PreludeOnly recently have I come to full terms with the church's role in my spiritual life as well as my life as an artist. The church was one of my first and only encounters with aesthetic beauty - in the order and seasonal colors of the liturgy, the banners, the stained glass windows, and the long history of music, dating all the way back to Johann Sebastian Bach. It makes sense that my medium is quilts, the elements of which are fabric, piecing, color, composition.
Enough time has passed, I finally feel like I can finally tell this story. In 1998, the same year I started my first quilt while living in Yountville, California, I returned to the Midwest, landing at my parents' house in Macomb, Illinois, a far cry from the Napa Valley. Eventually I made an attempt at a Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology, getting as far as a post-baccalaureate (read: useless second Bachelor's degree) but I dropped out halfway through the first semester of the graduate program. Throughout all this upheaval and general malcontent, I kept making quilts. They were my peace, my joy, and my sanity. I also volunteered to make two banners for my parents' church, Immanuel Lutheran. The designs were mine, but inspired by and based on the work of Scottish architect, designer, water colourist and artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The two banners were each 3 feet wide by 12 feet high, designed to flank the altar.
During this same time, I had been having private meetings with the church pastor in preparation for membership in the church - which seemed fairly redundant in light of my 2nd-8th grade St. James Lutheran Day School education in Quincy, Illinois; my Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) district-level church youth leadership position in high school; and a year of pre-seminary study at Concordia (Lutheran) College in River Forest, Illinois. Didn't that make me Lutheran enough? One of the pastor's pre-requisites for full membership, which would include my being welcome to take the sacrament of communion, was that I denounce my sexuality as a self-identified gay man. Of course, there was some level of hair-splitting, like how I could "be" gay, I just couldn't "act" on it. Well, I tried. And I tried a little longer, and I finally realized how preposterous, impossible, and ridiculous such a request was, let alone any attempt to acquiesce to it. Once I shared my conclusion with the pastor, he swiftly informed me that I was not welcome to be a member of the church, nor participate in the sacrament of communion - in this, the denomination, faith and doctrine deeply rooted in my own as well as my family's history.
And so the banners...which I'd been working on this whole time. I was faced with a tough decision: abandon the nearly-finished project, or take the high road and complete them. I came to realize that I wasn't making them for any particular church leader or denomination. I was making them for a higher purpose, which was to glorify a Greater Mystery, and thereby inspire and speak to the higher self in anyone that might encounter my visual offering. I am proud to say that the banners still hang at Immanuel Lutheran Church after twenty years. Only recently did I receive a call from one of the members of the altar guild (who also happens to be my first cousin once removed, by marriage), inquiring as to how to make a minor repair to one of them. Over the years, I have received numerous reports on how much the banners have meant to various members of the congregations. I am sure the banners have witnessed numerous baptisms, weddings, and maybe even funerals.
PostludeNote: a few years later, the same pastor that had denied my membership in the church, made an Oral-Roberts-style public confession that he'd had some kind of unholy thoughts about a? some? all of? the young women in the college town he served (Immanuel Lutheran maintains both a town and gown church campus). I think he took some kind of leave-of-absence along with his mea culpa, but according to the church website, he has served and still serves as pastor since 1997, just one year before my encounter with him.