| | By Kate Madden Yee
Before the regular third Sunday meeting of her flock, the Reverend Trismegista “Tristy” Taylor isn’t exactly blessing the holy water or ruminating on a biblical reading to share. As the sun streams through the high windows of the Church of Craft and catches the auburn highlights in her hair, the Rev. Taylor is more likely considering what she’ll teach at Sunday School: papier-mâché? crochet? Shrinky Dinks?
There are no pews here, no blood of Christ or saints in stained glass, just colored yarn, crochet needles, beads, glue and paper—the heavenly stuff of craft. The Church of Craft is an informal community centered around “making” that Taylor and friend Callie Janoff started in San Francisco and New York seven years ago. The San Francisco area’s chapter is housed in the Rock Paper Scissors Collective, a volunteer-run site on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland that offers art shows, crafts, zines, free and low-cost classes and more.
Taylor and Janoff’s church brings people together in craft—be it pom-pom jewelry, gourd-arts, beading or scrapbooking—within the context of community and companionship.
Kate Ruddle, a visual artist based in the East Bay, is here for the first time, knitting a scarf out of nubby, multicolored wool. She came to the Church of Craft meeting to make art with others without the component of critique—so prevalent in her working life—and to connect creativity and the spirit.
“For me, art is my spiritual practice, and the Church of Craft is the only place I’ve ever seen art and craft literally referred to in this way,” she says. “So I was curious.”
Judith Reich, a longtime member, found out about Church of Craft on National Public Radio, which broadcast a feature about the group in 2004. Reich’s day job is not art-based, so she likes that the Church of Craft gives her space to practice her craft—making cards and collages or crocheting—with others.
“It’s nice to be doing my work with a group of people rather than just by myself,” Reich says. “There’s also this cross-pollination that happens, where we give each other feedback and ideas that really spark creativity.”
At the gatherings, Reich likes that the emphasis is not on personal backgrounds, careers or marital status. “The crafting is the bond, and that’s really freeing,” she says. “It’s a different way to connect with people.”
Taylor came up with the Church of Craft idea in 2000, in the midst of the dot-com bust that shook Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. Everyone Taylor knew was out of work, so she started hosting “craft-ons,” casual dinner/crafting gatherings she hoped would offer company and solace (she’d long been involved in The Cubby, an art collective she helped start, so she wasn’t a stranger to group art gatherings). Soon Taylor longed to create a more cohesive spiritual community centered on craft-making.
Taylor was in New York that spring, and through a mutual friend met Janoff, a performance artist who shared her vision. In order to perform weddings for friends, Janoff went online to become a minister of the Universal Life Church—a decentralized church that believes anyone (who can fill out a form and pay a small fee) should have the power to minister her faith.
“I had been doing conceptual art in New York that had a lot to do with art as experiences rather than objects,” Janoff says. “When some friends asked me to do their wedding, I was ecstatic. It fit with the artwork thing I was exploring—where does art end and life begin? So I got ordained and did the wedding. It was the most stunning, fantastic experience of my life to date, not abstract, like a lot of art is, but palpably real, and it made me reexamine my own spiritual life.”
Like Janoff, Taylor felt a calling to people who are not part of mainstream religious traditions but who want a ministry that provides a compassionate, listening ear, a way to honor important events in their lives and companionship. “Most faith traditions have their dogma, and it’s kind of like, ‘Here’s what you do, and good luck with that,’” Taylor says. “But life often doesn’t work according to plan, and each of us needs unconditional companions on our spiritual journeys.”
During that visit, Taylor, too, became ordained by the Universal Life Church and the duo launched the Church of Craft; there are now chapters in Austin, Los Angeles, Montreal, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and even Sweden.
But why did the women choose the term church, which is so overlaid with association—good and bad? Taylor and Janoff thought it through. “We had some concern in the beginning whether calling this the Church of Craft would freak people out,” Janoff says. “But to us, the word church means community, and there’s no reason something can’t be tongue-in-cheek but also real and true.”
In 2005, Taylor took her passion for the spiritual life further to Berkeley’s Chaplaincy Institute, an interfaith seminary that offers programs in practical and applied theology, where she became an interfaith minister. She now performs weddings, baptisms and funerals, and has an established private spiritual-direction practice in Sonoma and Marin counties. But she also finds herself conducting informal spiritual counseling around the Church of Craft table. “There’s a meditative quality to working on a craft that allows for connection,” she says.
Although there is no real liturgy at a Church of Craft meeting, Taylor likes to experiment with ritual. Last year, she led the group through a Father’s Day experience where participants wrote their prayers, intentions and wishes for their fathers on pieces of Chinese paper, which they then took out to Emeryville Marina, loaded on a small wooden boat, and burned. But Taylor stresses that the Church of Craft requires no belief in dogma or doctrine beyond what every member believes for himself—and a desire to commune with others in a “non-denominational spiritual practice that is self-determined and proactive.”
“That’s what’s wonderful about being in America,” Taylor says. “You can create your own religion.”
For Taylor, the life of the spirit deeply intersects with the art of making things. In fact, the practice of making something—whether it’s a piece of knitting or clothing, a collage, a poem or a story, a painting or drawing, origami, beading, even a Ferris wheel out of matchsticks—can be a metaphor for the spiritual life: it’s about process, not product. “We never really arrive at our spiritual destination,” says Taylor. “It’s a lifelong process. Making things is a physical symbol of this spiritual journey.”
The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Church of Craft meets every third Sunday at Rock Paper Scissors Collective, 2278 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland (www.rpscollective.com). For more information or to sign up for the Church of Craft’s e-mail list, contact Reverend Trismegista Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out the Web site at www.churchofcraft.org.
Kate Madden Yee has always believed that her knitting serves a higher purpose.
Art By Susan Sanford