Lenten installation at Westfield Congregational Church

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Mar. 25, 2013
Westfield Congregational Church
Dark purple fabric is draped over the sanctuary space in Westfield Congregational Church. Photos by D. Coffey.

The Rev. Jonathan Chapman wanted to help his congregation experience the Lenten season in a new way this year. He did it by hanging long swaths of deep purple fabric from one side of the balcony to the other. The cloth covers an expansive space in the sanctuary of the Westfield Congregational Church in Danielson. “It absolutely changes the feel of the space,” Chapman said. “The space feels smaller, echoing a call to self-discipline.”

Basically, the fabric cuts the room in half. As Chapman and his congregation go through Holy Week, the banners of cloth will be lowered, shrinking the space. On Maundy Thursday, the chandeliers will be turned off and work lights will shine stark light down into the sanctuary. A farmer's table will be brought in so congregants can receive communion from it. Twelve spaces, representing the 12 apostles, will be set.

Chapman has also designed a series of altarscapes that change according to the weekly readings. A barren stone-topped table represented Jesus' travels through the wilderness. An overturned vase with golden-orange fabric spilling from it represents God's overflowing grace in the story about the woman who perfumes Jesus' feet. Picture frames covered the table one week, representing the story of the prodigal son. “The idea is that our pictures are hanging on God's cosmic refrigerator,” Chapman said.

Chapman wanted to visually engage the church in new ways. “I take a central image and create something around it. It means something different to everybody, but that's what great about it,” he said. “It also gives us something to focus on while we sit in quiet meditation after I preach. It's a quiet, beautiful time.”

“I'm creatively-minded,” Chapman said. “I'm lucky enough to have a congregation that will go with me on it.” The church was built around the early 1800s and was meant to be a showpiece, he said. The curved balcony, massive pulpit, vestiges of frescoes behind the pipe organ, and huge windows were all intended to glorify God. Chapman said his fabric installations carry on that tradition. “Fabric is like paint,” he said, “but it's removable and malleable. You can do all kinds of things with it.”

For Easter, the visual installation will change to one of hope and glory, but Chapman did not want to elaborate. There will be fabric, flowers and a return to the airy, open feel of the sanctuary. It will be unveiled at the 10 a.m. Easter Sunday service.

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