, mission in all parts of the world, abundance versus need and self-giving in witness and martyrdom.
“Each person who will be confronted by this work will see something different,” said the Rev. Robert J. Williams, chief historian of The United Methodist Church, during the April 11 preview. “It blends the past and present, but the viewer must help to embrace the possibilities of the future.” Williams, general secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History, consulted with Katzenstein as she conceptualized and designed the mural.
Katzenstein is the scholarship and leadership development executive for the Board of Global Ministries, where she has worked for 10 years. Colleagues note the settings combining objects and cloth that she designs for various worship services. The artist is Jewish in background. Through her experiences at Global Ministries, she said she has come to understand and appreciate the Methodist heritage of love, hospitality and inclusiveness.
“The intent of the mural is to express the different aspects of mission and ministry today,” the artist said. “It is to describe the connection and work of the Methodist movement over 250 years — work that has as a fundamental goal the transformation of lives and conditions of people across the globe.”
The first arrangement of figures in the mural sets the tone of openness and gender/ethnic inclusiveness. In it, Wesley hands the Bible to Phoebe Palmer, an 18th-century American evangelist in the Wesleyan holiness movement. Palmer hands the Scripture to an African woman, who passes it on to an Asian man, who then extends the Bible in multiple languages to a great crowd.
A panel on migration focuses on border ministry in the American Southwest. It shows a person who has come north across the Rio Grande, being consoled by the washing of his feet.
The abundance or overabundance of Western culture shows in a bountiful take protected by military forces. Another panel contains mission images from Latin America, Africa and Asia dealing with community health, education and agriculture.
Several parts of the mural are still to be completed or added.
Six portraits, including four modern Christian witnesses who became martyrs are sketched but not painted. The sketches portray Nelson Mandela, a major opponent of apartheid in South Africa; Rosa Parks, a U.S. civil rights leader; Archbishop Oscar Romero, slain in El Salvador 33 years ago; Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the non-violent Indian patriot; Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani girls’ education activist, who attacked and severely injured for her efforts; and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an Albanian nun who served the poor in India.
Also to be added are fabric swatches and paper memorabilia from actual mission locations and Methodist history. Archives and History has donated a page from a 19th-century Methodist hymnal (of which many copies exist). Missionaries and mission projects around the world are being asked to send elements to fill several dozen spaces on the central cross. Brass leaves will be added around the Tree of Life to be inscribed with messages offered by mission partners.