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Using the Heritage Edition to Lower the Veil at Christ Church Charlotte

When artistry amplifies scripture, thin spaces bring communities closer to the great design

Posted April 5, 2018 in Religious Institutions
The Saint John's Bible St Martin's

The Heritage Edition offers the opportunity to spread the artistry and message of The Saint John’s Bible. For Christ Church Charlotte, it also deepens a community’s connection with its own spiritual imagination.

On April 2, Christ Church finished their extended six-month partnership as hosts of the Heritage Edition. “The driving reason for bringing The Saint John’s Bible to Charlotte was to have people experience the Bible in a way they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to,” said Rev. Matt Holcombe, who is responsible for the church’s adult formation and spiritual growth initiatives. Holcombe was the first of his congregation to encounter the Heritage Edition.

“I was undone,” Holcombe said of his first viewing. “I was in complete amazement at what I was seeing, how everyone who worked on the project captured the Bible in a way I’d never seen presented before. I knew from the moment I saw it that it was going to be an important centerpiece of our program.”

Where the Heritage Edition Fits in the “Sacred Geometry” of Interfaith Outreach

For Christ Church Charlotte, The Saint John’s Bible would become an essential part of the church’s programming. To make a place among the church’s numerous Bible-focused initiatives (which range from verse-a-day programs to reading the entire Bible cover to cover), the church needed a team.

“We pulled together five ambassadors,” he said. “They have been the hands and the feet of The Saint John’s Bible while it’s been at Christ Church.”

The group’s senior ambassador, Genie Hufham, was tasked with coordinating viewings and events within the Charlotte community. “That’s all it took,” said Hufham, whose experience as a walking tour guide served her well as a liaison for the Heritage Edition. “I had this bee in my bonnet, that I felt like other Episcopal churches ought to see it, and also contacted our four largest retirement communities.”

The Saint John's Bible Christ Church Charlotte NCHer outreach resulted in bookings from fellow churches, school groups, Bible study groups and more. “Taking it to Palisades and Trinity Episcopal Schools were major highlights,” Hufham said. “Once the children came up to see the Bible, the tenor of the conversations shifted.”

One such conversation occurred with a sixth grader at Palisades Episcopal School. “[Palisades] invites all faiths, as does The Saint John’s Bible,” Hufham said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a Jewish boy in attendance. As I turned to the Genealogy of Christ” – an illumination that opens the book of Matthew featuring the Hebrew names of Jesus’s ancestors alongside their English translations, all arranged in the margins of an ornately stylized menorah – “his face just lit up.

“Then we saw the Passover section, and you see the blood as it flows out of the Passover lamb and into a basin, with the Star of David everywhere. He turned to me and said, ‘This makes me so happy to see my faith reflected in this Bible.’ I thought I would fall over.”

These types of encounters led Holcombe, Hufham and the other ambassadors to focus on the universality of the Bible and its message. “We see kids, parents, grandparents – generations circled around the Bible, hearing the same message and seeing with the same eyes,” Holcombe said.

Each detail was another opportunity to tie The Saint John’s Bible to Christ Church’s messaging. For example, calligrapher Donald Jackson’s stamp, seen throughout the Heritage Edition, consists of six concentric circles – a design theme Hufham incorporated into her presentations. “I used that a lot,” she said, carrying the thematic “sacred geometry” of the shape through to her encounters. “Reminding people that everything God has made is perfect. It all fits.”

Deepening a Personal Connection with the Spiritual Imagination

To prepare for their positions, the ambassador team “did a lot of self-education,” Holcombe said. Drawing from Susan Sink’s The Art of the Saint John’s Bible, Michael Patella’s Word and Image, and more, the team became well-acquainted with not only the visual aspects of The Saint John’s Bible, but also the effort and dedication that made them possible.The Saint John's Bible Christ Church Charlotte NC

“People taught each other, which was what was beautiful about it,” Hufham said. “When people saw the complexity of this volume and the vibrancy of its colors, they asked, ‘How did they do this?’ I’m no printmaker, but just knowing that this is a museum-quality lithograph and that no two are alike just blew us all away.”

The research paid off, with typical encounters lasting beyond their allotted time slots and ambassadors approaching each with a passion and desire to learn. “The detail, how 20th and 21st century elements are woven into this Bible, has really made it come to life,” Hufham said. “It’s not just a big, fat, dusty book on the shelf.”

Hufham said that even a low-attendance viewing held value: “It became a spiritual journey for the ambassadors, too. If somebody didn’t show up, the ambassadors still had an opportunity to go through the illuminations, reading and learning alongside the Bible.”

Holcombe added, “One of the things I’ve enjoyed most is watching Genie and the other ambassadors experience the Bible. It’s been remarkable to see them talk with such passion about scripture – to have a vocabulary they didn’t have six months ago.”

Thin Spaces Blown Wide Open

The greatest benefit of bringing the Heritage Edition to Christ Church, Holcombe said, was its utility as a conduit for thin spaces. “These are moments in which you are aware of the divine in a way you weren’t before,” he commented. “To see the veil between the great design and our human experience being lowered.”

Hufham saw similar value in the provenance of The Saint John’s Bible: “In addition to the number of people who had a real appreciation for God’s word shown in this manner, the dedication and time invested into making it – those really do amplify it.”

These aspects of The Saint John’s Bible, at once storied and fresh (“Every time I open it, I enjoy something new,” Hufham said), helped tie together Christ Church’s larger outreach efforts. “[People] see the Bible and the stories they’ve heard so many times in a new way, in a new light,” Holcombe said.

“To see people look at the Bible in a different way, from a first-grader at a school to a 98-year-old woman, that’s a success. If it would’ve been one, it would’ve been a win. There have been hundreds.”