Back in fall of 2016, I was contacted by a member of the Art Committee of The Lynn Valley United Church; they were commissioning artwork for the church’s new building. The commission was for 5 special chancel furnishings: the Communion Table, Baptismal Font, Lectern, Worship Table, and the Sacred Space Piece.
Once I had expressed interest in this project, Minister Odney and the members of the Art Committee provided me with more of the backstory of the Lynn Valley United Church’s history and practice:
The church’s goal was to be contemporary and inclusive, commissioning chancel ‘art’ rather than traditional chancel furnishings. Focusing on collaboration and transformation, they wanted to be open to all types of people in aid of their personal journeys. We spoke about how the LVUC is in line with modern Canadian values, understanding that in this day and age many fine Canadian citizens are not in fact Christian.
“In a brand new building, reflecting the light of an open tomb, and rooted in its deep sense of historical connection to the
early logging community, Lynn Valley United Church is called to invite people into the same path of Christian spiritual
practice and worship for the ongoing transformation of their own lives,” (Odney, Historical/Theological Exploration).
After considering what Minister Odney had told me about the church, my goal was to design and create chancel furnishings that would communicate the church’s history of inclusivity and rich identity through symbolism and form. These pieces had to be modern, flexible, and movable to adapt to different events that take place in the church, as it is in many ways the centre point of the community. Being a fourth-generation North Shore resident, I also felt compelled to incorporate the history of Lynn Valley through scale, form, and indigenous material.
I began to visualize the furnishings… Over sized fir timbers would be used to create these pieces. The douglas fir timber elements were to acknowledge the early beginnings of Lynn Valley, where logging camps and timber mills were the main employers. The assembled pieces were designed to be modern, reflecting the Church’s mission to be contemporary and inclusive. These substantial timbers would lift and elevate certain theological expressions within the Christian tradition.
The sculpted, solid pieces were inspired by how the United Church of Canada typically sings their theologies, and would be made as if full of breath and pride. These pieces were designed to allow people to connect with the simple forms, finding their own meaning and wisdom in them. They would be less about the assemblage of elements and more directly about calling people to worship and follow the path of transformation in their own lives… I feel they offer an inner power and wisdom.
After meeting with the Art Committee, they approved the designs and we began production in earnest. And now, with all of the furnishings installed, the whole space seems transformed.
Upon entering the church, you are welcomed by tall ceilings and a symbolic pathway emblazoned on the floor leading towards the centre of the church. The warm, honey coloured wood of the chancel furnishings brings your eye around the room, then up to the golden wood of the ceiling above.
The Communion Table sits just behind the rest of the furnishings in the middle of the stage. The cross-like base symbolizes the Latin term ‘infinitas’, which means something that lasts forever. Its tilted position is a modern take on the cross to match the church’s modern values. The tabletop is composed of a welcoming oval, representing that all at the table are equal within the church, and is made from a solid piece of maple with bridges holding the piece together. These bridges of wood symbolize journey and coming together, and create a beautiful pattern and texture for the table. I felt that, as the ultimate symbol of Christian hospitality, the table should confer beauty and the outward signs of an invisible grace that is everlasting.
The Baptismal Font is made up of four columns of a single piece of fir, twisting and rotating upwards toward the vessel above. The timbers form a cross of negative space that is only visible through the water of the Baptismal vessel; I wanted to acknowledge symbolically that the path to Christianity is through Baptism. The custom glass vessel was created by Interstyle Ceramics + Glass, this form marrying the style of the chancel furnishings with the church’s architecture itself. At the front of the Font, a horizontal line is carved bisecting the vertical line, creating a crucifix. Casters are concealed on the bottom to allow mobility, as the Lynn Valley United Church is a community hub, its space used for many different purposes.
Similar to the Baptismal Font in its shape, the Lectern is made up of a solid piece of fir, split into four columns. These columns speak to building and the strength of coming together, like pillars for the community. As well as community, these columns represent the individual journey of Christianity. This ever-changing process of the Christian path could not be conveyed through a straight line nor static form, and so, like the Baptismal Font, the columns twist gently, guiding you upwards. The eight-sided shape recalls an eighth day: the first day of resurrection. At the top of the Lectern, a slender, nautical lamp curls up from the cross between columns. A shelf is carved just below the top to place a bible or a glass of water.
Made from a solid piece of fir, the Worship Table is an oval shape, referencing the Communion Table, and tapers softly in toward the ground. The piece’s subtle, swelling shape captures the energy and breath of song during the church’s theologies. This table holds the hopes, dreams, aspirations of the community.
And finally, the Sacred Space Piece is a Solid Sphere made from a large cut of maple and was commissioned by a prominent member of the church, whose family once owned the original mill in Lynn Valley – the land where the church currently resides. The solid maple sphere is all encompassing, representing the shape of earth, the heavenly body, and all things eternal. What makes this piece even more meaningful however is its connection to place; the wood came from a special tree from one of Vancouver Island’s original homesteads.
Now, with all of the special chancel artwork installed, the new building of the Lynn Valley United Church truly feels their own. In good times and hard times, this church is a place that people of all walks of life can now find peace and solace, like the words of Shirley Erena Murray:
“Come and find the quiet centre in the crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed:
Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see
All the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be.”
(1989, Voices United #374)
Photography: Raef Grohne