Deck the Halls with ???

Mormon churches have a reputation for rather dull interior decor, particularly when compared to medieval cathedrals, Hindu temples and the like.  While I’m not suggesting a more ornate decor, a little sprucing up would certainly be in order.  Our churches could use more personality and more hominess.

Minerva Teichert - Christ in a Red Robe

Minerva Teichert - Christ in a Red Robe

In Cokeville WY, I attended the the funeral of a man I greatly respected.  Before the service, as I sat in the chapel, I noticed two original paintings by Minerva Teichert, a Mormon artist/muralist who lived in Cokeville.  To me, the two paintings were an important component of the spiritual atmosphere in the chapel, particularly since she had lived in the small community.  I’m sure they are also a source of great local pride.

I like to travel a lot, both in-country and abroad.  When traveling I always end up looking for religious icons:  a crucifix, a madonna and child, a nativity scenes, an image of Christ, etc.  I particularly like anything with a colorful, 2-dimensional feel.  The Mormon church is not big on icons.  In fact, when it comes to crosses, the church is open anti.  This latter issue was recently discussed at a Sunstone Symposium.

Armenian Khachkar (cross-stone) at Sevanavank monastery at Lake Sevan, Armenia.

Armenian Khachkar (cross-stone) at Sevanavank monastery at Lake Sevan, Armenia.

In August, Robert Rees made the case for including the cross in Mormon decor, on jewelry, etc.  He pointed out that historically the church wasn’t always so resolute in its opposition.  For example, one of Brigham Young’s wives wears a cross in an historic photograph (it has subsequently been airbrushed out).  Rees felt the image of the cross heighted his religious experience.  My father remembers singing an “Old Rugged Cross” in church meetings during his mission in the 1940s in New England.  Rees suggest that discrete wearing of the cross was in order if a person is so predisposed (think “congregational nulification” here).  Those in attendance seemed very receptive to Rees’ message.

A couple of years ago, I attended a Unitarian church meeting in SLC.  I was impressed with the informal nature of the meeting and the less sterile nature of the interior of the building.  Similar experiences have been felt by others as they attended other Christian religious ceremonies.  For example, the following comment was posted by LDS Anarchist:  “I walked into a Seventh-Day Adventist church/school yesterday.  It was the first time I’d ever been in one of their buildings. . .  The atmosphere was inviting, like walking into someone’s cozy home.  Religious images and sayings were on the walls and in the classrooms, and the classrooms had a comfortable feeling to them. . .  The contrast between that building and our largely sanitized, bare, and non-inviting meetinghouses was sharp. . .  We need to re-eximane everything we are doing and what other religions are doing and incorporate every superior thing we find into our church.”

I applaud the latter recommendation.

This entry was posted in Art, images of Christ, mormonism, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Deck the Halls with ???

  1. Roger Hansen says:

    L. Jackson Newell in his autobiographical piece in Dialogue (Winter 2006, pages 186 and 7) relates the following story:

    “My respect for individual Church leaders and many Church programs notwithstanding, my differences with Church policy and bureaucracy came to a head in the late 1980s. The Church set out to remodel the Garden Park Ward house about 1987. This unique architectural treasure was “to be brount up to standard in the words of the Church Building Department. Without warning, we suddenly found the towering windows in the lovely old cultural hall ripped out and replaced by concrete slabs, the vintage hardwood basketball floor inside covered with all-weather carpet, and the walls lined with burlap. In the chapel, three large 19th-century Minerva Teichert paintings of biblical scenes were removed from the spaces that the architect had designed specifically for their display so that the building would be in compliance with a new “no decorative art” policy. Further, due to the structural crosses that appeared coincidentally in the leaded glass windows, they were slated for removal and replacement with clear glass.”

    “At the height of this controversy, a serious protest erupted inolving members of both Garden Park wards as well as non-members in the neighborhood. Stake and ward leaders were urged to halt the destructtive work on the historic building. As part of this effort, I wrote President Hinckley, appealing to him to intervene to stop the desecration of the chapel and return the Teichert paintings. Within a few months, the Teichert paintings reappeared in the chapel. The stained glass windows were left undisturbed. A decade later, the concrete slabs were removed from the cultural hall and large windows reinstalled. After all my struggles with the Church over intellectual freedom, this bureaucratic handling and partial desecration of the unique Garden Park Ward house was the final straw in my relationship with the Church as an organization. My spiritual health demanded a release from the storms of institutional religion.”

  2. Roger Hansen says:

    The following letter appeared in the November 2009 NG concerning the ruins at Angkor:

    “It always amazes me when I witness yet another beautiful wonder-of-the-world ruin. How were the rulers of these ancient civilizations able to get away with creating monuments to their gods, mortal coils, and palatial amusements while neglecting the basic needs of their people? Angkor created wealth with its elaborate system of water storage and distribution, but how many gods and goddesses must be depicted on their shrines and tombs at the expense of building a better infrastructure? The pyramids, Maya temples, churches of all faiths, and palaces of exquisite beauty serve only a fraction of the population, while most people must either labor or pay for the excesses of the priests. Give us elaborate universities, hospitals, and museums instead of monuments and shrines to allay our fears of death.”

    Michael Sturdy
    Armstrong, British Columbia

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