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‘This is the spiritual practice I am most renewed by’

Lisle Gwynn Garrity, part pastor and part artist, live paints during APCE gathering

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity, a pastor and artist, live paints during the national gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity spent most of last week’s national gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators turning her back on attendees — allowing them to watch her at work.

That work — painting a large canvas while the other 649 or so people in attendance were worshiping or listening to a plenary speaker — visually reflected the impact on what Gwynn Garrity and the rest of the crowd heard and sensed during the four-day annual gathering, which concluded Saturday.

Garrity, 31, the founder and creative director of A Sanctified Art and a Presbyterian pastor who lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina, said that for her, the process of live painting is similar to preparing to preach.

“It is more of a visual sermon,” she said. In the same way she prepares to deliver a sermon, Gwynn Garrity studies the biblical text before live painting. “I think about imagery to proclaim a deeper message,” she said. “I always come to it with a plan, a starting point, and then I have to allow the painting to show me where to go. It sounds artsy-fartsy, but it’s true.”

Central to the annual gathering was Luke 10:1-11, Luke’s account of Jesus sending out the 70 in pairs to every place he himself intended to go. Their pathway is portrayed in the foreground of Gwynn Garrity’s painting.

“I have been thinking about the imagery of discipleship, the imagery of the road — the path of discipleship,” she said. “The first day I focused on the sky, and I filled the horizon with flight and gold. (Thursday) I filled this path, this very angled, winding path that guides you to the horizon line.

“(Friday) was about justice. We had a lot of references to the garden in Genesis. (On Thursday) the road was dusty. (The message was) failure is a reality in discipleship, that a lot of dust gets kicked up. (On Friday) I filled in the landscape with the greening of the garden.”

The Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity (Photo courtesy of A Sanctified Art)

Gwynn Garrity calls herself a “pastorist,” both pastor and artist.

“I prefer to live paint,” she said. “It’s a vulnerability of sharing the messy and big stages of painting.”

She says she does most of her painting in worship.

“It’s harder for me to paint alone in the studio,” she said. “I feed off the energy of sharing the process with others. They saw it as a blank canvas, and they continue to journey with me as I bring it to completion.”

Speaking on Friday, one day before the completion of the APCE national gathering, Gwynn Garrity said she planned to finish the sky and add more layers and more structure by the end of closing worship on Saturday.

“(Saturday) is about mission. I really want the painting to pull you in to the horizon line,” she said. “I am so inspired by the sky. Clouds feel like the spirit of God, the breath of God. When we do the work of mission, we are bringing that kindom version to life. God is breathing into us.”

While preaching and painting may well be two sides of the same coin for her, Gwynn Garrity makes it clear she enjoys the messiness of the latter discipline.

“This is the spiritual practice I am most renewed by,” she said.

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