The word of God washes like waves over worshipers at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minn.
Sound waves, to be exact—and not just the kind you can hear.
Thanks to a volunteer-driven project, members can cast their gaze toward three artistic renditions in the sanctuary of sound patterns like those generated by a digital recorder.
On one wall is a depiction of a spoken version of 1 John 4:7: “Beloved, let us love one another.” Across the way is Psalm 98:4: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” A third, smaller voice print shows the waves of the word “hallelujah” on the choir shell.
“They are real works of homegrown liturgical art,” said Phil Holtan, who was Bethesda’s interim pastor during summer 2017 when the project was conceived. “People were very thoughtful as to what the words would say about their sacred space, and the effect has been wonderful. Everyone is so proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
Bethesda, a 138-year-old congregation of 395 confirmed members, moved from its downtown location to its current home south of the city in 1972.
“Bethesda had suffered some conflicts and financial challenges,” Holtan said. “The sanctuary was beautiful but had not been updated, and the soundboards especially were showing their years. The dark brown speaker cloth that covered them was shrinking and showing the underlying white muslin color in the seams.”
Refurbishing the sanctuary to bring more light and energy into the worship space became a top priority of the congregation.
Terrie Wold said it was fellow member Su Legatt, whom she describes as an “amazing, visionary artist,” who came up with the idea for the sound prints.
“She kept looking at the vertical slats on the soundboards as we explored multiple options to redo them,” Wold said. “Suddenly she said, ‘Sound wave.’ The vertical slats reminded her of the vertical lines created when a voice is recorded digitally. We got very excited and started dreaming.”
And then they got to work on a job that was big in every sense of the word—the soundboards are 50 feet long and 7½ feet high.
“Suddenly she said, ‘Sound wave.’ The vertical slats reminded her of the vertical lines created when a voice is recorded digitally. We got very excited and started dreaming.”
“The painting was done on new muslin fabric and then covered with sheer gold fabric prior to reinstalling the vertical boards,” Wold said. “Everything was done by volunteer church members, which was very special and fun.
“Scripture verses were nominated and voted on by the congregation. I recorded several members saying the top three phrases, then we converted the sound wave recordings into PowerPoint to project on the wall for selection.”
Congregation president Hank Tkachuk said he regularly hears members talk about how the artwork has made the space livelier and more open and engaging. “It’s also helped us expand our community outreach and hospitality,” he said. “We have hosted new events, including a choral concert and a young musicians’ recital that were attracted to our space.”
Holtan notes that, given the Lutheran tradition of speaking the word of God, “it’s cool that there is a way for that spoken word to be seen.”
Members regularly escort first-time visitors and other guests to the soundboards to tell them the story of the project and what it means to the congregation, he added.
“It’s a metaphor [for] worship,” Holtan said. “People bring their skills, arts and resources to God and lift them up to create their own unique acts of worship and praise. Bethesda, at a time when they were discouraged, found God had already given them what they needed. Praise God.”
Do you have a piece of congregational art you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Art,” and we may feature it in a future issue.