How do you communicate something of the relevance and accessibility of the gospel to people in today’s society?
An imaginative church in southwest England has chosen the artistic route as it refurbished its city center building.

Believing the visual to be important as well as the written or spoken word, Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol commissioned an illustrator who fused timeless and modern techniques to create an eyecatchingmural, which will be seen by around 1,000 people each week.

“The Father’s Welcome” is a mural based on the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

It was created by local illustrator and graphic designer RalphMann.

In the mural, God is deliberately represented as an approachable modern man. His arms are outstretched to indicate a welcome to all, reinforced by the representation of the people of Bristol in every walk of life.

Both a prodigal son and a daughter are featured on the edge of the mural: the son is represented by a backpacker, giving the element of travel. The daughter is a young woman hunched over a bench, perhaps as the result of too much to drink.

The characters were inspired by spending time in local shopping areas, observing people going about their daily business. In the background are sketches of some of Bristol’s most notable architecture.

The result, Mann hopes, is the idea of someone who is interested in and welcomes all of Bristol.

“I wanted to represent a contemporary God, have a humanity in there that everyone could empathize with,” he told The Baptist Times. “And it’s a very incarnational theology. He is among us.

“It was a challenge to get the right mix of gender, nationality and ethnicity. My main concern was to show everyday people.

“I felt the prodigal element needed some reinforcing in this modern context, which is why you see a prodigal daughter. God welcomes everyone.”

Mann was commissioned by the church to produce an image for the central internal wall in the main stairwell, previously occupied by an uninspiring notice board.

Broadmead Baptist enjoys a city center location and is used by more than 1,000 people each week through a variety of community groups. It is known locally as “the church above the shops,” and this is a position that most users of the building would see.

The mural uses modern techniques. If Mann had physically painted it in time-honored fashion, the project would have taken “six to 12 months” and been prohibitively expensive.

Instead he engaged the help of Bristol-based C3 Imaging and came up with the idea of having his artwork printed digitally and mounted to the wall surface. As a result, the work began in October and was installed 10 days before Christmas.

Another factor that makes the mural truly contemporary is the addition of QR codes embedded into the image, linking those with smart phones to a website.

Mann said this will serve to provide a contextual background to the work but also make it interactive.

“We’re very keen to make it as accessible as possible to a digital generation. My prayer is that it makes people curious but in a subtle way. It doesn’t bash them over the head.”

We wanted something that was welcoming but which didn’t shout, ‘This is church; behave yourselves,'” said Glyn Duggan, a member of the commissioning team. “And it is something that reminds us of our place in the community, and reminds the community that we are there.”

Mann believes that God is increasingly using images to communicate. “I think God is really using images more and more to clarify what we are reading in the Bible.

“Images are incredibly powerful in speaking to people, and they are a way of communicating time-old truths.”

This article appeared originally in TheBaptistTimes of Great Britain.

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