Doors are designed to divide spaces, and people; locked doors keep people apart from each other. Tables are designed to bring people together; big tables are symbols of hospitality and grace. The hymn that was commissioned for the 223rd General Assembly, “Draw the Welcome Circle Wider” includes this line: “Doors upended serve as tables where the guests prepare to dine. Justice is their righteous fare, while mercy is their richest wine.”
Those words inspired the team that designed and assembled the prayer room for the 223rdGeneral Assembly. Anne Peacock, ministry assistant at Ladue Chapel, started looking for a door that could be used as a table to provide a focal point for prayer and meditation in the prayer room. She contacted a contractor in the congregation who tracked down an unused door. The door was set up in their fellowship hall on saw horses.
A local St. Louis artist, Marilyn Smith, was invited to paint the door. Peacock and Smith prayed in the lectio divinastyle over the door using the lyrics from “Draw the Welcome Circle Wider.” Lectio divinais a traditional practice of reading, meditation and prayer that started with the Catholic monks of the Order of St. Benedict by repeatedly reading and praying a particular passage. It is intended to promote communion with God and does not treat the reading as a text to be studied, but as a living word.
Following a day of praying the lyrics of the hymn together, Smith came back and started painting. For more than two weeks, Smith would come in for a few hours a day, stand over the door in the fellowship hall, paint and pray. Peacock provided prayerful support and snacks. Smith is a self-taught painter who started painting later in life as a way to process her son’s medical problems. She served as the administrative assistant at Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church for more than 35 years.
The door represents images from the hymn and, more broadly, from the St. Louis area. It includes paintings of beautiful, multicultural children playing in the water, a huge table where people share table fellowship with foods from all over the globe, a congregation singing under the St. Louis Archway, a steamboat and images of the Mississippi River, communion elements, and people in traditional indigenous dress from countries all over the world linking hands. Smith spent time researching indigenous dress and food for the table project.
The “door turned into a table” anchors the prayer room at the 223rdGeneral Assembly. It provides commissioners and visitors an opportunity to reflect on the local community through the images painted on the doors, and reflects the words from the hymn commissioned for opening worship.