By Ansley Brackin
Clergy and laity may find themselves singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” as they walk into the Classic Center for Annual Conference this year. The visuals for the annual meeting in Athens will consist of fonts, worship banners, and prayer stations, reflecting the 2017 theme of “worship that inspires action.”
Annual Conference 2017, presided by Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, invites clergy and laity to “show their work” when it comes to excellent worship. Over the past few months, Rev. Cyndi McDonald of Mt Carmel UMC in Norcross, has certainly shown hers as chair of the visuals team on the Annual Conference planning committee.
“It's an amazing team,” McDonald says of the visuals volunteers. “It includes elders, a deacon, and a licensed local pastor.”
With the strength of her team, and help of several churches, including her own congregation, McDonald has considered every detail while mapping out the Annual Conference space.
When attendees enter the Grand Hall, they will see fonts at each entrance. Guests are invited to touch the water and remember their baptisms. These fonts come from Simpsonwood UMC and Neighborhood Church.
Prayer stations will also be available near the doors and on both sides of the stage. Find them beneath blue and green streamers hanging from the ceiling. A closer look at these streamers reveals that the shiny material is actually melted plastic cups, achieved by the efforts of Mt Carmel UMC’s Wednesday night bible study group. The idea for the streamers came from a Pentecost installation McDonald saw in Connecticut. She counted 2,000 cups total in her installation.
“Many are cups that are sold at a discount because they are ‘used’...the package opened or there were cracks and so weren't deemed usable as cups, McDonald explains. “We had a couple months so I watched for these on Amazon.”
An Ebenezer font, made of blue fabrics, will cascade down the conference stage. Visuals team member, Rev. Deanne Lynch of Rockland UMC designed the structure of the font with the help of church member, Rick Kersey. The structure is also made of wood, chicken wire, paper mache, paint, as well as bowls and pots. The fabrics were provided by Rev. Ellynda Lipsey.
There will be rocks placed in the font during every service, McDonald says.
“This came about in the first worship planning meeting, when Bishop Sue gathered the worship planners to dream about worship that inspires action. It was natural for the conversation to turn to baptism, since all of us, lay and clergy, are called in our baptism.”
Opening worship will involve district superintendents and lay leaders carrying stones in “as a reminder that this is a call of all of us.” During the Service of Remembrance, silver stones will be placed along the font to represent the dearly departed. Lynch painted the stones and wrote on them the names of each person who will be remembered at the service. Ordinands will place red stones along the font during the passing of the mantle. At closing worship each person will take a stone as a continued reminder of God’s call.
The worship set will be adorned with banners painted by liturgical artist and Mt Carmel member, Tara Campbell, who used a range of colors and textures to visually interpret the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” They will be displayed on the stage.
“She made the mistake of inviting me to dinner in their home,” McDonald recalls. “When I saw some of her paintings I asked her to do a banner for Mt Carmel. She has had a long time interest in liturgical art but needed an invitation!”
Since that invitation, Campbell has painted five banners, which will be used at Annual Conference, as well as other pieces for her church.
During Ordination, attendees will see an altar frontal created from t-shirts and Christmas cards. Rev. Pam McCurdy of Bethany UMC in Smyrna requested a t-shirt from each ordinand, and Christmas cards from members of Mt Carmel UMC. The cards were cut by a teen volunteer in Mt Carmel’s homework club, who enjoyed having a project in the church office while talking to visitors. Then, McCurdy and McDonald spent a weekend weaving together the fabrics and the cards to create “striking patterns” throughout both pieces.
Annual Conference attendees will learn even more about the visuals team’s design process during the 15 minute “Show Your Work" lectures that will accompany each service.