Talents shared with church

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 10, 2001

BLOOMING PRAIRIE – Kristine Sheppard refuses to accept too much praise for her talents.

Thursday, May 10, 2001

BLOOMING PRAIRIE – Kristine Sheppard refuses to accept too much praise for her talents.

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"I feel it was the Lord working through me. He gave me the confidence," Sheppard said.

What she did touched hearts and stirred souls and made this Lenten season one of the most meaningful for members of First Lutheran Church of Blooming Prairie.

More accurately, Sheppard and church members made the holy season memorable.

Two weeks after Easter Sunday, members still are inspecting the seven panels of Sheppard’s woven works in the church sanctuary. They step in close to it or step back to gain perspective. They touch it, too.

It’s called "Weaving our lives together with Christ" and it is all that and more.

"Whenever a problem would develop, during the weaving, solutions quickly followed. No matter what panel it was, that always happened. It was a lot of work, but there is a great deal of satisfaction in what I’ve created with the help of so many," Sheppard said.

That’s because the artist believes she was being used as an "instrument" of God, while creating something so moving for First Lutheran Church.

Sheppard is a native of Racine, Wis. After high school, she moved to Minneapolis and has lived in Blooming Prairie only five years.

She came to the area to work as a structural steel drafter in Austin. When that job evaporated, she stayed and took a job as a cook at Prairie Manor Nursing Home in Blooming Prairie and joined First Lutheran Church.

Her parents are retired. Lou, her father, was a laminated countertop businessman. Her mother, Irene, taught school.

She has one older sister, who lives in Maryland.

A single mother, her daughter, Kaitlin, 17, is a sophomore at Blooming Prairie High School.

Her father is a creative carpenter and her mother operates back Home, a rag rug business from the couple’s home and markets her creations at a mall at Wayzata and locally at Touch of Charm in Blooming Prairie.

"I’ve been interested in crafts forever," Sheppard said. "The whole family is artistic. Dad builds houses and mom as been quilting and knitting forever it seems."

Last fall, the Rev. Richard Hegal, pastor of First Lutheran Church, conceived the idea that the congregation’s worship theme for the 2001 Lenten season would be "we are woven together in Christ."

Sheppard’s weaving and rag rug talents were no secret among the congregation’s members.

Hegal wanted the church members to be involved in a project that would bring the message of the Lenten season alive.

Sheppard picked up on Hegal’s suggestion and began to plan for a banner 3 feet tall and 20 feet long, that would include objects brought to the church by members.

However, a floor loom could not accommodate those goals and Sheppard decided instead to use a floor loom. It’s basic design is the same as those used in the time of Jesus Christ.

Hegal and Sheppard, plus others from the worship and music committees involved in the project, met in January to lay out plans for the Lenten season ahead.

On Ash Wednesday, the project began.

Sheppard brought her floor loom tot he church, positioned it in the sanctuary in front of the pulpit and during every Wednesday night Lenten service she would weave as Hegal preached and the church members watched and listened.

Hegal and lay minister Curtis Johnson preached on a theme that connected with each of the panels Sheppard wove.

"Each of the seven panels was intended to tell us who He was," said Sheppard.

Hegal’s own sermons were so touching that Sheppard would shed tears as she operated the floor loom. "When he spoke about His hands at work in our lives and my own hands were creating something that would tell us about His life with the objects the members were donating, it was a very moving experience for me. I cried," she said.

One hour per week in front of the First Lutheran Church congregation was not enough time to weave the panels. Her mother helped thread the floor loom and Sheppard averaged 40 hours a week of weaving usually starting a new panel on a Wednesday night and finishing it by the following Sunday morning.

Frequently, it took weekends, too, to catch up on the intricate weaving and find ways to incorporate the items members were bringing to church.

Hegal simply asked members to donate items that would "tell a story" about their lives being interwoven with Jesus Christ’s life.

The first panel – Jesus as a Child of God and Man – is "very abstract" by Sheppard’s own definition. Not many church members brought items to include in inaugural panel.

There was more interest for the second panel "Jesus as a Teacher."

It contains a Confirmation cross, a Catechism and a Norwegian-language song book, plus corn husks.

By the third panel "Jesus as a Carpenter," interest had grown. A nail apron, work gloves and items from Ebeling Antiques decorate the panel.

"Jesus as a Healer," the fourth panel also attracted more items from church members.

There is an Alcoholics Anonymous coin, bill bottle, emergency medical services patch, a bookmark and wool from sheep and Lynette Bruggeman’s own spinning wheel.

"By this time, the idea had really caught on," Sheppard said. "People were bringing in things all the time and Pastor Hegal’s idea that Jesus is the weaver in our lives was taking off and we were reminded that maybe we can’t always see the connection, but God’s role in our lives is there all the time and in the end we finally understand how everything was connected."

"Jesus as a Friend" is Sheppard’s favorite panel among the seven. "It’s pretty obvious," she said. "We’re all in the same boat."

As Holy Week drew nearer, Sheppard’s intensity increased and when it came time for the sixth panel "Jesus as Sacrifice," she no longer felt her hands were at work.

"This one seemed to do itself," she said of the sixth panels stark rendering of a cross, crown of thorns and ribbon of blood. "That’s when I really knew that I was just an instrument of God in what I was doing. It was a very moving experience for me."

A Vietnam War veteran brought a head band, other members brought twigs and bark from the outdoors and the crown of thorns was purchased through a religious book store and came from Bethlehem.

A woman’s contribution of a single glove from her wedding suit, sheet music and more items.

A lone spike in the center of the cross contrasts sharply with the blood-red ribbon falling around it.

Except for the ribbon, the colors on the woven panel are dark and foreboding.

The seventh and last panel is entitled "Jesus as the Light of the World."

It’s yellow, while, beige and mauve colors glow. Accented by gold, the panel was unveiled to the congregation at sunrise services Easter Morning.

The cross is in the background in the panel and the message is clear: a miracle has taken place.

Like all the others, the seventh panel also contains items donated from church members.

One of them is a funeral card after the death of Shirley Anderson, which her husband, Ron, contributed.

Sheppard said she was "honored" to be able to sit with Mrs. Anderson during the final days of her life and that the simple card from the Anderson family is a fitting addition to the panel depicted the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The seven panels now adorn a wall in the First Lutheran Church sanctuary. Individually, they are inspiring. Collectively, they mesmerize.

Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, but in Sheppard’s weaving one can see chapters in the life of Jesus Christ and, hopefully, feel how their own lives are connected by their faith with his.

"It individualizes your faith and beliefs. There are things there that you don’t ordinary see or understand in a regular Sunday morning worship service. If you see something that touches you, it is because that’s what you believe is there," she said.

The members who have left a piece of their own lives to become part of the panels can’t escape that feeling.

Barb Peterson and Bev Miner have created a brochure, complete with appropriate text, to illustrate and illuminate what the panels’ message is.

They are also writing a story about Sheppard’s work for the Lutheran Standard magazine.

Sheppard seems a little uncomfortable about all the attention her weaving has received.

"It was just an honor and a blessing to be a part of this," she said.

A very big part, to be sure.

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com.