While the world frolics and shops in the glitter of holiday cheer, a downtown Austin, Texas, church congregation has shocked urban neighbors with graffiti on the retaining wall outside the sanctuary to prod people to ponder Christmas’ meaning.
The message at St. David’s Episcopal Church centers on the advent season — the weeks leading to the celebration of the birth of Christ. The project began the week of Thanksgiving and continues through Christmas with the fifth and final graffiti wall segment.
Phrases painted in bright graffiti offer unpredictable, thought-provoking statements about the advent message.
“Light Interrupts Settles Between Us,” “Love Embodied Lodges Joining All,” and “Divine Enters Human Chaos” are among the phrases.
Graffiti as a means to relay the advent message was born of discussions among church staff on ways to help revitalize the church through an advent project. The idea is that god brought Christ into the world to interrupt the world with something new, said the Rev. David Boyd, rector of St. David’s.
God being born as a human is arguably more shocking than graffiti.
“Using the unexpected form of graffiti art has been one of our efforts to reach out to people who aren’t in the church right now,” said Boyd. “I’m afraid the church is often not connected to folks and many people who walk by our building day by day don’t see us as relevant in the world.”
St. David’s Episcopal Church, 301 E. 8th St. at the corner of San Jacinto and 8th Street, has been in downtown Austin almost two centuries.
“We believe Christ is (relevant) and we’re trying to find a way to connect with people to say maybe there’s something here for you,” Boyd said.
A blog and description of the graffiti advent message is online at www.lightinterrupts.org.
“We believe there is a peace and joy in being in a relationship with Christ that all people will benefit from,” Boyd said.
Sometimes that can be conveyed with something simple, such as graffiti.
“It’s not to hit people over the head with the Bible or challenge the nature of their eternal destiny, but to invite them to come and know something of love and peace and reconciliation that God has to offer,” Boyd said.
The graffiti artist is an Austin high school student and who is originally from Burma. Thu Ley Wah, 17, and his family, all born in a refugee camp, are members of St. David’s Episcopal Church.
“It’s been fun to highlight some of his talents in doing this,” said Boyd.
When Wah first started painting the church’s graffiti message on the retaining wall along the sidewalk, some concerned neighbors called police about someone defacing church property. Neighbors’ concerns and a police investigation were quelled when the church explained the project.
While the graffiti message has some naysayers, church members believe most have received the message positively.
“We hope it will bring Christ into people’s consciousness in a new way,” Boyd said. “Jesus Christ was very different.”
“The purpose is to interrupt people’s lives in a good way. It’s supposed to surprise (people), but not be a negative message,” said Rebecca Hall, a St. David’s Episcopal Church director who helped develop the project.
The church’s job is to get our message out in a way people can understand, Hall said, and the graffiti messages are meant to get people thinking.
“This is an advent message about God breaking into the world,” said Hall. “This is a way to wake people up and get them thinking about that.”