RAPID CITY, S.D. — Watching a Bible story come to life on canvas offered a South Dakota church a new and vibrant reminder that God is with them.
Paul Oman, an artist from Wisconsin, brought his live-action ministry “Drawn to the Word” to South Canyon Lutheran Church last month as part of the congregation’s 60th anniversary. While scripture verses were read and music played during a Sunday morning worship service, Oman painted a 7-foot tall, 5-foot wide depiction of Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The entire painting was completed in 50 minutes.
“It was a very wonderful experience for people,” said Pastor Chris Baesler. “It was a deeply meaningful experience for them to watch a Bible story come to life, to watch that grow in front of their eyes.”
Oman lightly sketched the dominant images on the canvas ahead of time; he could see them but the audience could not. Oman placed his canvas on a spindle so he could rotate it and paint on the entire canvas without using a ladder. The canvas started out upside down, which the congregation gradually realized as the images Oman was painting began to take shape.
“There’s a moment when I paint ... when I flipped the canvas, there’s an audible gasp you hear. For me, it tells me (the congregation) realized what it is,” Oman said. “Kids tend to have more open minds and see things that are upside down much sooner than adults.
“I almost always find there’s skepticism about an artist (in church) until people see and experience the process. Now they have a shared experience. They can talk to people in their church and community and the walls just seem to come down,” Oman said.
Before the June 30 service, Oman visited South Canyon Lutheran and adapted his color scheme for the painting to complement the church’s palette of warm neutral colors and maroon. The painting will ultimately hang in the church’s fellowship area.
Oman’s artistic ministry evolved out of his love of painting and his previous careers as a teacher and pastor. Since 2011, Oman has taken his “Drawn to the Word” ministry throughout the United States and into China and Tanzania. Oman visits churches, public and private schools, non-profits, camps including Outlaw Ranch in Custer, seminaries, colleges, and more with his “Drawn to the Word” events. He also teaches painting workshops.
“My real joy comes in painting for people. When they tell me . . . there’s something (in my work) that gives them hope, there’s a promise bigger than words can say, that’s the biggest reward for what I’m doing,” Oman said.
He customizes his paintings to specific locations and occasions. For example, Oman’s work has been incorporated into school anti-bullying events. He painted the biblical story of the prodigal son, by request, for a men’s correctional facility.
South Canyon Lutheran requested its painting’s theme, “The Road to Emmaus,” to tie into the church’s anniversary.
“The painting is a reminder that God has been with us this whole time ... and He is present with us as we go forward in new ways,” Baesler said.
The “Drawn to the Word” worship service is one of several special activities taking place this year in conjunction with South Canyon Lutheran’s anniversary.
Baesler said South Canyon Lutheran is a church that values creativity, and “The Road to Emmaus” will serve as an ongoing inspiration/call to action for every person to make his or her own life a work of art.
“I think of (our congregation) very much as artists creating their life and connecting their faith to where they are. Our lives are works of art and God is present and active in them,” Baesler said.