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Apr 02, 2014 | Luke Blount

Houston Church Uses Pottery to Engage Spirituality

At a Lenten Pottery and Spirituality Workshop on Saturday, the Rev. Eric Hungerford encouraged participants to be “co-creators with God.” The event at St. Mark’s Between the Bayous, Houston, was an opportunity for community members to learn pottery and engage on a deeper level of understanding of the creative process.


“God is the great creator, and we are also made to be creators.” Hungerford told participants before reading a prayer for artists. “There is the great image from Isaiah that God is the potter, and we are the clay. Over time, we are made into the masterpiece that God wants us to be. I think that this is a really cool way for us to get creative and explore our inner selves.”


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Community member and potter, Sally Kirk, led the workshop. Kirk, a middle school orchestra teacher, has been working with pottery and sculpture for about three years. Her pottery studio is located across the street from the middle school, and often times she will leave work and immediately begin work on her pottery. She says that working with the potter’s wheel is an especially spiritual process.


“I think there is something about the wheel spinning that is really hypnotic, and it just takes me away from reality,” she said. “It is like meditation; I just go away.”


During the workshop, participants were encouraged to strike the “gong,” a Tibetan singing bowl, for a moment of silence. Then, they could read one of several prayers about art or creation that were provided on slips of paper.


Kirk believes that the act of working with clay parallels the human experience. “Clay is a model of us being molded,” she explained. Much like clay and pottery, “we have bumps and bruises and none of us are perfect. When something doesn’t work out, you can just smash it up and start over again with the same clay. It’s limitless.”


Sitting around the potter’s wheel or slowly working on a sculpture gives us a glimpse into God, said Kirk. “I get the snapshot of God working on our hearts and continually growing us and shaping us. We get to take part in that in some earthly way: growing something from a piece of mud. It is a really holy experience.”


Kirk joined St. Mark’s Between the Bayous community less than a year ago, but has already taken an active role. As a satellite campus of St. Mark’s in Bellaire, the church describes itself as a “sustainable, organic, and local Episcopal community” located just outside of downtown Houston between White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou. Services are offered on Sunday and Tuesday nights. Sometimes the group meets in their church building, which doubles as a comedy club (Station Theater), and other times they meet at a local bar.


At the center of the church’s mission is the idea that everyone is welcome and all perspectives respected. Art, music, and open discussion play particularly important roles in the community.


Kirk’s husband, John, is an organist currently working for Holy Trinity, Dickinson, but before their marriage she had little experience with the Episcopal Church. As a native Houstonian of Egyptian heritage, Kirk spent much of her formative years in the youth group of the Arabic Church of Houston, a non-denominational Christian church serving a variety of immigrants from Middle Eastern countries and beyond. Kirk said she loved the emotional and artistic aspects of that church, but was drawn to the liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church. Still, she had trouble finding an Episcopal Church that met all of her needs.


When she heard about Between the Bayous, she sought out Hungerford to find out more. “It was a hard balance to find this place that had it all, but it was all here,” she said. “The first time I came, I was very impressed that Eric would do a sermon and then open it up for discussion. It is a very welcoming community. Afterwards, we will have a beer and talk, and it’s just like hanging out with your best buds.”


About 15 people attended the pottery workshop, but the demographic representation could not have been more diverse. Many of Kirk’s friends from the Arabic Church participated in addition to regular members of Between the Bayous. English, French, Spanish, and at least two different Arabic dialects were heard at some point during the event.


The novice artists created a variety of pieces including several cups and bowls in addition to more inventive items like sculptured pizza slices and a plate in the shape of a leaf. As part of a larger project, everyone was invited to help build a sculpture of St. Francis that would be placed in the church’s garden. In the true independent spirit of the community, St. Francis was given a thick Mohawk.


As the artists debated whether to risk placing the sculpture in a kiln, where the piece may have cracked or even exploded, one participant suggested letting St. Francis dry naturally. They could place the sculpture in the garden, where it would slowly fade with the rain. “Ashes to ashes,” he said. “We can create a new one next year.”


Learn more about Between the Bayous here.