Art has a way of breaking down barriers and inviting people to come together as they find commonality in the pieces displayed. When you put art on a church campus, the chance to share God’s love is an added bonus.

“There are [so] many amazing, creative community connections that we get to celebrate through art and music, and it’s all a beautiful guise, to offer a platform to uplift one another as fellow children of God,” said Amelia Osborne of the Gallery at Morning Star. This nonprofit gallery and event space is located on the campus of Morning Star Lutheran Church in Matthews, N.C., just outside Charlotte.

The gallery was brought to life by church members and partners Osborne and Tom Eure, whose desire to “celebrate the beauty of expression as a community” has become its mission statement.

“Art—in any form—is the best way to get things across to people,” said Eure, who curates the gallery with Osborne. “You can talk about everybody being the same … but art breaks down barriers. Even though we all love God, art can break that down in a way. It softens the little barriers we put up for a little bit of a chance to see people for who they are, and that’s how we thought the gallery would make a difference.

“It doesn’t matter if you look like us, you worship like us, you love like us. It’s just about getting the community together in our space and getting to know each other.”

The Gallery at Morning Star celebrated its inaugural show in May 2022 and is currently hosting its fourth exhibition, “Ripple of Love.” Interest in the gallery has been steady—and sizable. An opening night draws 200 people, Eure said, adding, “Fifty percent of them are not members of our church, so that’s a great way to get to know the people around us.”

“It doesn’t matter if you look like us, you worship like us, you love like us. It’s just about getting the community together in our space and getting to know each other.”

Mary Pollock of Matthews participated in the gallery’s first three shows and wasn’t bothered by their being hosted on church grounds. “Although I do not call myself a Christian, I am very spiritual and grateful for my artistic gifts,” she wrote in an email. “This opportunity, even in a ‘churchy’ setting, has helped me embrace my creativity and spread my wings.

“It is the expression of art [that] connects. Having a gallery on the campus of a church is a unique offering and lends itself to connectivity in the community. As for me, the most important thing is that I feel acceptance and safety when on the campus and with others there.”

A new way to connect

The idea of a church-based gallery developed organically from Osborne and Eure’s professional lives: they perform year-round as a folk duo and offer faith-based music and art programming through Inspired Arts & Sound.

The couple was unable to tour during the pandemic, so they looked for other ways to release their creative vibes and connect with people. One method was making “crankies”—a folk art storytelling device in which scrolling artwork is unspooled to share a story, with musical accompaniment.

They created a few crankies on their own, and as soon as they were able, they took their idea on the road, visiting 12 Lutheran congregations, community centers and nonprofits in the region with a giant scroll of paper on which participants were asked to trace their hand, decorate their handprint and explain what brought them closer to God.

That collaboration crankie, “Love Compels Us To,” ended up being 85 feet long, with 299 hands displayed.

“That kind of led us to the gallery thing,” Eure said. “We were going to these churches, [and we said], ‘Let’s keep doing this and find a way to use our music and art, and maybe we can bring back some of the artwork we do with them at a gallery at our church.”

Eure and Osborne quickly learned there were already plenty of area artists who were eager to showcase their work. “There [are] so many artists everywhere,” Eure said. “They’re right here around us, so we don’t have to go somewhere else and bring it in.”

Sharing diversity

Shefalee V. Patel, a Hindu Indian artist who lives in South Charlotte, praised the gallery for its challenging themes, which Eure said were intentional. “Diversity is big, and our themes are big,” he said. “If you’re following the theme, you’re going to have to say something that means something.”

In the gallery’s first show, “Passing the Peace,” a young contributor who was undergoing gender transition used the opening reception to come out to their entire family. “It was lovely, and the piece was lovely,” Osborne said. “It was a proud moment for [the artist], and it was a safe space. … If we didn’t do that first show for anyone other than [that artist] to take that first step, [it was worth it]. I love how the power of God works when we show that love.”

“Having a gallery on the campus of a church is a unique offering and lends itself to connectivity in the community.”

During the gallery’s second show, “How Can I Keep From Singing?,” Patel and other artists from the India Association of Charlotte showcased a group project: a replica peacock titled “The Feathered Beauty.”

“Just going there and setting it up, people [were] asking questions about it and were curious about how it happened,” Patel said. “We all see these things about diversity and inclusion, but it’s the moments when those spaces are provided [that] the connections happen.”

In March the gallery worked with the Charlotte bookstore Shelves to host a book release with Nedra Glover Tawwab, author of Drama Free, who spoke about how to manage unhealthy family relationships.

Tawwab is a Black woman, Shelves is a Black female–owned business and probably 90% of the 200 attendees were Black. “A Lutheran church in North Carolina that had that many people of color in one room—that’s a pretty big deal,” Eure said.

Osborne was pleased that all the guests got to walk through the gallery, which proved to her that it enables outreach, not just room rental. “That’s important to us because we’re all about getting to know each other,” Eure added. “It’s about relationships for us. We’re not trying to get everyone to come worship with us, but we want to get to know you.”

Stephanie N. Grimoldby
Grimoldby is a freelance writer living in Antioch, Ill.

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