Several years ago as part of a renovation of our sanctuary, stained glass windows were installed. As the sun makes its “pilgrimage” across the sky each day, vibrant rainbows of color journey across our worship space. Our sanctuary is modest by many standards, but those colors! The space itself becomes magical, holy when the colors make their trek across the room.. One person was so inspired by the colors she said, “I hope to die in the sanctuary when the colors are shining brightly.”
I was so inspired by the colors that I asked one of the crafty people in the congregation if we might create a mosaic cross. “Sure!” she said. We talked about something small, perhaps to place on the communion table. “Just get some plexiglass, some mosaic tiles or colored glass, and E-6000 glue. For the plexiglass, you’ll need someone with a circular saw.”
I talked to a church member who I knew had a circular saw. (I later learned he has two circular saws. J) As we talked about size, the cross grew from 2 feet to 6 feet. Bill purchased a couple of pieces of acrylic, cut and glued, and set the resulting cross on a folding table in the front of the sanctuary.
For my part, I bought a few packs of sea glass and a tube of E-6000 glue from Michael’s, set them on the table, and wrote a sermon for the first Sunday of Lent that ended with the line, “Bring your brokenness to the cross.”
After that first service, I knew the project had captured congregants’ imaginations. The seriousness with which they processed to the cross, shared glue, and placed the bits of glass on the cross…it was holy.
The experience was holy, but the cross didn’t stand up too well. Bill worried that, once we installed the cross, it might break. So he went back to the store and bought a thicker sheet of acrylic, cut it, set it on the table in the sanctuary, and glued new pieces of sea glass into the approximate places congregants had placed them the Sunday before.
With each passing week, congregants began taking ownership of the cross. After each sermon, when invited to “bring their brokenness to the cross,” they came forward in great reverence and focus.
After the third week, another church member came to me and said he had an engraver. “Maybe we can engrave names on the glass.” Beginning the fourth week, we invited people to write on slips of paper names, words, and phrases they’d like to be engraved on the glass.
By week 5 of Lent, we knew something special was happening.
Then came week 6—Palm Sunday. Each week leading up to Palm Sunday, I warned people only to put one piece of glass on the cross. I didn’t want us to run out of space on the cross before the last Sunday. So, in the invitation to “bring your brokenness to the cross” on Palm Sunday, I joyfully gave permission for folks to fill up all the spaces.
A member raised his hand….which, for a pastor, is a little unnerving in the midst of a worship service. But he did raise it politely. “Yes, Ric?”
“I’m wondering if we really want to fill up all the spaces.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Well, don’t we worship the still-speaking God? Don’t we talk all the time about staying open to what God might be doing in our midst?”
I stood there stunned for a minute. Had my sermon just been hijacked? With a more sound theology? Um, yes. Sometimes sermons come from the pulpit; other times they’re delivered to the pulpit.
So, we left blank spaces, or in artistic terms, “negative space” between the glass pieces. After a year of looking at the cross, I realize just how right Ric was. The glass speaks volumes… the spaces speak even more loudly sometimes.
Ric also is the person who thought of back-lighting the cross. The string of LED lights—and the dimmer switch Bill installed—add a whole other layer of beauty to the cross.
So, that’s the story of the mosaic cross at Pilgrimage United Church of Christ. When asked “Whose idea was that?” I always say, “The community’s.” Then I tell the story. No one envisioned the cross as it now stands. The cross as it now stands grew out of an open collaboration of congregants. Because everyone remained open to the process, open to God’s spirit, and open to each other, creative ideas were able to emerge. To date, it’s the most profoundly communal experience I’ve ever had as a pastor. I continue to be humbled by the project.
A picture of the cross in process from last year popped up in my FB feed a few days ago. A couple of people commented on. Here’s what they said:
*“I am not sure we will ever come up with another idea that was as meaningful as this one was. Every week it brings me a sense of community and peace.”
*“Every time I look at that cross I fondly think of my deceased sister who is no longer suffering.”
*“When I see ‘our cross,’ I think of each person adding a piece of glass, and that they were probably thinking of someone special to them, or perhaps themselves, and I believe the whole finished product is infused with the gamut of human emotion. It’s the most beautiful cross I’ve ever seen.”
Amen and amen.