This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of The Lutheran magazine.

Zion Lutheran Church in Ferndale, Mich., is practically the poster child for decorating on a shoestring budget. In fact, The Lutheran featured Zion in an article headlined “From trash to treasure: Liturgical arts committee shows what can be done with—or without—a budget” (August 2010).

Advent readings are full of prophecy—and there was even some in that article, in which committee member Mark Rubino said, “The feedback from the parishioners is what makes this so rewarding. They have to wonder what we’re going to do next.”

That “next” was their most popular project of all—“Stars in the Advent Sky.”

Charles Senseman was a driving force of this arts committee known for consistently making something out of nothing. He died earlier this year, but he had been instrumental in preparing Zion’s sanctuary for Advent for years—and in being in touch with The Lutheran about this latest decorating scheme.

Of course, it all begins with an idea. Committee members had one when viewing a $2 million remodel at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2007. The institute paid $7,000 for a display company to mount mirrors from the main gallery ceiling. Zion asked the company if it could rent the display. But, as Senseman explained with a bit of “tone” to his email, “they declined, opting to keep it in their warehouse for some unknown future event.”

Left to their own devices, this 230-member congregation in a Detroit suburb created their own—for $180.

The Advent and Christmas visual “program,” as they call it, includes 300 discarded CDs from members. A holographic silver film covers the label side of the CD. The committee ran monofilament lines across the 55-foot ceiling about 15 feet apart, then hung CDs from the lines. They varied the number of discs on a line, giving the illusion of how stars look in the night sky. “The effect is mesmerizing and makes for a beautiful ‘starry night’ in our sanctuary,” Senseman said.

The starry night changes color as the CDs move in air currents created by ceiling fans. Balcony spotlights also hit them, reflecting spots of light on the santuary walls.

“From the congregation’s viewpoint, they appear as round orbs, complete spheres, and you can imagine how beautiful this is with all of them moving at different speeds and changing into their various colors,” he continued. Mixed among them are large 3-D foil stars purchased from a dollar store.

Jeanine Ingram, a committee member, agrees with Senseman’s estimation that this may be their most well-received display. Children think it looks like a mobile.

Member Rosie Draudt told the committee the colors she sees when the light and air movements combine remind her of God’s creation. “I thank God for you—using your collective talents to enhance our worship,” she wrote to them.

Without Senseman, the team is down to four now: Ingram, Rubino, Nancy Doyle and Heidi Rogers (and occasionally her husband, Bud).

Ingram said their secret weapons are binder clips and fishing line. A simple pulley system (“We’re too old to climb on ladders”) that allows objects to hang in 20 locations comes in handy too.

Julie B. Sevig
Julie Sevig is writer and editor.  She and her family belong to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago.  

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