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Eight Tips for Designing Liturgical Banners

Rainbows, piles of stones, the Ark of the Covenant, a star, a dove. Isn't it time to follow God's lead and reclaim the visual arts to remind us of God's presence among us? A feature story about the role of visual art in worship.

Before you make a banner, consider how it will fit in. “Sit in your sanctuary and write what you see. What do you want to be the focus? Is the banner going to overtake the importance of the pulpit, Lord's Table, or baptismal font? Don't get caught up into designing a banner without thinking where it will hang or how big it should be,” advises Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, an artist and retired art professor who consults with churches on visually enhancing their worship environments.

Consider spaces beyond the sanctuary. Go through your church, area by area, including outdoors, to identify all the spaces that could be enhanced by art. Talk with your artists about which images would be most fitting for specific spaces. Remember that banners hung in the narthex or outdoors can help people feel welcome.

Think theologically, not decoratively. Use banners to enhance worship, not decorate the church. “Start from the worship liturgy or scripture itself or the liturgical season. Then you are in the right context for planning a banner. People are so quick to ask how, how, how. Start with why. For example, discuss why we have all these streamers blowing at Pentecost,” advises Betsy Steele Halstead, a visual arts resource specialist and woodcut artist.

“Then go to how to do it. Bring in people who have different perspectives. Those stronger in biblical and theological knowledge can help artists,” she says.

Thinking theologically in community makes sense to Joanne Alberda. “It's so ‘in' in the art world to be subtle, and, sometimes, so personal that no one else gets it,” says Alberda, who teaches art at Dordt College, in Sioux Center, Iowa, and designs and creates liturgical textiles for churches. She notes that clearly-conceived banners can set a particular mood for worship or commemorate special events, such as baptism, profession of faith, or communion.

Alberda recommends Seasons for Praise: Art for the Sanctuary, by Eleanore Feucht Sudbrock, as an especially good book for designing banners appropriate to the church year.

Get ideas from other churches and books. You can see streamers and read designer Shirley DeJonge's comments about liturgical streamers used at Woodlawn Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Prospect Heights, Illinois, often uses the same designs on its bulletin covers that appear on its banners.

For simple, reproducible banner designs, Joanne Alberda recommends Celebrations of Faith: banner designs, by Carla Krazl. She gets calligraphy ideas from the book Portraits of the Word, by Timothy Botts.

Take a cue from textile artist Alice Brinkman and remember that textiles can be three-dimensional.

Think practically. “Banners should be easy to hang and store. If you let a quilt hang all the time, it puts a lot of stress on the stitches and fabric. Plus it takes a lot of room,” Alberda says. So she stores her banners on rods. She uses 56-inch closet rod doweling and screws in a wooden disk on both ends of the rods. She winds each banner around a rod, wraps it in paper, then hangs the rod on bicycle hooks screwed into the wall.

Call on many gifts to accomplish. Alberda notes that in every church she has worked in, there are men who can make poles and pulley systems to mount banners, even if banners need to be mounted 32 feet above the floor.

Address who will pay for labor and materials. “Every artist ought to give something back. For my church, I can afford to make and give banners. I like not being paid for it, because no one can say, ‘Have it ready by this time.' For workshops, consultations, or commissions for other churches, I get paid,” Alberda says.

Involve children. Use children's drawings as cues for banner designs. Reproduce a drawing on bulletin covers. Create a small banner on a T-shaped pole and let kids take turns leading the processional out of church for children's worship or vacation Bible school.