February 2022 | Written by Ellie McGinty
Sarah Sporrer has been a part of Gashland’s family since 1997. One of her deep passions is for beauty and its implications for God’s house and our own lives. She volunteers regularly at Gashland to beautify the space and make it ready for whatever event is occurring, whether that be Christmas, presbytery meetings, or memorial services. She and her husband, Dave, recently helped renovate the Little Lambs Ministry space upstairs. Manifold Witness seeks to look at different callings, careers, passions, and gifts through the lens of Colossians 1:16-17, which says, “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” The title of the series is taken from the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness.
“Beautification is the process of making visual improvements,” said Kevin Higgins in a sermon titled First Impressions Really Do Matter, Pt. 1. Notice that he says it is the process, not the completion. Beautification is a continual process of both finding the beauty in our lives that God put there, and ridding the world of the ruin of sin by joining God in His promise to make all things new. “God is the epitome of beauty, and He also created all things beautiful. Sin has ruined a lot of that, but we’re still left with beautiful sunsets, and beautiful scenery, glowing green grass, sparkling diamonds of snow – there’s just intense beauty everywhere. God created it all. So obviously, beauty is important. Therefore, it should be important to us,” said Sarah Sporrer during our conversation. “To me personally, beautification is getting my environment ready to live in. You don’t have to have a lot of money. It isn’t about that. It isn’t about the ability to go out and buy new stuff. It’s about taking care of what you do have and making it look the best it can possibly look, and being creative with what you have,” she continued. Beautification, at its core, is a matter of stewardship. As you may have read over in Maribeth Griessel’s articles on Gashland’s different ministry teams, dubbed Inasmuch, stewardship of the resources, bodies, people, places, jobs – the list goes on – that God has given us is actually an act of worship. Beautification takes these gifts, like a blue couch and a yellow pillow, and puts them together, simply for the sake of beauty. That simple act of pairing two colors together is an act of worship, and God delights in it and in us when we delight in it.
Most of the time we are all overwhelmed with our never ending list of things, and thinking about beauty and where it fits into our already overflowing schedules can feel impossible. But beauty is tied to rest. Rest is such an elusive concept sometimes, as we often misdefine it as “doing nothing.” But beautiful things can be a rest in and of themselves: “I think even in your busyness you can stop for a second and say, ‘Oh, that cloud formation is stunning.’ And then drive along down the road. You just have to decide it’s a priority to find tiny moments of time. Just 2 or 3 seconds. We crave time, crave being calmed down and peaceful, crave joy, hope, and we can have all those things, but it doesn’t have to come in hours. It can come in seconds.”
Sarah then went on to say, “I think the sky provides a lot of beauty. And it’s free. Even if you’re working in a big office building, and you don’t have access to an outdoor view, you do have the right to go to the restroom, have a coffee break, have lunch, or a smoke break, or whatever, so walk to the window. Walk to the nearest window. And just look. Just look. The colors are…wow. Look at that color. If you’ve ever taken a plane ride you know what it’s like to be up in it, and to look down and think ‘Oh my gosh, I am so small down there.’ So I think the sky is really important. And I think all of the natural things. Green grass? So calming. So you look out the window at green grass for a few seconds. And you just breathe. And then you’re back to your busy world. But allow yourself to look at things that God created, not the buildings, not the stuff that man created, the stuff that God created. Even food. If you could just stop for a second when you’re saying your grace before a meal and just look at how beautiful that broccoli is, next to the carrot, next to the hot dog. We eat, so take a moment and enjoy the beauty of it. It’s just a matter of stopping. You’re allowed. God didn’t create it all for naught. He created it all for us, and to His glory, so it can’t be wrong to look at it.”
God’s world is soaked in His beauty, and His house should be as well. The Reformation moved us away from displaying man-made work in the Lord’s house in an effort to keep us from distraction and to help us focus on worshiping God and God alone. While this is definitely important, design and beauty are just as much a part of God’s character as holiness and purity. They all inform one another; they can’t exist separately from one another. The cathedrals and basilicas that we can see in places like Italy and France were created with such care and splendor so that when someone came to worship there, they were transported to somewhere otherworldly, somewhere where the beauty and glory and majesty of God were on as full display as we could manage in our finitude. While we don’t need to try to match the stunning paintings and multiple types of stone, jewels, and metals in those majestic buildings, the idea of being presented with the glory and majesty of God within our own church buildings is something we should be mindful of. It does not have to distract us; instead, it can humble us, bring us before the throne of God in a way we never have been before, instill in us an awe of God and His glory and beauty: “It’s what I’ve wanted to do here, create a more special place, a place that’s brilliant, that’s gorgeous, that feels heavenly, not ordinary,” said Sarah. “But it isn’t about being flashy. It’s about being glowing and warm. Everyone looks good in candlelight.” If we don’t think we need to worship in a beautiful space, perhaps we need to re-examine our view of beauty, ourselves, and God. If the world puts on such a fantastic display of God’s beauty just by being created by Him, shouldn’t His house do the same? We don’t care about our appearances or beautify spaces because we think we’re better than those who don’t. We do it because we have been given a gift, a beautiful gift. A gift called grace. And part of worshiping and giving glory to God for that gift is seeking the beauty He has woven into everything, and joining Him in scrubbing away the stain of sin that His glory and beauty might shine through all the more. And that could mean something as simple as picking up the bulletin in the parking lot that dropped out of someone’s purse. Let’s join Him in making all things new.