The United Church of Christ Congregational church in Vermilion, Ohio is celebrating love to mark its 200th anniversary. Through a public art project 'Love is the Key,' doors, designed and decorated by more than 31 artists, are being installed in outdoor locations all around this community on the south shores of Lake Erie.
The doors were all created to depict the 10 phrases on the UCC's 'Be the Church' banner -- Be the Church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Embrace diversity. Reject racism. Forgive often. Love God. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Enjoy this life. The illustrators were given artistic license to conceive imagery that visualizes the theme.
"That banner speaks to what a UCC stands for," said Judy Williams, a member of church who originated the project. "Everything that is on that banner illustrates who we are. I gave the 'Be the Church' bumper stickers to the artists, and told them to create whatever it was they saw. To use their talents to depict one of the value statements of the United Church of Christ."
Thirty one doors were created. They were unveiled and blessed during worship at UCC Congregational on Sunday, August 13. The painted pieces can soon be seen in parks and public spaces all around the city of Vermilion, in an outdoor display that will run into early October.
Maureen Cole, a church member and one of the artists, created a door around Embrace Diversity. "One of my deep values is that we accept one another just as we are. I have very strong feelings about that. There was no question for me that I was choosing that subject for my door," she said. Her door depicts "a family tree, full of stars, each one unique, each one matters. Love is the key to accepting each person just as they are. We love because God loved us first."
"It's the whole idea of letting your light shine," Cole continued. "The star is a symbol of my faith."
Another artist, Joette McDonlad, said, "My theme, 'We are all God's Children' reminds us that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and none of us has the prior claim on His Love. I believe that we are born colorblind and ready to accept all cultures, and will remain so if we aren't taught otherwise."
The doors came in from organizations all across the community, like the Boy Scouts, a drug recovery center, 'Let's Get Real,' and from Ability Works, a facility that works with developmentally disabled people.
"It's a great opportunity for this church, on its 200th anniversary to find a way of reaching out, so we are no longer the best kept secret in our community," said the Rev. David Zerby, the designated interim pastor at UCC Congregational. "Our church has experienced a nice increase in new folks over the last several months, and there is energy behind welcoming more."
Each of the artists paid $45 for their door and a chance to contribute. Once the outdoor display is over, the pieces of art will be auctioned off by the congregation, and the money raised will be used to fund an accessibility project of the church.
Williams, who came up with the idea for the doors while on a trip to Germany last year, said the finished project is more than she actually hoped for.
"I saw a similar display in Wittenberg, Germany last October, with old doors that were put up around the community that reflected Martin Luther and his values," she said, of a display that commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. "I brought the idea home and I think we will have a successful showing. The doors are really beautiful, but it's more than that. We have established relationships with people we did not know. New friendships. You can't put a dollar value on that."
Williams said that now a few of the people involved have started wearing a key around their neck.
"Love is the key," she said. "And we have the key!"