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At Winterfest, artist’s painting becomes a sermon

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Kent Mereness is done painting.
Now it’s American Airlines’ turn.
Sitting on the tarmac at McGhee Tyson Airport, he and his fellow passengers watch snowflakes fall. Outside, airport employees spray the tiny plane that will take him back to Texas with coat after coat of antifreeze.
The “plane painting” takes about 45 minutes — ample time for Mereness to chat about the events of eight hours earlier, 44 miles away in Gatlinburg. There, as 6,000 sets of eyes watched, he created a spiritual-themed painting during Sunday worship at the conclusion of Winterfest 2012.
Then he did it again, in front of another 6,000 worshipers, during the youth rally’s second service.
Mereness is director of Buffs for Christ, a student ministry for the campus of West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.
For nearly 10 years, he has done “paint talks.” As speakers discuss biblical principles, he creates images that illustrate the lessons.
Winterfest’s coordinator, Dudley Chancey, asked Mereness to illustrate 12 spiritual disciplines highlighted in Richard J. Foster’s book, “Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.”
Mereness produced images — a baby’s face representing simplicity, a hand washing a foot for service, an empty plate for fasting — that were converted into large, fabric prints that surrounded the Winterfest stage. As the speakers urged attendees to practice the disciplines, each one had a visual cue.
On Sunday, as Colorado minister Patrick Mead wrapped up the study, Mereness created an image of a rose window with 12 petals, representing the disciplines. Using acrylic paint, he added slight images of wheat and grapes.
During the Lord’s Supper, as the youths passed the cardboard holders with small cups of grape juice, a black light hit the painting, revealing an image of Christ holding a broken loaf of bread and a cup.
“Foster uses the analogy that we are like seeds, and the spiritual disciplines are the way God gets us into the ground so that he can grow us into the image of his Son,” Mereness said. “It seems fitting that, as students were learning how to cooperate with God in these ways, they would finish the weekend at the table, meeting with the head and the body while partaking of the bread and the cup.”
George Hankins, a church member from Ohio who attended Winterfest, described it as “an impacting image.”
“The thought of Jesus personally overseeing our communion with him was made into an effective visual,” he said.
Dawn Shipley of Baltimore said, “I actually got tears in my eyes. It made me remember that we are with Christ in communion. I loved it.”

  • Feedback
    If you ever produce a film of this event, the lessons and the imagery can be shown on a big screen you could touch so many more congregations and youth events. Sounds like a beautiful way to teach young and old alike.
    Darlene Beeler
    Farmington Church of Christ
    Farmington, Arkansas
    March, 20 2012

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