Churches engage with local justice issues through Minster Art Project

In the summer of 2020, the Task Force for Justice and Racial Reconciliation along with the Task Force for Liturgy, Music, and the Arts proposed the Minster Art Project. The project intended to “Get people involved in opening their eyes to injustices that are everywhere,” and bring greater awareness to the question of “Who is my neighbor,” that Jesus asks in the story of the Good Samaritan.

The project invited the churches of the diocese, organized in their regional “minsters,” to investigate the history of racial, political, and cultural injustices in their communities and seek out local art depicting anti-racism, social justice, political action, or protest. 

During Lent of 2021 Bishop Cathleen Bascom asked each parish to engage with the art they had discovered, through worship, discussion, or prayerful meditation. The churches then met with their Minster Teams throughout the liturgical season of Easter to share the artwork they had chosen. Each minster selected one piece that would be presented at both the Gathering of Clergy and Diocesan Convention in 2021. 

The Rev. Mary Donovan was appointed to support each minster as they completed their projects. She explained that “As each project came in, I realized how much I didn’t know about the state of Kansas; and how much the past was still around. It felt to me like the Holy Spirit was driving this, and that through the process a knowledge and a blessing was being given to us. It evolved into a visual journal of racial injustice, whether we wanted to see it revealed or not.” 

One of the first projects to be submitted was a set of pictures from the Dockum Drug Store sit-in that took place in Wichita in July of 1958. The Wichita Minster chose to focus on this brave and non-violent protest of segregation led by young black student Carol Parks-Hahn, and her cousin Ron Walters. 

The students were joined by friends and sitting at the counter would politely ask to be served every day for nearly a month. They suffered various forms of derision and threats of violence, but eventually convinced the owner to serve them because he was “losing too much money.” 

In 1998, the city of Wichita placed a life-size bronze sculpture representing the Dockum Drug Store lunch counter at the Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park. The story has largely gone untold until recent years.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church in Atchison shared another powerful story which had emerged in their community because of the research of Dr. Joshua Wolf, Assistant Professor of History at Benedictine College. When asked by one of his students if there had ever been a lynching in the town, he was compelled to find out. He uncovered the story of George Johnson, who accidentally injured a white man in a hunting accident and turned himself in to the authorities. He was jailed for over a year and later lynched by a mob of townspeople. 

Wolf submitted his research to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which is a non-profit organization that seeks to recognize the victims of lynching in the United States. 

As part of Atchison’s Juneteenth celebration, the city held a memorial walk and dedication service for a new historical marker to commemorate the site of Johnson’s death. The marker is located next to a sculpture titled “Reflections,” which was also dedicated the same weekend.  George Johnson’s name was added to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, which remembers lynching victims.

The Rev. Jon Hullinger of Trinity, Atchison expressed that the Minster Art Project was “Something beautiful that brought the community, parish, and diocese together.”

For St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City, the project inspired a banner sewn together from liturgical garments, spanning the 164-year history of both St. Paul’s and Ascension, a black congregation which merged with St. Paul’s in 1998. 

Ross Warnell, who is a member of the altar guild at St. Paul’s, wrote in the description of the project that “As we considered this, we reflected on the ways that the church has contributed to both the ills that affect our community as well as the healing of those very same ills.” 

The banner tells a visual story of the church’s history from a time of racial injustice and segregation when people of color could neither live near St. Paul’s or worship there, to a hopeful present where the church is now poised to become a center for Hispanic ministry and outreach. To Ross the banner is a symbol for how our faith is interwoven through all ages and time, representing our unity as we become “one in Christ Jesus.”

All of the Minster Art Projects can be viewed in full detail on the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas website or Facebook page — click the images below to enlarge.

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