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Guemes Island UCC hosts social justice art show, voices concern

The Guemes Island Community Church, United Church of Christ (UCC) recently set up a Social Justice Art Show, “Till All Voices Are Heard,” featuring 45 pieces of 12 local artists—paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture.

Robert Anderson shares four of his contributions—a butterfly exposed to toxins in a garden, power to the animals, finding the lost, and spiritual and other leaders—to the Social Justice Art Show which raised issues of environmental justice, pesticide use, animal rights and exclusion/inclusion of voices.                                                

Photo courtesy of Robert Anderson

It will be displayed through next March in a room that was built to replace a courtyard in the U-shsaped building. The church often uses that space as a gallery, said Robert Anderson, a retired UCC pastor, artist and social justice advocate.

He organized the show with church member Carol Steffy.

The art show is one of two recent initiatives he has encouraged at the church.

Standing for social justice and producing social justice art have been a themes through Robert’s ministry.

Several of the pieces on display are from his collection of art. They are two posters from JR, a French artist who sought to make the invisible and voiceless visible and given a voice.

He included a large sculpture he made of his children playing “Keep Away” with a ball, an image of one of the “power games we learned early in our lives to keep people powerless, an image of the power struggle behind most social justice issues,” he said.

Carol recruited local artists and prepared large signs. Robert did small signs, publicity and set up the show.

Robert, who grew up in the Congregational Church in Brookfield, Conn., completed his undergraduate degree from Wesleyan College at Middletown, Conn., in classical civilizations, which allowed him to study history and art. After college, he studied art history in France from 1957 to 1958 on a Fulbright.

A 1961 graduate of Union Theological School, he was ordained in the UCC, which formed in 1957.

While serving a parish in Milford, Conn., Robert, commuted three years to learn a master of science in art education at Southern Connecticut State College in North Haven. He focused on sculpture and bas relief, with artists as his teachers.

In 1973, he was called to be on the staff of University Congregational UCC in Seattle as associate pastor of outreach, mission, justice and parish care.

In his eight years of ministry there, he helped the church resettle about 100 refugees from Vietnam and Laos at first and later from Argentina and Ethiopia. He served during that time on the Washington State Commission for settling refugees, providing English classes and other training too settle in.

“I’m still a member of University UCC, because after leaving the church, I served Overlake Presbyterian Church, a continuing Congregational Church in Shoreline, and as interim at Admiral in West Seattle, Renton and Sunnyslope in Wenatchee,” he said.

He purchased vacation property at Guemes island in 1997 and moved there in 1999, having retired from full time ministry at the age of 62 in 1995.

Robert has nurtured his artistic interests by attending and teaching workshops over 20 years at the Grunewald Guild, an art and faith community in Leavenworth.

He worked over several years with the First Congregational UCC in Bellevue that had 15 three-by-three-foot windows originally created by children as mock stained-glass windows with tissue paper collages. When those were worn out, the church contacted him to work with members to make real stained-glass windows, primarily depicting the life of Christ.

He worked three years with six people from the church and then finished the rest of the windows in three more years.

For bas relief pieces, Robert works with vegetable matter that comes as a mash form. He creates molds and then the bas relief wall hangings harden without firing and can be painted. He has done numerous bird forms, like the peace bird and phoenix.

“Much of my art is around social justice themes, but much also picks up some early art of pre-Hispanic Mexico and Mayan art he encountered in numerous wintertime visits throughout Mexico,” Robert said.

“I don’t do art to sell it, but often come to an ‘understanding’ or just give it away,” he said.

About a fourth of his pieces also have religious themes around traditional Christian imagery the wisemen, the resurrection, the open tomb and crucifixes.

When he preaches, Robert, 80, said he is traditional UCC, preaching on a text.

The Guemes Island UCC is a community church with about 20 to 30 people of many faiths, not just Christian.

“We need to be a community that demonstrates what God’s kingdom looks like,” Robert said, believing that the Social Justice Art Show and the statement supporting Jews and Palestinians (on page 8) represent what the church is to do and be.”

Guemes Island UCC passes statement on war

On Sunday, Oct. 15, the Council of the Guemes Island UCC, a member church of the PNC, discussed and passed the following statement regarding the current Israel-Hamas War, “as a witness to our common faith,” said Robert.

“The Guemes Island Community Church, United Church of Christ, stands with both the Jewish and Palestinian people, and we oppose growing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim rhetoric and gatherings. We recognize and affirm the rights of both communities to exist, thrive and live in peace.

“We support neither governmental efforts to marginalize specific populations or violent terrorist activities that target specific communities while bypassing the social and political processes that are fundamental to creating lasting and meaningful change,” the statement says. 

“We hope this statement will encourage other concerned communities of faith and conscience to make their own public witness for justice and compassion,” it continues.

“We encourage all recipients of this information to share it with all appropriate staff and affiliated colleagues, and to publish it through news channels and all other appropriate outlets.

“While we do not feel that our local witness on a small Island in the Pacific Northwest will likely change a war, we do this as our necessary witness to our Christian faith, and in the hope that the flutter of butterfly wings in our part of the world might actually make significant change in a distant place because we are all connected,” it concludes.

The statement was based on content from statements in the national setting including a UCC and disciples letter to Congress, a statement by Churches for Middle East Peace and a statement by the UCC Global Ministries.

Robert pointed out that the statement expresses support for both sides and for all innocent citizens to live in peace and for people to stand against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

When he submitted it as a letter to the editor at the Skagit Valley Herald, it took much persuasion of local editors to publish it.

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Pacific Northwest United Church News © Winter 2023-24


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