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Transfiguration

A good friend of mine from seminary did his internship at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the South Bronx, New York City. Located on a very busy corner since 1931, Transfiguration had been a bilingual church since the 1960s—when the Puerto Rican Lutherans who founded the church decided they should starting reaching out to their English speaking neighbors.

At the time that Mike served there, the South Bronx was a neighborhood facing many challenges—poverty, gang violence, drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and inadequate housing, to name a few.

The church building at Transfiguration had as its main entrance two solid steel doors, which over the life of the congregation had mostly been painted either battleship gray or deep red. Often, though, they were “tagged” by various gangs, and tended to be covered in graffiti. During a conversation with confirmation students about the church year and how the colors on the altar and the pulpit change according to the seasons, some students thought it would be a good idea to paint the church doors. "Someone here ends up painting over the graffiti all the time,” they said. “What if we painted a mural, something that used colors and images about our church, something that changed with the season?"

Soon, the confirmation students and their leaders had a new project. They designed different murals that could be painted according to the season. They started on Thanksgiving weekend, painting the doors blue and adding symbols of Advent and Christmas to them—wreaths, candles, stars, a stable. The painting was very “urban” in design—featuring a number of graffiti-like styles. The thought was that if any actual graffiti was added later, it might just blend in.

They needn’t have worried. For whatever reason, the church doors from then on were largely left alone.

Neighbors noticed the murals and commented on them, asking questions about the liturgical art, praising the artists, asking if they could help paint, wondering what the next mural might be like.

Years later, the doors are still re-painted several times a year, and the entire community has become aware in a whole new way of the ministry that happens both within those doors and beyond them.

Transfiguration—like this congregation that bears its name—allows us to see things in a different light. It opens doors to possibilities and lets the light of God’s glory shine through. Like the disciples who witness Jesus’ Transfiguration (Mark 9: 2-9), we can also be transformed as we see things in a new and different light.

Pastor Peter Hanson


This devotion was originally published on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 in What's Happening, Christ the King's weekly e-newsletter. Sign up to receive What's Happening

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