Artist Adrienne Stein, of Springettsbury Township, talks about the art of liturgical painting at the conclusion of a worship service at York Alliance
Artist Adrienne Stein, of Springettsbury Township, talks about the art of liturgical painting at the conclusion of a worship service at York Alliance Church in this 2008 file photo. (FLIPSIDE - File)

Standing on a white drop cloth next to the altar, Adrienne Stein painted through the entire January 2008 worship service at York Alliance Church, pausing only to take Communion.

After the benediction, she stepped away, wiping acrylic paint from her hands with a rag.

Congregants immediately surrounded her canvas, moving from the back of the sanctuary for a better view.

In the painting, two apostles are walking down the road to Emmaus. Each clutches a hand over his heart in surprise as they recognize the man between them is Jesus. In the distance, three crosses stand on the hill of Calvary.

A classically trained artist with a studio in York, Stein has done live worship painting several times for York Alliance, her home congregation in Spring Garden Township.

Her paintings coordinate with the pastor's sermon and the hymns during the 100-minute service.

"I told Adrienne I would preach about 'God with us' and that God wants to be in our lives all the time," said the Rev. David King, lead pastor.

"I didn't include this Emmaus story in my sermon, but when she later told me what she was thinking about painting, I said, 'Oh, that's the end of my sermon.'"

Stein first encountered the concept of live worship painting at a church in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., near Los Angeles and her school, Laguna College of Art & Design.

"The pastor said, 'I really have this vision to move our worship in a more progressive way.'" Stein recalled.

Other congregations that feature live worship painting include the megachurches Grace Chapel outside Boston and Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California.

After praying about it, Stein agreed to try this kind of painting. She considers it a form of worshipping God.

Each time Stein paints in church, she uses quick-drying acrylic paints that allow her to finish by the service's conclusion.

A few weeks beforehand, she studies the Bible passage for the sermon, reviews the hymns and prays. She sketches a few ideas and shares them with the pastors for feedback.

On the morning of a recent service at York Alliance, she sketched the layout of the painting on a 24-by-36-inch canvas and readied her paints below the easel.

"I don't consider my art 'performance art' but liturgical art," said Stein, who makes her living painting mostly secular subjects -- still lifes, portraits and landscapes.

At the start of his sermon, King cautioned those in the pews that they should not let Stein's painting distract them.

"This is to be no more your focus than the person singing off key beside you," he said, motioning to Stein painting with her back to the congregation.

The church is making an effort to incorporate more fine arts into its worship experience. King said he hopes one day to have a potter or a sculptor working at the front of the church.

"The art is not a performance. It's not something we're doing because we want to be a cool church. We're doing it because God is beautiful. God is the definer of beauty, and it needs to be expressed," King said in an interview.

He hopes the live painting adds another sense to the congregation's understanding of the Bible's teachings -- in addition to hearing God's word, they can "see" it, King said.

"Perhaps in meditating on this painting, people will hear from Jesus himself and be drawn by the art to him," King said. Perhaps it will "encourage others to use their gifts and offer them to God."

Another pastor, the Rev. Timothy Shuey, was moved to tears by a previous live worship painting of Stein's. Now it hangs in his office at the church.

"People are just captivated by it because of the unusual element of the painting during the service," Shuey said.

It certainly wasn't something congregant Karen Lingenfelter ever expected to see in her home sanctuary. But she finds Stein's work breathtaking.

"It's very refreshing," she said.

Bill Jones, who sat in the second pew with an up-close view of the canvas, could hardly believe Stein finished such a detailed piece by sermon's end.

"It's such a neat worship experience to see that coming about," he said.

Indeed, Stein describes the process of painting as a "Genesis-like thing: Creation is something that artists do, and God began."

MURAL PROJECT

Artists Adrienne and Judy Stein, a mother-daughter team, painted and donated an 11-by-24-foot mural to their congregation, York Alliance Church in Spring Garden Township.

The mural, dedicated in 2008, portrays Jesus standing over churning waters in the "storms" of our lives, said Adrienne, 22 at the time, who has an art studio in York.

The mural is part of the congregation's ongoing effort to incorporate the fine arts into their worship.