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Understanding Reformed sacramental theology through clay formation

by Louisville Seminary | Jan 16, 2009
By Toya Richards Hill

Through molding and creating with clay and exploring scripture and the biblical text, it is possible to connect with God, says the Rev. Dr. Ann Laird Jones.

“There are different ways to engage with the text,” said Jones, 2009 Artist-in-Residence sponsored by the Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Art opens up new revelations of scripture, she said.

“Art and theology go together, said Jones, who earned her Master of Divinity degree from LPTS in 1982. “They enable one another.”

So with large masses of brown clay and over-spinning potters’ wheels, Laird is teaching students how form and function can transform into worship. Her January-term course, “Clay Forms: Restorative Table Justice,” has brought together a diverse range of participants, who are seeking to deepen their understanding of Reformed Sacramental Theology.

A visit to the class and open studio time in the Fellowship Hall of the Frank H. and Fannie W. Caldwell Chapel reveals seminarians pounding and shaping forms that will eventually become usable pieces of pottery. At the same time, group members are supporting each other and working together, forming a community of their own.

Each class member is making a set of Eucharistic vessels, including a chalice and a pitcher. The group also is creating clay vessels for the Seminary to use in worship. Outside of the classroom the students together are leading clay workshops at three Louisville churches – Anchorage Presbyterian Church, which hosted 60 young people from area agencies, Central Presbyterian Church, working with residents of The Healing Place and another substance abuse treatment facility, and Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church, as part of the church’s multicultural outreach.

“Sacramental vessels are the tactile presence of God,” said Jones, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister and the director of arts ministries at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina for the last 15 summers.

The students are understanding the Communion Table as a place for “restorative justice,” a place that welcomes them and others, she said.

Rebecca Barnes-Davies, a second-year Master of Divinity degree student, said she is learning new ways to reach people, bring them into the church, and help them “to feel God.”

“I’m just really thankful to be a part of it,” she said.

Senior Master of Divinity degree student Gala Spencer is equally pleased and said she has had a spiritual experience through Jones’ class.

Working with clay and exploring scripture, “I felt the presence of God,” the Louisville resident said. “I just forgot about everything.”

Spencer, who feels her call is to become a hospital chaplain, has a particular interest in the grieving process and said what she is learning can certainly be applied as she ministers.

“It’s healing your body and your spirit,” she said.

Jones also will lead an upcoming workshop, designed for women working in ministry, and a lecture, which is open to the public.

The workshop, “How Shall We Thrive?,” will be held January 26 in Caldwell Chapel from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The workshop will focus on the hardships of women in ministry and explore the intersection of theology and art as a means of addressing some of those concerns. Online registration is available at http://wimminwiselpts.wordpress.com/events/2009-artist-in-residence/.

Jones’ lecture, “Arts and Theology Integrated,” also will take place Janunary 26 in the Chapel. The 7 p.m. program will explore the possibilities for the integration of art and theology, building on Jones’ own work.

Jones’ Doctor of Ministry degree in Arts and Theology, which she received last year, is based on her work, “Arts and Theology Integrated: Pottery Ministry, Creation, Redemption and Sacramental Presence,” which was done under the direction of Dr. Catherine Kapikian, author of Art in Search of the Sacred.

Download Brochure: Clay Forms: Restorative Table Justice.

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