On Sunday, May 27, the First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights dedicated its new chancel furnishings -- communion table, baptismal font, pulpit and candlesticks -- during the 9:30 a.m. worship celebration.
Sara Reich, a native of Arlington Heights and lifelong member of First United Methodist Church, graduated from Ball State University in May 2011 with degrees in architectural design and interior design. She is currently an assistant designer at Style1519.
Just as Reich graduated, her church embarked on a major renovation project that included its sanctuary. The Building Committee challenged her to design new chancel furnishings that would be in themselves sacred art. She was delighted with the invitation.
Reich believes that design is the blending of a vision with the existing -- creating a statement in reference to what is already there. In the broadest sense, this means the meshing of a client's design dream with nature, but in this smaller scale design, it was about creating pieces that spoke to what a church is while blending the furniture design with the existing space.
The pieces were designed to be statements on their own, but to still give way to the window behind the chancel. This was accomplished by the visual airiness of the design.
By being able to see through the links and legs of the furnishings, the pieces begin to blend in and become a part of the window, but the solid horizontal lines, given by elements like the dark metal or the table top edge, give the pieces their own life and visual weight on the chancel.
On all the pieces, the legs are references to the rib-like arches of the sanctuary, a reference in themselves to the ribs of an inverted boat. The metal links symbolize the individuals in a church and how they are linked together in Christ and the church community.
Without the support of that community, a baptism, communion or even a sermon would not have any power and meaning, thus the links are placed to "support" the font's bowl, the table top and the top of the pulpit. All United Methodist Churches celebrate the "connection" they have with one another.
The font is Reich's favorite piece because of the design behind it. The font is an oval so that the piece fits easily in the intersection of the two aisles, without interrupting the walking pathway. This way, a child can now be baptized in the middle of the congregation.
The handmade, blue glass bowl ties the piece to the stained glass window behind the new chancel. The bowl is elevated so that, as the glass bowl is filled, the water will run over the edges into the catch basin below. Then, as the pastor dips a hand into the water to bless the child, water again will move and fall over the edges of the bowl.
All of this movement symbolizes the idea of being baptized in "living water" -- water that gives new life in the tradition of baptism.
Reich searched for local artisans to fabricate the pieces, choosing furniture maker Justin Oliver and glass artist Sharon Gilbert to bring her designs to life.
Oliver was born and raised in England, where he graduated from the U.K.'s University College of Suffolk's Fine Furniture program with distinction. He did apprenticeships with some of England's finest cabinet and furniture makers, and one of his chairs can be found in Westminster Abbey.
Oliver and his wife moved to Chicago in 2008. His commercial experience includes contemporary modern furniture, antique reproduction and restoration, and chair making. View his work at www.justin-oliver.com.
Gilbert is the owner and head artist at Talisman Glass in Chicago. After earning a graphic arts degree from University of Illinois, she studied glass at various schools and got a graduate degree in sculpture at Ohio University.
Gilbert co-owned Arkivit, Inc. and then founded Talisman Glass, with one location in Oregon and one in Chicago. Visit her website at www.talismanglass.com.
This was Reich's first commission after graduation.
"I'm honored to have been asked to design something so meaningful for a community that has been so meaningful to me," Reich said. "These pieces are more than just a job or furniture. It's my way of trying to give back to the church that has done so much for me over the years. This project has opened so many new doors for me and taught me so much. I'm truly blessed."