VAN WERT — The old chapel at Wesley United Methodist Church is getting a makeover. The once old-fashioned space has been transformed by a room-sized mural.
“When I first looked at the project,” said Kay Sluterbeck, the volunteer artist who created the mural, “I thought it looked monstrous, but it was much easier because the youth and Pastor Josh helped. I’m not sure there is anything this big indoors elsewhere.”
The Rev. Josh Tissot, the head pastor, came up with the idea of transforming the old chapel into a place for kids. He started by looking on the internet at various themes and mural kits.
The Education Committee at the church, along with teenagers from the youth department, looked at a variety of themes.
“We got a lot of input from the youth ministry,” said Tissot. “They have a fresh set of eyes. As you get older, you feel farther away from what kids are into.”
Sluterbeck, a church member since 1960 and part of the committee, volunteered to create the mural on the wall. She has worked as a freelance artist, designing rubber stamps and illustrating for a humor magazine called the Wretched Mess News. She was also an editorial cartoonist for many years for which she won an Associated Press award.
“Pastor Josh had been looking on the internet, and he wasn’t aware that I worked professionally,” she said. “When he said he wanted to order the kit, I said that we could just draw it on the wall. Bless his heart, he trusted me.”
The group all liked a tree house theme, but felt making the entire chapel into a tree house would make the space too dark. It was then that they decided on a western park theme that incorporated the tree house theme.
“We bounced a lot of themes around and there were certain elements we all liked,” Tissot said. “We used the park theme, but each of the classrooms will be little tree houses. We were afraid a total tree house theme would shrink the room down with all that dark paneling.”
Tissot took the color palette for the mural from one of the online kits, and Sluterbeck got started. Despite the size of the mural, the total time of the project was not long.
“It was probably in the works for a month,” said Sluterbeck. “I used China markers — that’s like a fancy crayon — to letter in all the parts. I made it like a huge paint by number. I lettered each part and put the same letter on the paint can. Then the kids came and did the big areas. I think Pastor Josh spent all his time on a ladder doing the sky. With this theme, there was a lot of green for the grass and blue for the sky.”
Sluterbeck then came in to do the details and blend things together. She is still working on various vignettes throughout the chapel area.
“I’ll be doing vignettes on the opposite wall,” she said. “There will be kids dancing, little animals, and I have to do a turtle because Pastor Josh really wants a turtle.”
Tissot said that it took about two full days to complete the painting part of the project.
“We had six youth that came in consistently,” he said. “Each of them worked about six or seven hours. We also had adults that helped, too.”
When completed, the project will include not just the mural and wall paintings, but also repainted classrooms, new lighting, furniture, televisions and sound system. The cost will be around $7,000, much of which was given by one donor.
Tissot was very pleased to have the youth involved in creating a space for the younger children.
“The youth ministry played an active part in putting this youth area together, and I think that is good for two reasons,” he explained. “First it gets youth involved in outreach and puts into practice what we teach, and second, it gives kids the opportunity to see the next stage of ministry.”
Bethani Price, a member of the youth group, added, “I wanted to help with the children’s area because I think it is important for kids to learn about how God can help their lives.”
Tissot, who started at the church in January, saw a need to reach out to the young families that lived around the church. He felt revamping the children’s ministry program to be an effective way to do that.
“I think it is very important to reach the next generation,” he said. “I want this to be a place where kids can come to be discipled, and by example learn to live life in a very complicated world. I don’t just want them to come on Sunday to hear Bible stories, but I want it to be a positive place of discipleship and mentorship.”