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Pastor’s sabbatical provides St. Anthony Park Lutheran with remarkable mural

While most commonly known as “a rest from work,” the origin of the word sabbatical comes from the Greek word sabbatikos, and also means “a recognition of the Sabbath as a day of rest.” While the origins of many sabbaticals do not coincide with religious reflection, for Pastor Glen Berg-Moberg, pastor at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church (ELCA) in St. Paul, a three-month sabbatical May through July, provided an opportunity for a mission study following the route that Saint Paul sailed.

For members of St. Anthony Park Lutheran, their pastor’s sabbatical meant not only a chance to learn alongside him on his travel blog and through a congregational study of the Book of Acts, but also led to a permanent visual reminder through the placement of a 10-by-15 foot mural, commissioned by local artist Joe Larson, that hangs in their sanctuary.

Artist Joe Larson produced this mural for St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, St. Paul. The 10-by-15 foot mural was prepared in several sections. It depicts the ministry of St. Paul. Metro Lutheran photos: Laura Kaslow

Larson says that “art has always been important to me to depict my faith visually.”

Berg-Moberg’s sabbatical was made possible through a grant by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., a private philanthropic foundation. The grant is meant to help pastors find a time for renewal.

As part of the grant, pastors are required to develop an element that will benefit their congregation. Berg-Moberg first thought of creating a map for the congregation’s children, which evolved into the mural in the worship space. Having seen a mural that Larson had done for his congregation, Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer (ELCA), Minneapolis, Berg-Moberg contacted Larson to discuss creating the piece.

In just a few months, Larson created a mural representing Paul’s theology. Larson says that “art has always been important to me to depict my faith visually.”

In honoring Saint Paul’s teachings, Larson worked to capture both Christ’s dying and resurrection in the mural, and even included a bit of Greek text from 2 Corinthians. As Saint Anthony Park Lutheran sits adjacent to Luther Seminary, and is attended by many members of the seminary community, Larson thought the Greek text would be an especially meaningful addition for this particular congregation.

Telling a story by mural

Made of several 20-by-36-inch plastic panels, the mural is the largest that has ever hung in the congregation’s sanctuary. Completed in stages, the first piece finished was the image of the risen Christ, on a panel in the upper-right corner. This panel was completed in time for the congregation to have it displayed on Easter Sunday. The remainder of the mural was hung in pieces, with the complete piece up for Pentecost.

The mural is mounted on the west wall of St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church’s sanctuary.

“The most rewarding part was seeing it all come together,” Larson said, noting that due to space constraints, he didn’t see the entire mural as one until it was installed in the church.

In applying for the grant, Berg-Moberg found a unique study opportunity led by Lindford Stutzman, associate professor of culture and mission at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Stutzman leads a month-long course during May throughout the Mediterranean, following the route of Paul.

“As far as he can tell, he is the only person who has sailed the routes that Saint Paul sailed,” Berg-Moberg said.

Berg-Moberg said that finding a course of study that followed Saint Paul’s sea route also complemented his personal hobby of sailing.

Honoring the work of Paul in the church’s worship space, is not the only thing Berg-Moberg plans to bring back when he returns to the congregation this month. He hopes to teach courses on Acts or on Saint Paul in a more general sense, and has also considered the possibility of taking a group from the congregation to experience a similar mission study.

“This has been a chance to … regain some of the wonder more than ever to understand what Paul was willing to do for the sake of the gospel,” Berg-Moberg said. “I have a renewed sense of the power of the gospel. One has to ask the rhetorical question [when thinking of all that Paul risked in his journeys], ‘what would make a person do that?’ It is inspiring.”

To read about Pastor Berg-Moberg’s sabbatical, go to http://saplcpastor.posterous.com.

To learn about opportunities to have a mural created for a congregation, contact Joe Larson at joeandcharboys@aol.com.

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