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Newsfront - April 4, 2008

Coming together

Creation of anniversary mosaic is an interfaith endeavor

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The new mosaic at Peace Lutheran Church engaged the greater interfaith community for its creation, literally. This is in keeping with the church's beliefs.

"It is an interfaith mosaic," said the Rev. Steve Harms. "The identity for our congregation is we are a house of prayer for all peoples of faith."

The congregation wanted to do something special to celebrate its 50th anniversary last year.

"One of the clergy here, Margareta Dahlin Johansson, suggested early on to have a commemorative art piece for the year," recalled Harms.

Peace Lutheran had already installed stained glass windows, projects that involved the whole congregation, and the community-building aspects of a new art piece had great appeal, said Harms.

He contacted artist Richard Caemmerer, an artist of international repute.

"Since he'd done other projects, we talked about what might happen here and he suggested a mosaic," Harms remembered.

"He understands how art needs to serve or engage the community," said Harms. "We wanted to express the sense of the history, roots and identity of the congregation but also to convey the spirit of the future."

Johansson began telling people about the planned piece of art, and her yoga teacher put her in touch with another student from Danville, mosaic artist Jennifer Mitchell.

"Richard came up with the design, and Jennifer gave oversight to the project," said Harms. "She knew everything that's important about how this medium works. And she brought her own artistic eye."

"The layout was done by June," said Mitchell, "and we started to install the tiles in December."

The mosaic has 43,000 tiles, which were assembled in 45 chunks. The tiles are Byzantine glass, or "smalti," and were imported from Mexico, made by the Perdomo Family with swirls and marbling. The family also crafted tiles for renowned artist Diego Rivera.

"Just working with the tiles was like a silent prayer," said Johansson. "And it was fun because people kept driving by and stopping."

The mosaic decorates the rear wall of the church on Camino Tassajara, and is adjacent to its labyrinth, which is used by many for walking meditation.

"It was cool to see people walk the labyrinth," said Johansson, while they were installing the mosaic. "There were walking groups from near here and from further distances. The mosaic adds another depth."

The 13-foot mosaic has symbols from many beliefs, including a dove, a yin-yang and a lotus flower. And people of all faiths - Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Bahai among others - took part in laying the tiles.

"It's the largest mosaic in Danville," said Mitchell. "It was neat to work on the mosaic and I made great friends."

Its center was left open so it could have a 2-foot medallion placed inside according to which faith is celebrating a holiday. One medallion is decorated with a Star of David and says Shalom. Another, depicting many hands, was made by the Network of Spiritual Progressives. When homeless children spent the night at Peace Lutheran as part of the Winter Nights program, they created a medallion with a manger, as they learned that Jesus also needed a home.

"We took it to the homebound, and our children worked on it during children's time," said Johansson. "We worked hard to make it for everyone."

"There is profound wisdom within the Christian tradition, but any religious path which excludes another human being is not going to work," said Harms. "Part of our calling is creative engagement of contemporary issues, and interfaith is a significant part of our work here."

Creating the mosaic was one more chance to draw everyone together, he noted.

"Our interfaith friends have participated," he said. "Of course what happens is the conversation that arises it's so rich to see people together, focused on a common project. The stories just start to emerge. It's an honoring of all of our faith traditions."

The Commemorative Art Mosaic will be dedicated at 4 p.m., Sunday, April 6. Everyone is welcome.

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