Holy Thursday Altar Design

March 4th, 2013
Fig. 11-4

Pastor's Theme

The Humility of Discipleship in Foot Washing and Communion

Scripture: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Theme Focus

The humility of Jesus as he washed the feet of each of his disciples; a true demonstration of servant leadership.

Artist's Challenge

There were two evident themes for this evening worship: foot washing and Communion. Communion sets are used so often that they might become too familiar, but the act of foot washing was relatively new to this church and spoke directly to the disciple (each one of us) as servant. Stephanie’s design, with a variety of sandals in the setting, suggests that we all are called to be disciples, to be servant leaders

Artist's Resources

  • Risers: altar, adjustable table, plant stand, box, small table, crate, small chair
  • Fabric: blankets, burlap, gray polyester, aqua blue shiny fabric
  • Plants: artificial trees, rubber tree plant, potted palm, dried pampas grass in earthenware jug
  • Rocks: small stones, medium and large rocks
  • Other: Jesus figure, raffia, basin, earthenware Jug, iridescent “bunny grass,” multiple pairs of sandals

Creating the Foundation

A crate was placed on the upper right of the altar. In front of the altar, Stephanie placed the adjustable table and a plant stand. She covered the whole set with blankets to soften the edges.

The Idea Takes Shape

Covering the whole set with the gray polyester fabric, Stephanie tucked it into various nooks and crannies to give a sense of texture. She carefully placed the fabric so that it just puddled onto the main floor. Stephanie placed a small chair on the upper left side of the altar on which she would put the figure of Jesus [Fig. 11-3]. The base of the figure is an old maple syrup bucket in which she stuffed fabric. She molded fabric to fit into the striped robe and used a mask to create a face for the figure. The beard was composed of raffia pushed around the base of the face. The hands of Jesus were actually light flesh colored socks that were stuffed with fabric and pushed into the sleeves of the robe and pinned to the robe. The feet of Jesus were two light beige knee socks into which fabric was stuffed. She was able to place sandals on Jesus’ feet.

Stephanie wadded up the blue shiny fabric and stuffed it into the basin. She took a box, inverted it so that the earthenware pitcher could rest above the basin. Using the iridescent “bunny grass,” Stephanie stuffed it into the mouth of the pitcher and cascaded it onto the blue fabric. She also placed some iridescent grass in the basin to give a sense of “splashing” to the water [Fig. 11-4].

Rocks were piled up around the box to disguise it and to anchor and provide a setting for the various pairs of sandals placed around Jesus. These sandals represented the disciples who received foot washing from Jesus. The sandals were from Stephanie and her daughters.

The two artificial trees were placed on either side of the altar. She covered the base of one of the artificial trees with burlap. Stephanie placed the earthenware jug filled with the dried pampas grass to the left of Jesus. The potted palm was placed on his right.

Observations and Suggestions

This is the first treatment of the foot washing as an altar setting for this church. It was very effective in setting the major theme for this worship event.

When you are designing settings, think about the items you have at hand, what you might need and can borrow. Stephanie employs items at hand. Much of the fabric used in her settings comes from the “holy hardware” closet. Some items she can leave in this closet, others she has to store at home. She had access to a maple syrup bucket that is somewhat conical in shape. There is a box of fabric that she uses, mostly to bunch up into shapes for figures. Raffia is left over from craft projects. The artificial trees and all the plants are the property of the church. The pampas grass was cut from a garden and placed in an old earthenware jug. The pitcher was borrowed. Stephanie carefully keeps the iridescent “bunny grass” in a plastic bag so that it can be used many times.

excerpted from: Altars for Everyone: Worship Designs on Any Budget by Nancy Townley and Stephanie Davis ©2013 Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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