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Alumni takes risks with ‘The Preachers’

Steve Norman enters piece into ArtPrize

Steve Norman is ready to listen at ArtPrize this October.

Steve Norman is ready to listen at ArtPrize this October.

Grace Hooley | Echo

Each of us takes a risk in life, but ’95 graduate and pastor, Steve Norman, is taking a risk through his ArtPrize entry “The Preachers” starting Sept. 19 and finishing Oct. 7 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Norman’s interactive piece includes a pulpit where anyone can come and present a sermon up to five minutes long. The only guideline is that those with regular access to a pulpit may not speak, but they may sit and listen with Norman.

“(The audience) can expect to see something raw and something honest,” Norman said. “Hopefully what they will see will be a role reversal. I want to see what would happen if we honored everyone’s voices equally. What I’m trying to see is what would it look like to democratize the pulpit.”

Norman’s attention was grabbed from ArtPrize’s publicity in the local newspaper last year. He and his family had just moved from Detroit to Grand Rapids and they explored ArtPrize for the first time. He was intrigued to find that not all of the pieces submitted were art in the typical sense of the word. He was particularly interested in the interactive entries.

The idea for “The Preachers” was created while Norman was sitting in another church’s sermon. He found himself critiquing the pastor’s form of preaching. This is when he realized that if he wanted to get better as a leader of a church, he needed to do more listening and less speaking.

“In today’s culture, there is a lot of yelling, but there isn’t a lot of listening,” Norman said. “It’s more risky, but

The audience is preparing "sermons" to present.

The audience is preparing “sermons” to present.

it is more productive. So in some ways, the exhibit is a test to see if someone would say something to someone’s face the same way they would say something to someone online. Even if people don’t step into the pulpit that says something as well.”

Professor Phil Collins was one of Norman’s adjunct professors while Norman studied at Taylor. Collins now teaches full time in the biblical studies department as a Christian Ministries professor.

While Norman was studying at Taylor, Collins was so impressed with him that he asked Norman to come speak at a winter retreat in Colorado. Collins remembers Norman’s energy, inquisitiveness and desire to learn about ministry, and he is intrigued by what Norman is doing with his interactive entry in ArtPrize and is interested to see the results.

“It’s just a really interesting idea,” Collins said. “I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s very creative . . . it takes courage. That’s pretty gutsy to do. I think it could be quite meaningful . . . You know it’s just a joy for a prof to see a student go into the field and thrive.”

Though Norman does not see “The Preachers” as a typical art piece, it does include some elements of art. For example, it is focusing on the art element of negative space, which is the space around and between the objects of an image.

“The Preachers” will also be using some physical elements such as the bench that Norman will sit on and the pulpit. Norman described the pulpit as very simple and wooden.

“What we are playing with in this whole entry is the idea of negative space . . .” Norman said. “The act of creativity is what will happen between the pulpit and the pew for the eight days I sit there.”

Norman’s hopes are that this interactive piece sparks conversation, especially amongst young people. He also hopes that hurts formed from the church might also be healed through this platform.

Norman’s risks are that topics might get personal. He believes he is in good standing with everyone he knows, but he cannot control what people might say. Another risk is that no one speaks. He had to think and pray about if these were risks he was willing to take.

“The big thing I have to prepare myself for, emotionally and spiritually, is how I respond, and I cannot engage someone while they are speaking or even after they are done,” Norman said. “I can only say ‘Amen’ and ‘Thank you’ like a congregation can. Part of the challenge for me will be to graciously receive whatever people say to me.”

“The Preachers” will be presented at ArtPrize at the YMCA of Grand Rapids Sept. 19 through Oct. 7. Norman chose eight of those days to sit at the bench for three hours a day, making it 24 hours total that he will be listening.

Those who wish to speak at Norman’s interactive piece may sign up at Norman says that speakers may have a sermon ready, but they do not have to as there will be prompts to help the more spontaneous speakers.

“If you have friends within driving distance, I would love to have them stop by or even have them come to the pulpit,” Norman said.

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