Last week, I had the pleasure of serving as Spiritual Director for the Thompson-Pound Art Program (TAP) in Columbus. TAP is a program sponsored by Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry, which is a convocational outreach effort in the wider Columbus area.

Since coming to St. Nicholas, I had wanted to get involved in something with CVEM, excited that there was such an organization here. Vicky Partin, the director of CVEM, put me in touch with Debbie Anderson, the incredibly gifted organizer and director of TAP. Merely two weeks before TAP started, I met with Debbie for the first time to discuss my possible role at TAP.

So what is TAP? TAP is a week-long summer art program for children in 1st through 5th grades from various economic, cultural, and religious background. The intention is to get as many different kids involved as possible from these various backgrounds to focus on peace, unity, and love through the medium of art. I’ve never seen a goal as ambitious as TAP’s, and was delighted to see how well it works.

Teen mentors learn how to paint bees with their thumbs.

Teen mentors learn how to paint bees with their thumbs.

My role was to be a present religious leader for the children. While there were Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Agnostics, Atheists, and more represented, I was asked to simply “be there” and participate, which I did happily.

The mornings began at 8:45am with an opening song that I played on my guitar, and a daily “meditation,” which was given by a variety of different religious representatives. Our theme for the week was “Home,” and so the first day, we learned about Native American home customs. Day 2 we we were graced by a Muslim gentlemen who spoke about prayer in his religion. Next, we learned about the culture of Colombia, South America. Then, we learned about Jewish home rituals. Finally, I summed up the week by talking about home communion and the significance of the Eucharist.

The goal is not to proselytize, but rather share our differences in order to better understand one another better. I learned so much! I learned that when Muslims greet one another, they say the equivalent of “Peace be with you! And also with you!” I learned that Jews regularly break bread and drink wine in a meal very similar to our Eucharist. I learned that Native Americans send religious leaders into the home to bring healing to those who are sick. While our theologies may be different, the way we live our faiths are strikingly similar.

The children & teen mentors do their bee dance.

The children & teen mentors do their "bee dance."

The children rotate through four classes during the day: Performance, where they learned a special “bee dance” (the honey bee was the mascot of the week) and wrote very beautiful and touching poetry; Art, where they created this year’s Unity Piece, a painting of “welcome” in various languages with the children’s names woven together in a tapestry; Snack, where they learned the customs of the various religious leaders more in-depth as well as sampling food derived from these cultures; and Focus, which had another speaker present to give another facet of the theme of “home,” including a bee-keeper, a former orphan from Vietnam, and volunteers from Habitat for Humanity.

The children do sand painting.

The children do "sand painting."

While the week wore me out, having to drive to the Rankin Art Center every morning, it was so gratifying. On Thursday night of the week, we gathered at the Mildred Terry Public Library to see the children present what they had learned. We were all so happy to see these children, rich and poor, black and white, Jew and Gentile, laughing with one another, playing with one another, hugging one another. It was a truly beautiful gift and I’m looking forward to being even more involved next year.

TAP director Debbie Anderson leads the large group and reads some of the poetry they wrote.

TAP director Debbie Anderson leads the large group and reads some of the poetry they wrote.

If you are interested in participating in any way with this program, please come and talk to me. If you are interested in art, and the ability art can have in unifying people, this is a program for you. If you are interested in learning about different cultures and religions from people who actually practice them, I invite you to join us. For more info on TAP, click here.

Also, check out the Ledger-Enquirer’s article on TAP.