Guelph artist to transform secular space to sacred at synod

Two of the 35 paintings that will cover delegate tables at General Synod. Photo: Contributed
Two of the 35 paintings that will cover delegate tables at General Synod. Photo: Contributed
Published July 7, 2016

In the Anglican tradition, a synod is not simply a meeting to discuss church business. It is a sacred gathering of God’s people, called to listen to the Holy Spirit.

But despite the fact that a synod is just as much an expression of church as a service of the Eucharist, most synods are held in neutral spaces-convention centres, community halls and hotels, usually.

When General Synod holds its July 7-12 meeting at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel & Suites in Richmond Hill, Ont., how will a sense of the sacred be cultivated in what can seem like a soulless corporate space?

It is a challenge Elizabeth Adams, a fibre artist and art therapist from Guelph, Ont., has been working on for years.

When planning for General Synod 2016 first began, the worship committee approached Adams about the possibility of having her design artworks that would creatively interpret the synod theme (“You are my witnesses,” taken from Isaiah 43) and enhance the spiritual dimension of the synod.

Adams told the Anglican Journal that she was initially surprised to have been invited to take on the project, but warmed to the challenge of working with such a large space, and found the highly metaphorical nature of Isaiah 43 compelling.

“I like to think in metaphor, as an artist, looking for more and more images and seeing new things every time is what I’m about,” she said.

Elizabeth Adams is a Guelph-based fabric artist. Photo: Contributed
Elizabeth Adams is a Guelph-based fabric artist. Photo: Contributed

“I love…assisting or helping people to see things slightly differently, see things that they already know about in a slightly different way.”

Adams, who has been making vestments, hangings and other fittings for churches for 25 years, settled on a dual approach: she would create 35 canvas paintings that would serve as “altar cloths” for each of the tables around which delegates would gather, and 27 walking staves that would be carried into synod during the opening procession, and then bundled in nine clusters around the room.

The paintings are abstract and semi-abstract representations and interpretations of the Isaiah passage, but they are not intended to remain static. Delegates will be encouraged to make their own contributions to the images by marking the canvas with their own thoughts and insights over the course of the six-day meeting.

“The concept is that the process is like an act of prayer,” she explained. “We will be considering what we hear and see there, and we’ll be discovering words or phrases that we can’t get out of our head…and those will be added to the cloth.”

The staves also carry strong suggestions of symbolic meaning.

All of the staves come from small trees Adams culled from areas in the dioceses of Ottawa and Niagara slated to be deforested. Over the past two years, she has been shaping and bending their upper sections into hooks and arcs and other shapes before giving them a multi-coloured paint job.

She says they are inspired by the idea of a church on the move, a church walking with God.

When asked how she hopes her artwork will affect the synod delegates as they go about the business of synod, Adams was pensive.

“My hope and expectation is that they are going to feel held and safe and supported, and they are going to recognize that they are worthy, and they are the people of God in this space,” she said.


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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