“The Doors Project” at St. James Views Traditions and Values Through a Modern Lens

Artwork by (L-r) Fran Lapinski, Dennis Johnston-Deniss & Elle Moser, Peter Clancy

Doors define boundaries. They can be welcoming or send a message to stay away. As the clergy and congregants of The Episcopal Church of St. James in Montclair thought about the lead up to the Easter Season, the impact of doors in our lives became an opening to share a universal and modern take on the Christian tradition of observing the Stations of the Cross for Palm Sunday. The result is “The Doors Project,” which will be on display from April 10th through April 25th in the front lawn of St. James Episcopal Church in Upper Montclair. 

The curated exhibit will open to the congregation and the community this Palm Sunday, April 10th. Fourteen doors, one for each Station of the Cross, will be revealed in the front lawn of St. James at the conclusion of the Palm Sunday service. The Palm Sunday service traditionally ends with a reading of the Passion Narrative, made up of the Biblical text describing the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and entombment of Jesus in then week following Palm Sunday. This year, the congregation will forgo the formal reading and allow the congregation to walk amongst the doors to absorb the Passion Narrative in a very personal and contemporary way. 

Artwork by (L-R) Rev. Melissa Hall, Alexa Sahadi, Marie Whittam

Reverend Melissa Hall of St. James parish shares that the artists were asked to respond to their assigned station on an emotional level that spoke to their own lives. They would create that connection to a door in any way they chose. The Reverend explained the connection for modernizing the choices and actions made during the Holy Week: “In our present lives, we are asked to make decisions when it comes to justice and the oppressed. Sometimes we rise to the occasion with courage. Other times we avert our eyes and our responsibility.” The artists worked on letting their art speak to everyone, regardless of religious or spiritual affiliation. 

The doors have been decorated by members of the congregation as well as representatives of community groups. The vast majority of the participants are not professional artists, but each door reflects the values and personality of each artist. Some are decorated with paint, newsprint, or stenciled words. Some are bathed in black, white, and grey while others are bright and energetic in their interpretation of their assigned station. Every door will inspire those who visit the display to respond, think, and appreciate the varied approaches to the season. The final Station, number 14: Resurrection, is the doorway to the church, thus emphasizing the openness and reflection the congregation’s project hopes to convey.

“The Doors Project” was brought to life and curated by the clergy and members of the church including the Rev. Audrey Hasselbrook, Lisa Stoeffel, John Bylancik, Jamie Pagliaro, Michael Porcelli, Kitty Kawecki. Each door includes an artist’s statement and a QR code that visitors can scan to learn about the artist and about the inspiration and influence on each artist’s door. 

Artwork by (L-R) Lisa Stoeffel, Rev. Willie Smith, Amber Reed

In tune with many initiatives the St. James congregation has taken, the goal of this contemporary approach to the Stations of the Cross is to forge a strong neighborhood relationship with the community.  Reverend Hall says, “I hope these doors can transcend a growing secular wariness that exists for many about what it means to be part of a religious community. We are not evangelizing or proselytizing with these doors. It is not our intent to convince you to take on our religion…[the artwork] confirms the values of love and care and commitment to justice and fairness.” 

The Montclair community is welcome to join the St. James congregation in a 9:45 AM procession, complete with a donkey, from Anderson Park to the church. The Palm Sunday service begins at 10:15 AM, and the doors will be revealed at 11:30 AM in the front lawn of St. James (581 Valley Road, Upper Montclair, NJ). The display will be available to visit until April 25th. For more information, see the St. James website.

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  1. An interesting installation. The Stations of the Cross, traditionally a prayerful meditation on Christ’s Passion, here gets a makeover for a more contemporary audience, one that might feel more comfortable with Jesus, and the Cross itself, playing no discernible roles in the revamped narrative. What one will find cannot surprise: mankind still has a lot of work to do (come to think of it one won’t find that word, mankind, either).

    It does seem a surprise, however, for a local Christian church to have unveiled “the doors project,” during Holy Week, and for there to be no mention of the Resurrection. That, after all, is what this coming Sunday is about. That is entirely the meaning of Easter, and if it is not, then to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, to hell with it.

    Or perhaps the absence was indeed the intent. If so, it’s a revealing admission about our times.

    Still, I hope I’m wrong and some lucky youngster inadvertently stumbles across it during the annual Easter Egg hunt. That would be a blessing.

  2. Hello Gordo, and thank you for visiting St. James and leaving your thoughtful comment.

    As one of the curators of this meditation installation, I am happy for your feedback. We set the doors in order such that there is a path to follow, from #1 to #14. The intention of having the final Door return back to the beginning of the path to then draw visitors’ attention to the Church doors. On Easter day – the Church doors themselves will become the final door: representing the Resurrection and our collective Easter Joy.

    We also believed that Jesus and his message of love and redemption could be seen in every door, even, or perhaps especially, in those doors which call out the real need for love and compassion in today’s world. The relevant Scripture passage was posted at each Station, along with a statement from the artist, to guide our visitors’ reflections. I hope you will get the chance to visit the installation again in the coming week following Easter, and I hope our intentions will be more evident.

    A final thought: There is no mention of the resurrection in the traditions of the Stations of the Cross. The final station is ” Jesus is laid in the tomb “. I found this reference helpftul: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Stations-of-the-Cross

    Wishing you a blessed Easter.

  3. Hi John, I was glad to read your thoughtful response. Make no mistake, I think this is a beautiful and necessary exhibit. Any quibble does not take away from its power. As you know, we can reflect on the Stations of the Cross at any time, and while true that the tomb ends that progression, one also wouldn’t want an Easter celebration to simply end there either. The Stations, the Cross, the Suffering are simply a cruel point in history if that were all. Considering how common crucifixion was in the Roman world, we would have no reason to remember those three on the hill at all. I think we all need to be reminded of the way Easter, in all its glory, separates us from common suffering, gives us meaning and hope, and indeed opens doors.
    Blessed Easter to you as well, and please thank the St. James community for their work.

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