November 4, 2019
The Art of Grace
It’s not often a resource can be used by both children and adults, as a formation tool and a gift for visitors, and as a celebration of the arts and the gifts of parishioners. But one congregation struck the trifecta.
Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston, Alabama, created its own coloring book with art solicited from members of the congregation featuring different facets of the building and liturgical accoutrements as well as local traditions. Published by the Christian education department, the coloring book is offered for the simple enjoyment by children and adults as well as for formation. A glossary in the back explains each picture. So, for example, an image of the aumbry might be familiar to folks who attend the church but who may not know its function. The handy glossary explains (along with a key for pronunciation): “AHM.bri: The aumbry of Grace Church is recessed into the east wall of the sanctuary near the altar. It is used to store the reserved sacrament. A sanctuary lamp hangs over the aumbry to indicate that reserved sacrament is stored within. The aumbry was dedicated in 1961.” Other images include the chalice and paten, the baptismal font, the pitcher used to hold the water of baptism.
The book also features local traditions of the church: You learn about the church’s Butterfly Release. The children of Grace raise butterflies during Lent and explore the symbolism of the butterfly as it represents the new life we have in Jesus. The children release the butterflies after the service on Easter. There’s also an image of a baptismal banner. At Grace, each child who is baptized receives a baptismal banner made by members of the church’s Guild of the Christ. The banner hangs near the baptismal font during the baptism and is then given to the newly baptized.
Not only is the coloring book a fantastic and accessible way to learn about the church, but it also honors the artistic talents of its members. Parishioners were invited to submit drawings of different aspects of the church. They drew pictures of the church’s front door and the Memorial Garden, favorite stained-glass windows and a wide view of the procession. Grace, the church cat, figures prominently in two drawings.
As you might imagine from my effusive description of the coloring book, I’m a huge fan. It’s a creative way to engage people of all ages. It helps people think about what they hold sacred in the church and the meaning of different symbols. It’s a tool for children and adults to have conversations and learn together about their church and their faith. And the book is a fantastic alternative to occupy young children during worship: What a wonderful way to invite them into worship as full participants by having them interact with the space, using crayons and their imagination! I also hope the church gives a copy to every visitor. The mere fact that it exists is testament to a congregation that values children, celebrates its members, and believes formation is a path to lifelong discipleship.
Perhaps you’re persuaded that the idea is good but daunted by the idea of publishing a book. I have more good news: You can do this. This coloring book is not a high-end, glossy production that requires graphic designers and managing editors and top-shelf publishing know-how. It is simply reproduced, black and white only, with a card stock cover and a staple for binding. It is something you can do with the resources on hand: a copier and a stapler.
This is not to underestimate and undermine the work. I’m sure the folks of Grace spent a lot of time and energy in producing the coloring book; their care is evident. But what I love even more about this project—beyond all the things I’ve already gushed about—is that it’s a doable project for any church, big or small. You don’t need vast resources of money or publishing talent—just a desire to provide a tool for teaching for people of all ages and sorts, even those who color outside the lines.
The people of Grace invite you to learn more about the coloring book. Contact them at www.graceanniston.org or 256.236.4457.