Where do your church’s stories reside? It probably depends on the story. Scriptural stories? They live in the books in pews, pulpits, and libraries. They live in references in sermons and study groups. They live in the colored images of stained glass windows, embroidered kneelers, and other pieces of liturgical art.
But where do the stories of the members of your congregation live? The stories of real flesh and blood people who worshiped within the church’s walls, who brought their babies to be baptized, who sealed marriage with a kiss, and who buried their parents? These stories often exist only in hearts and minds and fading photographs – far more ephemeral places than words on a page, or effigies carved in stone or wood.
Last summer I faced a conundrum. We needed to set a theme for a joint stewardship and capital campaign. Typically, I prefer to develop stewardship themes around people’s stories of how our congregation is serving as the kingdom of God in the world today, how we are the hands and feet of Christ. Facts, figures, charts, and graphs related to budget are supplemental. Information about the cost of maintaining our building is available, but not the main focus of the campaign theme. Yet last year, much of the proposed campaign DID focus on the building – the usual efforts to maintain and improve it, and efforts to implement green initiatives. So I wondered, how could I tell building-oriented stories as part of our fundraising campaign without losing the stories of the people who make up our congregation? That’s when it hit me – there are physical features of our building that tell stories!
Our stained-glass windows had been refurbished as part of a earlier fundraising campaign. I figured if those windows could tell scriptural stories, then they could tell congregational stories as well! And so I set about making stained glass stories of our parishioners. You can too!
Before You Begin
You will need a photo editor such as Pixlr.com (free online) or Photoshop Elements; and the app Prisma (available for free for Android or iOs), and a mobile phone with a decent camera. And some beautiful church windows!
Rather than the gigantic feature windows behind our altar, I chose to use one of the smaller and simpler side-windows. These windows have an iconic shape that worked well as a “frame” for the photos I had in mind. While you might be able to do something really cool with a rose window or other complicated sectional window, a simple frame might be the best place to start – the emphasis is on the photo which will become the stained glass rather than the complexity of the window.
- Photograph your existing window. Choose a window that has a distinctive shape, frame or border design. Make sure to take the picture straight on, holding the camera level with the window, directly in front of it. Try not to take the picture when the sun is shining directly through it because the light will obscure the details you want.
- Using Photoshop or Pixlr or other photo editor, and erase the background wall surrounding the window, then the stained glass inside the window, leaving only the frame or perhaps some of the window pane dividers. If there is an attractive or distinctive stained-glass border design, you could leave that if you think it will enhance the photos you will be using.
- Save the window frame image as a TIFF or PNG, making sure to preserve the transparency of the graphic.
- Download the free Prisma app. Allow it access to your phone’s photo directory and camera.
- Take photos of your congregation using your mobile phone. Alternately, if you have great shots, download and save them to your mobile phone (I do this by emailing them to myself and save them from my phone’s email app).
- Using the Prisma app on your mobile phone, render the photos using the Mosaic filter. Warning! Once you start playing with pictures and videos in Prisma, you may never stop
- Save the Prisma rendering to your device. It will be in a JPEG format.
- Pull the Prisma JPEG into Pixlr or whatever photo editor you are using. (And yes, if you are using Prisma on your mobile device and a photo editor on another device such as a laptop or desktop, there is a lot of transferring images back and forth. TIP: Work in batches – take and save all of your photos on your mobile device. Render them all in Prisma, then transfer them all to whatever device you are using to edit photos).
- In your photo editor, layer your window “frame” over the Prisma mosaic photo. You may need to crop the Prisma photo so that the edges don’t exceed the frame. You can play with the placement, shifting the photo around to best showcase it in the frame.
- Save the layers as one image. Voila! You’ve got your stained-glass window!
What to do with your stained-glass images? Send them to the folks pictured – some of our parishioners then used their stained-glass windows on their own social media accounts. Use the stained-glass windows in your print materials. Use them to build a campaign of parishioners’ stories on social media. Get a mini printer and print hi-gloss postcards for people to keep as a memento (we’ve done this at conferences! Totally fun!) You could add any sort of call to action or reminder on the postcard, whether it’s an invitation to your stewardship campaign, or information about service times or upcoming events.
You could also use this technique as a way to illustrate not just individuals but different ministries in your church! Take a series of “window” shots of people doing ministry and use those on your website or in other communications pieces that describe ministry opportunities.
It’s easy to dismiss a project like this as a gimmick, considering it merely a fun memento or an eye-catching means of communication. With a bit of intentionality, however, you can make this a more formational project. You can send an important message to people in your community, a message that may inspire their ministries. When you create your stained-glass windows and share them with people, remind everyone that those of us living today are as much a part of the ongoing story of the people of God as those scriptural figures and saints depicted in the windows of our churches. We are the communion of saints, the cloud of believers. Help your congregation see themselves as such!
Here are a few windows we made of our friends at the CEEP conference in January!
- Lisa Brown
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at email@example.com or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.