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Pastor paints to preach

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Paul Oman was serving as a pastor in Birchwood in 2006 when he decided to try painting in front of the congregation.

"I painted for our Good Friday worship," Oman said. He said he chose that service because it usually drew less of a crowd than Sunday worship. If the painting didn't go over well, Oman said he figured at least it wasn't Sunday.

"Just the opposite happened," Oman said. News of Oman painting through a church service spread through word-of-mouth, and more and more churches and colleges began asking Oman to come paint for their worship services. Oman said he got so many requests to appear at churches and colleges that he decided to make painting his full-time career.

"It was the best fit, perhaps, that I had to offer the church and the world," Oman said, "to use my artistic abilities and share that with other people."

Before a mural-painting event, Oman said he works with the host church or university to plan a theme.

"Then I start imagining what the image might look like," Oman said. Musicians from the host site play pieces that highlight the theme of the day, and scriptures that fit the theme are also read.

"I paint for most of the worship service. I finish shortly before it ends," Oman said. "It all times out so everything comes together visually, musically, scripturally, narratively simultaneously."

Oman said he likes to convey a message to people experiencing his artwork. But, he said, the murals he paints during worship services go beyond simply capturing and sharing emotion.

"My potent hope with those (murals) is to go beyond simply conveying an emotion or experience to speaking God's promise to the person who is witnessing the mural as it's painted," Oman said. "So they hear the promise of the Gospel for them."

"To me that's a picture of who we are as people in a community," Oman said. "We all have different gifts to offer and we offer them together, sharing with one another."

Oman began painting and drawing as a child, taking lessons from an artist in his hometown Amery. While Oman enjoys working with watercolors, he said he uses acrylic latex paints for the murals he paints in front of an audience because the paint dries quickly and allows him to complete large murals in the space of one worship service.

But Oman doesn't just paint murals at worship services. He also enjoys painting simply because he is inspired by something he sees.

"More often than not, it's the way the sunlight is hitting an object," Oman said. "I love to paint the light and the shadows. That's really what captures my interest the most."

Oman said he is often inspired by nature, but he doesn't paint it exactly as he sees it.

"It's important that it touches their hearts in some particular way," Oman said. "That's what's most important. I am not interested in recapturing the scene exactly as I would see it. I'm interested in portraying more an emotional expression of that scene."

Now that he has made painting his career, Oman has been invited to churches and colleges all over the United States and has even been asked to a school in Shanghai.

Oman said he had always thought of doing some type of mission work or outreach that might allow him to travel around the world.

"I never thought it might be my artwork that might open up that door," Oman said. "China is a place that has always fascinated me."

Oman will be visiting Concordia International School, a school that runs Pre-K through grade 12 in Shanghai, as a guest art instructor for a week next April. While he is there, Oman will also paint a mural during their chapel time.

"I'm absolutely honored that they'd asked," Oman said. He said he was invited by people with a connection to Concordia International School who saw him paint in Detroit.

More recently, Oman painted a mural at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hammond. He painted an eight-foot-by-five-foot mural there depicting the primary stories of the Old Testament in under one hour on Sept. 23.

"I did a depiction of the creation story, of Noah's Ark and the flood and of some of the key people in the Old Testament, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David," Oman said.

Trinity Lutheran is displaying their mural "For God so loved the world, part one" in their sanctuary. Pastor Michael Briggs said Trinity Lutheran hopes to have Oman back next year, when he will paint part two.

Part one will be hung to the left of the cross and focuses on the highlights of the Old Testament. Briggs said part two will focus on the New Testament and will hang to the right of the cross.

"People have been in all week taking pictures of it," Briggs said.

On April 22, Oman painted a 6-foot mural of Jesus as the good shepherd blessing the little children at Solid Rock Fellowship in New Richmond.

Pastor Ken Mettler said the painting is on display in the church's sanctuary.

"I think of all the images I have of Jesus, that one is the most precious," Mettler said. "Everybody relates to children...we all have a little child in us."

As Solid Rock is such a small church, Mettler said the church couldn't afford Oman's usual fee, but Oman came for a free-will offering. Oman said he doesn't let price prevent him from painting at a church if they want him to do an event.

Mettler said the mural, titled "Christ and the Children," is always on display in Solid Rock's sanctuary.

"For years to come the mural continues to speak just by being there, as a witness to the Bible story," Oman said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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