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Brain of an artist, heart of a pastor

Sanctified Art founder helps congregations ‘visually proclaim’ the Word.

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

TUCSON, Ariz. – Lisle Gwynn Garrity has the “great privilege” of being both an artist and a minister. In her work as founder and creative director of Sanctified Art, Gwynn Garrity leads art retreats and does live paintings during worship at congregations around the country.

“Creativity and the creative process helps us open ourselves to work with the Spirit to push beyond fear, doubt and uncertainty, to work together,” Gwynn Garrity said. “The retreats are really about bringing people together to explore that.”

Recently, St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, invited Gwynn Garrity to conduct a weekend retreat to help their Sanctuary Arts team create banners for the Lenten Season. Those who attended the retreat were given pastels, fabric, glue and paint, and then encouraged, as artists and non-artists, to work together.

“One person would start something, and then you had to move two chairs down to look at what someone else had started,” Lee Gustus said, “and then add to it.”

“Wow that was hard,” Sue Pratley added, “trying to make sure we visualized our scripture theme of the light, the dark, the mountain, the bursting forth of the Lord, wondering how we should use the fabric, or whether we should paint over it.”

Those participating in the retreat say the process of creating art together helped teach them how to share creative ideas more effectively by listening for—and recognizing—that each person was bringing their own gift to the project.

“It really was a spiritual moment,” said Sanctuary Arts team leader Gwyn Roske. “To see them hanging up there Sunday morning was beautiful. I can’t even tell you what piece I worked on, it was a group effort, we did it together.”

During St. Mark’s worship service, Gwynn Garrity worked on a live painting, to help “visually proclaim” what was happening through the congregation’s songs and prayers, the reading of words and in the sermon.

“Worship itself is an art form, that is already a creative process,” Gwynn Garrity said. “When I’m offering the live painting it’s just adding to the rhythm, to the beautiful piece of art that we all enter into.”

What Gwynn Garrity loves most about painting live in worship is that she doesn’t have time to think about it. Instead, she must move, commit, make decisions and keep going, trusting that the Spirit is guiding her.

“That’s part of what feels sacred to me, that voice of fear gets quieter and quieter when I am painting in a communal space like worship,” she says. “My preferred state of being is having my hands messy in paint as much as possible. It’s a sacred way of connecting to God and to others.”

After watching Gwynn Garrity work over the weekend the Rev. Bart Smith, pastor of St. Mark’s, said what she does—taking scriptures and people’s impressions and melding it together into something beautiful—“is absolutely incredible.”

“She has the brain of an artist and heart of a pastor,” he said. “She’s offering a tremendous gift to the church.”

For creative artistic resources, or to schedule Lisle Gwynn Garrity for an art retreat weekend go to sanctifiedart.org. The Presbytery of Western North Carolina will ordain her on May 13 as a teaching elder in the PC(USA).


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