Art can bring up many different emotions and interpretations. Pastor Sue Schneider of Trinity Lutheran Church, 1904 Winnebago Street, hopes that the new mural being dedicated at 10:30 am Saturday, July 28, brings a sense of hope, happiness, belonging and beauty.
Schneider says that idea of a mural was born the first day she drove into the parking lot of Trinity Lutheran Church for her interview to become the new pastor there. “I went and I drove into that parking lot, I thought that wall looks really forbidding and unwelcoming,” she says. “They need to put some art there. Literally, before I even was the pastor, I knew that that wall needed some attention and it bothered me pretty much ever since I got to Madison, that wall.”
Schneider was given a grant to help get started on the mural. Though the wall has been finished by a professional artist, Jenie Gao from Dane Arts Mural Arts, Schneider really wanted the mural to be a community project.
“I know that when people do stuff together they feel more collective ownership and I wanted this to be a community mural and not just Trinity mural,” she explains. “The initial painting was done by members of the congregation and the people who use our building, so the Boy Scouts, Canopy Center, all the people who work with us in our space have paint strokes all over that wall.”
When Gao interviewed people about why they come to Trinity or what Trinity means to them, she heard over and over again that Trinity was a place to come home to. “That’s why the birds are flying in and out of that nest in the middle of the panel,” says Schneider.
The original people of the congregation were of Norwegian heritage but that obviously is not the case anymore today. Still, the Norwegian roots of the congregation are represented by a figure in the mural. “The character represents the Trinity of the past, but not entirely because she’s also holding out her hands to feed the birds. She is Norwegian to represent the past,” says Schneider.
The other two characters are a dancing little girl and a gender-neutral child in a tree. “Again, Trinity is a trinity, so we figured we needed a trinity of characters there; they’re not the traditional father, son, and holy spirit, but they could be,” Schneider explains.
“The little dancing girl in our minds when we’re working on this was the Holy Spirit and she’s dancing. She’s emotion as the spirit would be, not a standing still kind of Holy Spirit, but also its notable that she’s African American or at least distinctly not white and we wanted to make a statement about the church being a global place.”
On the second Sunday of every month the church has what they call “Global worship” where they do music and a little bit of worship from different parts of the world like Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
“Even though we’re still pretty much a white congregation, we wanted to say the Church is not. The church is a global experience. God loves the world. It just reminds us that it’s bigger than us,” says Schneider.
She then explains the gender-neutral child. “You can see that he’s wearing a rainbow tee shirt because part of what Trinity wants to be about is be a welcoming place for LGBTQ people. It was important to me that we had something like that in the image because the church has done so much damage to people who are LGBTQ. I feel a certain responsibility to people who’ve been hurt by the church and that group certainly has.”
Lastly Schneider talks about the choir of birds. “Nearly everybody who talked to Jenie about why they came to Trinity and maybe why they stay is that it has been historically a place of really great music,” she says. “Jenie, because she’s genius, made that choir of birds, but they’re different kinds of birds. They’re all migratory birds from different parts of the world.”
When it came to actually coming up with the mural piece design Schneider says some parts were easy but others were hard. “I think the tree image with the birds flying in and out was easy. I never in a million years conceived of representing the Holy Trinity the way that she did, so I don’t know if that was hard or easy for her, but it certainly didn’t come from me. I don’t know if I would have a conversation with a group of people about feeling welcome and decide, oh let’s make that a group of migratory birds. I don’t think that would come to me, but it came to Jenie.”
Schneider says she wants people to come up with their own ideas about what’s happening in the mural. “I have some suggestions and thoughts about what symbols are there, but if everybody had their own journey to a new beginning that they saw when they looked at the mural that would make me happy,” she says.
Schneider believes the message of the mural is particularly important for people who’ve been told that God does not love them for whatever reason. “Here’s a place where you’re loved no matter what. That’s key,” she says.
Inside Trinity Lutheran church there are other forms of artwork that hold the same significance as the mural, like the stained-glass windows which tell stories. Also, there are many images of butterflies throughout the church which also represent the journey to a new beginning.
As for the future of art at Trinity Lutheran Church, Schneider is not sure what is next but would love for more art pieces to be up just as long as they come from a place of authenticity and has real meaning behind it, but for now they are focused on the mural.
The church will hold two ceremonies this weekend related to the mural that are open to the public: a dedication ceremony on Saturday at 10:30 am, and a blessing service at 10:30 am on Sunday.
This piece was produced by a student reporter in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more or support our education programs, visit madison365.org/academy.