River of Life

This piece, titled "Awakening," will be used on Easter Sunday. IMAGES COURTESY OF TIM BAUERKEMPER

An exhibition of faith
Over the last several years, I have been finding as much spiritual depth and honesty in secular music and art as in works we would traditionally call sacred. The line kept blurring for me. When I moved here in 2015, seeing a growing art community, I began to see that arts and ministry should be more connected than it has become.

An interest in how art helps us expand thinking and stretch perspective has led First Lutheran Church on Holland Street to explore the connection between visual arts and spirituality. Pastor Tim Bauerkemper has increasingly been using visual arts in his own exploration of scripture and spiritual ideas over the last several years, but knew that something more was happening. “Over the last several years, I have been finding as much spiritual depth and honesty in secular music and art as in works we would traditionally call sacred. The line kept blurring for me. When I moved here in 2015, seeing a growing art community, I began to see that arts and ministry should be more connected than it has become.”

A conversation with Dr. Cynthia Gonzales, FLC music director and Professor of Music at Texas State, about utilizing visual arts in ministry led to brainstorming an art show. Dr. Gonzales is very connected to the arts community and encouraged Bauerkemper to make it happen. Bauerkemper said of that conversation, which was originally about Advent and Christmas worship, “She told me to go write a call for entries. I am not an artist, and at that point I didn’t know what a call for entries even was. Cynthia really encouraged me to run with the idea.”

They chose the theme “River of Life” both because it connects to the heart of this city and because water is perhaps the most common religious symbol and image. “In the Christian tradition, Baptism is the central element of our faith.” Bauerkemper said, adding “We believe that God works through ordinary water to adopt us as Children of God and part of the Kingdom of God. All water is sacred because it is the key element at the very beginning of faith and life.”

The call went out in January, with no assurance of how many artists would respond. By the mid-February deadline, they received nearly 40 entries from 11 different artists. The entries came from San Marcos, Dripping Springs, Austin, Seguin and San Antonio— making the reach much further than anticipated. “The quality of works amazed us. When it came time to jury, we didn’t have any decisions to make other than how much we could fit on our walls,” Bauerkemper explained. “We were able to take at least one piece from each artist. We would like to take more but will have to find more room. We may look at going down a hall next time.”

The art is also being used as a worship element. The Lutheran tradition for Lent is to have midweek services that tie to a single theme, usually with a community meal. Each Wednesday there is a simple meal, soup and bread, and time for fellowship starting at 5:30. The meal is available until the soup runs out, and a brief 30 minute service of Evening Prayer starts at 6:45. 

“This is an open table. There is plenty to share. No expectations and no strings attached. It is very casual. Just a moment of pause for some God time. All are welcome,” Bauerkemper said. Each week, the message incorporates one of the works of art. “The artist may not have had a Biblical theme in mind when they produced the creation, but we believe all art inherently reflects God’s presence in creation, so the connections are right there when we lay faith right along what we see.”

Another feature that is new this year is that each table has coloring sheets that reflect the River of Life theme. They can be taken home and used as bookmarks, or some people leave them each week. They fit together and will make a communal artwork by the end of Lent.

The show is up until Easter. It is available to be viewed Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or on Wednesday evenings during dinner and worship. The church is also open on Sunday morning surrounding Sunday worship at 10:30 a.m..

Plans are already in the works for a fall show. The working theme is “Children At Play.” 

“I thought that would be a fun one. I am going to get the call for entries out early so artists might find a way to capture the natural activity of kids and summer," Bauerkemper said. "We would love to encourage artists to find ways to express the joy and wonder in the eyes and play of children. With our preschool ministry, kids are all over the place here all week long. They have loved seeing the art and I’m imagining they will love seeing pictures of children, maybe even of themselves.”

First Lutheran is located at 130 W. Holland Street. More information about the show is on the church website at www.flcsm.org.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666