stepping inside a Church

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stepping inside a church, for the first time in a long time. Being Jewish, I tend to stick to a familiar ground unless I am invited elsewhere. I was here for an incredible reason. My Rabbi called me to ask if I would take on a commission. He explained that this commission, this watercolor painting, was intended to be given to Independent Presbyterian Church–this is the really cool part. It was Temple Emanu-El & Independent Presbyterian Church anniversary. It was OUR 100 year anniversary. It was 100 years ago, that the Independent Presbyterian Church began in Birmingham, Alabama. Their beginning started in Temple Emanu-El. IPC used the Sanctuary for seven years before they had moved into their Church…a bit down the street, though still on Highland Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama.

First & foremost, i should say i was incredibly honored to be offered this amazing commission. Thank you, Jan Blitz for thinking of me & Rabbi Miller helping me pull it off.

The first thing i needed was photographs of inside the Church. I asked Rabbi Jonathan Miller how I would get in.

He said, “Just tell them Rabbi Miller sent you.” He can literally open doors.

I had called the church to tell them the when & the whys i needed to come…the “when” was supposed to be early afternoon. I arrived at 4:00. It was serendipitous. The reason i was so late was because the church wanted me to see it at its finest. The golden hour broke through their stained glass, splashing color everywhere. I was lucky enough to find the two nicest women to give me a tour & tell me a tale of its history. AND i arrived while the organ played.

I walked in feeling nervous, as though i hadn’t the right to trespass on their place of prayer. But i am a lover of light, of dancing color, music surrounding me. I am a lover of art & in this place, i found it everywhere. The architect made the bones, the straight stones, and curved the wood…perhaps to make the music dance around the room? The designer brought in the lights (art!), chose the color of the walls. An artist told stories in glass, the glass, invited the sun to splash the color about the place. The pipes for the organ were sculpture in & of themselves AND they delivered music throughout & within, powerfully.

I walked in this Church thinking only of labels, labels that divide us. I thought that i am a Jew standing in a Christian’s holy place. During the time i spent walking around this building, the labels, in my mind, fell away…i didn’t feel as though i trespassed, i felt as if i was intended to be there, invited to be there & very welcome. I walked out of this Church feeling the same as I do at my Temple… touched deeply, by the history, the art, the music, the sun’s golden light, human kindness & i was completely at peace.

If you live in Birmingham & have yet to see Independent Presbyterian Church on Highland Ave…GO!!! you would be welcomed.

24 thoughts on “stepping inside a Church

  1. I grew up at IPC and loved reading about your positive experience there. Thank you. My father was the lead pastor there for 27 years and he and my mother would have welcomed you just as your hosts did.

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    1. Hi Marian,
      Thank you for reading my post. I loved your church, it was wonderful to go into an unfamiliar place & feel so welcome. It is amazing that your father was lead pastor all those years, you grew up there…i would say you are very blessed. ~amy

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  2. I was tenor soloist there for eight years. Many times I would show up for rehearsal very early and sing in the Great Hall or sit in the garden. The church is so wonderful in so many many ways. It is a real testimony to God’s love of Art. I always felt at peace there in some really trying times in my life. God bless them !

    Jim Frazier

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    1. Hi Jim,
      I understand why you would show up early, just to find peace. That is what i felt there as well, as a stranger. My 13 year old daughter came with me, the garden was so beautiful we decided to have her shoot outside the church. We had planned to go to one of the Highland parks prior to visiting the church, there was no comparison to the beauty of the gardens as opposed to a random park. Thank you for reading the post & thank you for commenting. You must be a fantastic singer to have been a soloist in such a large church. ~amy

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  3. Independent Presbyterian is one of the south’s most beautiful churches. Its stained glass, art and pipe organ rank among the finest. And, one does not find a more welcoming, hospitable congregation. I make it a practice to drive over from Atlanta to attend one of their programs / concerts at least annually. Your pictures are incredible.

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    1. Hi Robert,
      I had no idea the church was famous for its beauty, but i do understand why. It seems everything complements itself, nothing outshines anything else–a perfect balance. I was very, very lucky to have arrived while someone was playing the organ. It is no wonder I was so blown away. Thank you for the compliment on my photos, please feel free to slide any images you want off the site. I post my images in full size for people to take, i only hope that they practice peace the day they take them. 🙂 Nice to meet you. ~amy

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  4. I am glad that you felt peace in a Christian church. That’s as it should be. I am not a member of IPC. Actually far from it as I go to a conservative Southern Baptist church but I hope that you would feel the same in my church as well. There may be substantial differences in our beliefs but our religions have a common birth and I believe it’s important for Christians to remember that God never rescinded His declaration of the children of Israel as His chosen people. God bless you.

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    1. Hi Webb Adams,

      Thank you for reading my post & commenting. As an artist & photographer, I find peace in any place that is filled with love & beauty. If a church is put together by the best artists & taken care of with great love by it’s members…everything comes together, bringing me peace. I’m sure most people feel this in their house of prayer. As i’m sure i would feel in your church. ~amy

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  5. Amy, your words express my feelings. Your painting is a beautiful gift to a grateful congregation. Thank you for celebrating our shared story.

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    1. Hi Evelyn,

      I cannot convey, with words, the honor it was/is to have been asked to take part in such a beautiful story. It was the commission of a lifetime. It even surpasses the way i felt when i painted for the prayerbook. Even though both will be a part of history, i still am unable to wrap my head around either one. I am very blessed. Thank you for reading my post. All the photos on this blog are full sized, so that anyone any image take one for themselves. ~amy

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  6. We are all kids of The Creator. Any place where true worship takes place will be filled with love no matter the monikers we place on ourselves. Shalom from one of the kids!

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    1. Thank you. The Creator…to create, is a way to connect as all to Him. I think art & religion has walked hand in hand for thousands of years, because i think most of us respond the same way to great art, it seems to overwhelm our senses enough to let the daily struggles fall away. Just a thought. Shalom. ~amy

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  7. Beautiful pictures, you have captured it in such gorgeous light. I especially love the pictures of the pipes of the organ. How exciting to be commissioned to paint this. Looking at all the pictures you have posted, I think the hard decision would be what not to paint! Good luck with your work and I hope we get to see it!

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    1. Hi Katie!
      Thank you so much! It was impossible NOT to capture beautiful images. The whole church was a perfect balance of perfection. I wish i could share the painting on this blog, but i failed to take one. I ALWAYS take photos of my commissions before they leave me. This time i was given 10 days to complete this 11×14 watercolor, i just took shots of it with my phone, to use as update for my Rabbi. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! By the way, all images on this blog are full sized so that anyone can take whatever they like. I just hope that when someone takes one, that they practice peace…at least for that day. 🙂 ~amy

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  8. My wife and I were married at IPC and were members there for several years until we moved to Shelby County. Congrats on your commission. IPC is a beautiful, old world style building.

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  9. I may stop in next time I’m pass through Alabama. Looking at your pictures it’s very beautiful.
    I’ve visited many temples, sanctuaries, and holy places in my life and it seems I find God in all of them

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