Perhaps, it was in Florida, at one of those large church conferences when I first met Charles. Wherever it was, it was a long time ago, some twenty years, when I first heard this gray haired man in a tweed jacket put together words about the story of his life in a way that I had never before heard: Scholar and Sculptor. Artist and Activist. Pastor and Prophet. I remembered all these years later the ancient stories he re-imagined in clay. I remembered those amazing faces he crafted – longing, hoping, despairing, and dreaming. I remembered especially Charles’ hands, his large hands, as he shaped his stories and told of his craft and opened my imagination.
Years later, another coast and another time, we were looking for artists to come and share and teach with us. I remembered Charles. Thanks to our Artist in Residence Kris Garratt we found Charles, retired now from his work with the Office of Church and Society in the national setting of the United Church of Christ. Two years ago, Charles and his wife Carol McCollough came to Seattle. I took them to our Senior Retreat, I preached with Charles, I took them sailing. That spring they invited me to visit them at their little farm outside of Princeton, New Jersey.
As spring warmth poured through the windows, we sat around their old worn table in their old farmhouse kitchen and shared wonderful food and many stories. Charles walked me through the old barn that had become his studio. I’d never seen a place like it. It was like a museum – it was a museum, of one man’s craft of turning stories into sculptures, making stories into art, the way Charles had always seen and pictured and knew the stories. A beaming young girl on ice skates. A smiling pig with wings. Crucifixes and parables – faces of wonder, agony, fear, hope. It was the hope most of all, the hope that despite all that shown through. The truth of life as Charles crafted it – not as it might be, but as it is. I watched Charles hands as he led me through and shared the stories.
I told him that he had a story that needed to be shared. I shared a dream of what a wondrous thing it would be to have a filmmaker follow him through and hear the stories he had shared with me. That winter I returned. We walked through the barn together. Charles told his stories to the filmmaker.
Charles and Carol have shared that they have seen words put together here at University Congregational Church in ways they have never encountered in quite the same way before – art and faith, art and worship, art as a lived sharing at the heart of our life together as church. They offered a loan of Charles’ sculptures, for us to use and to share with the wider community. We made plans to receive it – a repository of art – enlivening, re-visioning, re-imaging of story as only art can.
From October 7-9 our Lecture Series is featuring Biblical scholar Stephen Patterson. Patterson writes, “Charles McCollough’s art captures the drama, humor, and irony of Jesus’ parables that no prose interpretation can.”
We hope you will join us here at University Congregational UCC in Seattle for an art reception to view his sculptures and to meet Charles and Carol on Friday night, October 7 from 5-7 pm.
He will also be speaking here after worship on Sunday, October 9 at 11:30 as well.