Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Images of the Divine

Written by: on November 1, 2018

Four years ago, I attended a seminar about mid-career ministry.  A panel was discussing different unique ministry opportunities they had created sharing them with the other mid-career clergy to see if any ideas may work for another congregation.  Many opportunities were discussed, including ideas about a sermon series on personal finance, unique ways to tie the web into worship services whether through live tweeting or intentional messaging displayed on message boards from the chancel.  One presenter discussed removing the cross from the sanctuary and replacing it with an image of a wireless router, the router symbolizing the way we are currently “all connected.”  The final presenter discussed how she had started a photography dinner group.  The group met once a month for supper and during the month prior either took pictures, or found them in media, and would then bring them to the supper to discuss how they saw the divine in the image.  I LOVED this idea!

At the time I was just starting to lead the annual Confirmation Class here at Huguenot.  Confirmation is the time when a youth “confirms” the vows that someone else made for them at their baptism. Each church organizes the confirmation process with their own unique local flavor.  I know of a church that has a two year confirmation process.  I know of a church that has a two month confirmation process.  The only thing the Presbyterian Church requires is that each student “profess their faith” and that the local governing body of the church approves that profession.

Here at Huguenot, eighth grade students work their way through a process that lasts the better part of a church program year.  Most eighth graders here in town have cell phones and so I took the idea of a monthly picture supper group and turned that into the confirmation class for the year.  Instead of writing a two page “profession of faith” statement, the images of God that the students took throughout the year turned into their profession – the way they experienced the divine in and through their life.  I asked them to look for God in the world and when they saw something that made them think of God, Jesus, an attribute of church (basically anything faith related), to snap a picture and send it to me.

This of course meant my phone “blew up” at all hours of the day and night during this season of confirmation, but it was so incredible to see where these students saw God in their lives.  Equally as amazing was to witness the different attributes of the divine the students were able to see in the different images they all shared.[i]  A tree for one student represented experiencing the majesty of our Creator God in nature; but for another student it meant God’s steadfast love.  Both of these interpretations differed from the student who took the image; she took it because she was on an annual camping trip with her family and the image signified the time she spent with her family in this sacred place.  All three incredible meanings. All three incredible students.  One incredible image.

I will share some of my favorite images from the class, ask you what you think of them, and then share the photographers intention below.




It is true friends, every picture does tell a story. What an honor to share those stories together.


Tree – This image was taken during the annual Christmas Tree Sale held here at Huguenot Church.  The tree is obviously tied on to the Jeep very poorly.  The student said this image represents God’s forgiveness.

Flood – This image is taken of the golf course right across the street from the church after a large spring rain.  The student said this reminded him of the story of Noah and the great flood.

Font – The class spent the night at the church learning about worship and the numerous different elements of our sanctuary.  They had learned about baptism earlier in the evening, discussing the cleansing waters of baptism.  Later in that night (11:30-ish pm) we were asked to clean the wood on the pews with the wood cleaner you see here.  This image represents the way the student blended the ideas of cleaning the pews with the cleansing waters of baptism.

[i] Pink, Sarah.  Doing Visual Ethnography: Images, Media, and Representation in Research. (Thousand Oaks: CA, 2010) 51.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

7 responses to “Images of the Divine”

  1. Rhonda Davis says:

    Jacob, I love this idea. I am sure your students were enriched by the project, but I’m equally sure your faith was strengthened by their reflections. This is the beautiful thing about allowing images to tell the story…the same subject can have multiple meanings, each equally powerful to the viewers. Thank you for your willingness to engage your students in this way. You have challenged me to use my camera to capture the divine in everyday life. Challenge accepted!

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Once again you have established your brilliance. Your idea of incorporating images taken on students’ cell phones as their confirmation journal checks all the boxes. I wish you could live inside my brain so I could be cool and creative like you. Blessings, H

  3. Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, This was a great idea to engage youth before their confirmation. I was confirmed as a Catholic, and it had zero significance. I would imagine the photographs really made the service have meaning. I like the photo of the fount with the cleaner in it. The idea of baptism sort of being a cleansing from our old selves is very meaningful. Thank you for the wonderful idea for working with youth.

  4. Thank you Jacob for sharing this experience with the eighth graders, I am sure your imagination was enriched by this experience and your relationship with the students was enhanced. I really like the idea and will try it with a group of youth that I have been wondering how to engage and get them more involved church. By the way, I was confirmed as a Catholic as a young boy and had no idea what it all meant, you’ve enlightened me.

  5. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    What a great idea, Jacob! This is such a wonderful opportunity to see through the eyes of another in a fresh way. One of our seminary classes was Images of God and we used a lot of media as well as walked through a wooded area in Portland taking photos and journaling about where we saw God. It was one of my favorite experiences. I think this type of experience also teaches us to see God throughout our day and is an important practice in our learning to be aware of God’s presence.

  6. Karen Rouggly says:

    This was seriously brilliant! I love that you did this! On Sunday nights, we have an open hospitality night and I’ve been praying through what to do as a group since our current study subject is about to end. Mind if I consider this one?

  7. Shermika Harvey says:

    I love, love this blog. I have done a similar projects in my non-profit series, My Life. It is extremely effective in helping young people express themselves when words can’t be spoken, a cathartic release. Just a little curious…Have you ever come across a picture that had you stumped?

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