By Fred Koenig
Jewell McGhee describes herself as a community artist who uses diverse mediums to reach diverse communities. Sometimes that means employing her artistic talents to help pastors communicate with their congregations. Now, she has begun her journey of stepping into the pastor role herself.
McGhee grew up in Quad Cities in Illinois and went to Wheaton College, where she majored in ancient languages and minored in theater. It was working in set design that set her on the path of community art – and art that communicates. Although she enjoyed working in theater, as a mother of four, theater didn’t seem like an option as it required work with a schedule determined by other people.
“Art was something I could do around doing other things,” she said. “Theater is hard to do solo.”
Most of her art tends to be something you walk into and experience rather than something you hang on the wall. While at Crossroads Presbyterian Church she illustrated a sermon series, with her drawings projected on the screens, originals on easels in the narthex and reproduced in the worship bulletin.
She also did a set of 13 liturgical banners, along with altar and podium paraments, that was used at Crossroads. “We use our brains to talk about hot issues, but the facts hit walls. Our brains are hard,” McGhee said. “With narrative stories and imagination our brains become pliable. It puts us in a different place and gives our brain what it needs to work through hard issues.”
When she moved to Maplewood, she was immediately drawn to Maplewood UMC because the church is such a part of the community. McGhee was called to ministry earlier, but found herself in a church that didn’t ordain women.
“My pastor (at the time Rev. Kim Shirar) was very supportive of my journey,” McGhee said. She is currently attending Eden Seminary in St. Louis and participated in the Missouri Conference Candidacy Summit in July.