When Church of the Cross first moved into this building in 2004, a small wooden cross was discovered in the attic. It felt like a gift. The church itself was starting from a humble place and here was a simple, unadorned, humble cross offering itself for use. For many years it processed in ahead of our Gospel text, service participants and clergy as a witness to both the church’s hope and identity.
Years ago, discussions began around the idea of finding a new processional cross. What kind of cross would we like? Would we simply purchase one ready-made, or commission an artist to design and craft one? What did we think about the arts? What role should the arts play within the church’s body, its building, and its worship?
A team was formed to carefully think and pray through the nature of the arts at Church of the Cross. After many months of prayer-filled discussion, they articulated a vision for a high value and rich incorporation of the arts. Thereafter, they set to work on inviting artists to consider the task of creating a new processional cross. There was much to consider.
The cross is a symbol of our faith in general, but is also the central symbol of our particular identity as a “Church of the Cross.” This name was chosen in the church’s first days in large part because of the verse from Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ.” No growth, no stability, and no programming were to be seen as the work of the congregation but instead as an extension of Christ’s work on the cross.
Keeping this in mind, the Arts Team desired a cross that was simple, yet reflected the church’s maturation—something that would renew our experience of the cross and invite reflection and conversation. There was a desire for both luminosity and weightiness, for both an ancient and modern sensibility, and of course a capacity to be carried by both young and old.
Ken Steinbach, a professional sculptor at Bethel University, submitted a proposal that piqued the team’s interest. It was beautiful, historic, contemporary, and intensely symbolic of the Church’s purpose and even Church of the Cross’s own story.
Every material and artistic process used to create our new processional cross contained an intentionality to engage with this two-layered symbolism—the Church’s overarching purpose, and Church of the Cross’s particular story and identity. Following, the artist Ken Steinbach articulates the significance of each artistic element:
A CROSS WITHIN A CROSS
The principle feature in the design is the embedding of the bronze cross within the larger gold framework cross. This type of iconographic interior/exterior layering is a frequent hallmark of Anglican Church design, seen in both historical and contemporary imagery. The embedding of one cross within another speaks to the connections between Church of the Cross and the larger Anglican Communion, a community that not only expands outward both socially and geographically, but historically back and forth in time.
The bronze interior cross, which was cast on site in order to involve the church in the making of this community piece, is based on the wooden cross that was found in the church attic and used as the processional cross for the first ten years. Additionally, the blue patina on the bronze resembles the waters of baptism
The maple used for the exterior framework cross was salvaged from the
Great Lakes, having been logged in the 1800’s and floated across the lakes to mills in the east. During this process some of the wood waterlogged and sunk to the bottom of the lakes, where it stayed preserved in the cold water. The logs have recently been raised and offered for sale. As such, the maple is old growth wood that dates back as far as 1000 AD, representative of the Anglican Church’s historic roots. The use of this wood introduces a larger natural context to the work, speaking to an environmental sense of time and location. Thus, the exterior frame simultaneously references two important contexts for the interior cross; the larger Anglican Church body and the natural world. Church of the Cross dwells within both of these.
THE BARBED CROSS
The use of the barbed cross symbol in the exterior cross has its historical roots in coastal and fishing communities. Common interpretations of the symbol suggest that the ends of the cross reference fish-hook barbs, and evoke the biblical invitation to “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The four points also evoke the four corners of the earth, with its arrows pointing north, south, east and west. This symbolic reference to water is another connection to the natural features of this region, a connection that is also enhanced by the color of the bronze patina.
Ken Steinbach’s design is an invitation to remember a mantra, a synopsis of our threefold mission, repeated by Church of the Cross in its earliest days: “Up, In & Out.” The cross points “up” to God (Encounter Christ), “in” toward the Lord’s work within individuals and communities (Changed by Christ), and “out” in a commission to spread the Gospel (Introduce Christ to Others).
How wonderful that in the year of our 10th Anniversary the church is offered, once again, a beautiful, timely, and treasured gift that tells Christ’s story, and reminds Church of the Cross of its part in it.