“Beyond the Gallery” is the name I’m giving to a series of posts I’ll be writing from time to time that focuses on visual artists (or proponents of the visual arts) who are not well known, but who are doing a great work in spreading the love and truths of Christ through art. These are people who have proven the value and power that art holds outside of the gallery.
Last week I received word of the passing of my dear friend, Pastor Andrew Thomas. It’s a bit odd for me to refer to him as a dear friend as I’ve only met with him a handful of times. But I have a feeling that most people walked away from a first meeting with Andrew feeling like he is a dear friend.
In February of 2012 my wife and I were asked to lead a breakout session at a multicultural worship conference in Atlanta on “The Spirituality of Creativity.” A friend we made there gave us Andrew Thomas’ contact information and encouraged us to touch base with him, as he was in our area.
We did just that. And we quickly found common ground. Andrew was a worship and creative arts pastor, plus he was an amazing singer. And while he wasn’t a visual artist himself that I know of, he loved art and he loved artists. I don’t know if “encourage the artists of the church” was in his official job description, but he lived that out, even reaching out to artists outside of his church like my wife and me.
At the time, my wife was an assistant leader for our church’s artists in Lancaster. Pastor Andrew oversaw the artists at his church in Harrisburg. We talked about getting the two groups together a number of times, but it never happened. It’s rare to find someone so passionate about visual art who isn’t a visual artist himself. But that was Andrew. He got excited as he talked about it, and just as we have experienced his personal encouragement, we know others closer to him must have experienced it all the more.
Beyond the enthusiasm and encouragement, he used the arts creatively to reach out to his community, his church, and even his own wife. The following stories relate each of these points.
In February of 2012 Kate and I attended a coffeehouse event that Andrew and his team put together, and which continues to be a regular event. Coffeehouse probably isn’t the best word for it, but the man loved his coffee—I imagine the name was inevitable. The evening had a steady stream of performers, and it was always intentionally multicultural. After all, why wouldn’t you want the makeup of your church to match the makeup of your community? This was a way to reach out to his community. As you can imagine, the evening was a hoot and was always packed. And outside the main performance area the space was filled with artwork, with many of the artists in attendance—each one featured between performances.
On Palm Sunday of 2013, Pastor Andrew used one of Kate’s collages (“Heart Song”) during the service. It was placed on the stage on a large easel. Andrew talked about the artwork and gave a short history about the song Kate’s piece was inspired by—”The Love of God.” Then he led us in singing that song together. It was a beautiful moment and it was a creative and very natural integration of visual art into a time of worship.
Last year Andrew and his wife, Caron, had a vow renewal ceremony. Andrew commissioned my wife to create a collage portrait of the two of them together. She created a beautiful piece and worked in various aspects of their lives, from favorite verses and hometowns, to their favorite soccer teams. The piece was then unveiled during the ceremony. Even in a very personal (and interpersonal) aspect of his life, he integrated art and showed love through art.
I’ve focused on one very small aspect of Andrew’s life, and it feels odd not to mention his larger accomplishments, such as his family. But that’s the part I knew and experienced. And though it only cracks the door to the beautiful man that he was, this is my tribute to Andrew Thomas and to a life lived to glorify Christ.