A few months ago, we received an email that went something like this:
"I am a Lutheran pastor and artist who has been feeling a strong pull of the Holy Spirit to express the Gospel through the visual arts.
I would like to talk with your group some time, simply as people who seem to share the same calling. I understand myself as a preacher who paints, or as a drawing theologian. I think we have that in common."
Our first reaction was YES. Our second reaction was that creativity and community belong together, so we were honored to receive this message. After learning more about Rev. Scott Bryte (the author of the email) and his creative endeavors, we invited him to be one of our wholeheARTed guests.
Scott's creative journey has unfolded in tandem with his career in ministry, throughout which he has blended his vocation with his avocation so that they have become one and the same. Read Scott's reflections below as he shares honestly and vulnerably about his unending creative expressions and how drawing seeps into all the corners of his daily life.
[PS: If you're new around here, check out our previous wholeheARTed guests here].
SA: When did you first consider yourself an artist or creative person?
SB: I started drawing in the fourth grade. All through school, I drew in class. I drew on the back of worksheets. I drew on tests. Even in grad school, my notebooks contained more sketching than writing. As an adult, I draw during meetings. I draw while stopped at traffic lights and while waiting for my order in restaurants. All that time, I just thought of myself as a guy who drew. I never used to call myself an artist until just a few years ago. I never studied art in college, or in any formal way since high school, so I thought it presumptuous to assume the title. As I get older, however, and more and more of my time gets taken up in making art, I have given in. It’s just easier and less puffed up than introducing myself as a guy who draws, paints, carves, writes and cartoons.
SA: Tell us about the art you create or how you express yourself creatively.
SB: My wife Kathleen and I got married in the summer between my college graduation and the beginning of seminary. For our first Christmas together, Kathleen bought oil paints, brushes, and a book on oil painting for me. I painted all throughout seminary, and when the responsibilities of the parish and parenthood caused me to set painting aside for more than twenty years, I took up wood-carving, puppetry, and ventriloquism. I have carved crucifixes and nativity sets, as well as professional-level ventriloquist figures for entertainers around the United States. I also do a monthly comic strip in lieu of a traditional “pastor’s page” in our church newsletter.
About five years ago, our bishop asked me to do a painting of our recently retired bishop to hang alongside portraits of other past leaders in the main auditorium of Thiel College, a Lutheran school in Greenville, PA. I took a painting class at the local community college to get my feet wet again, and have been painting ever since.
Ventriloquist figure, oil painting, nativity scene, and "pastor's page" comic strip created by Rev. Scott Bryte.
SA: What is your creative process like?
SB: Nearly every idea begins as a pencil sketch on the back of a parish council agenda or on the bottom of a receipt. I take inspiration from several styles of classic liturgical art, but my great preference is the highly detailed and dramatically lit look of the Dutch Renaissance.
I have to think that I was given these gifts for a bigger purpose than simply amusing myself. I see my art, particularly my liturgical paintings and drawings, not as decoration, but as teaching documents. I try to express who Jesus is, who God is, what the Holy Trinity and the incarnation and the resurrection all mean in a way that can be imagined, seen, and mulled over.
I gotta admit though, that a lot of the time, I do draw or carve for decoration, or to amuse myself.
Oil paintings by Rev. Scott Bryte.
SA: What does fear look like for you and how does it show up in your creative process?
SB: Fear is ever present. I fear that the end result won’t be any good. I worry (and am quite convinced) that I am always in way over my head. My greatest fear by far is that I will imagine myself to be a better painter, a more skilled carver, a more meaningful writer or a wittier ventriloquist than I really am. I am afraid that people will find out what I already know to be true—that I don’t actually know what I am doing.
SA: How do you push beyond fear and self-doubt when they emerge during the creative process?
SB: I don’t always. I might be pleased with a project once it is newly finished, but if it is something that I continue to see often, I will soon fixate on what is wrong. Tiny flaws and errors, things that may never be noticed by anyone else, come to be glaringly obvious to me over time. I once added a tiny off-white dot and a half-inch long grey streak to a painting that had been hanging completed in my house for several years.
On the whole, however, I just can’t let go of a project until it is right. I don’t know if that can rightly be called pushing beyond fear and self-doubt, or if it is simple obsessiveness.
Oil paintings by Rev. Scott Bryte.
SA: How is your creativity connected to your faith?
SB: In the Gospel of John, Greeks approach Philip saying that they “wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).
Drawing, painting, carving, creating, operating puppets and more all give me a sense of fulfillment, happiness, and peace. I believe these are not hobbies. They are a calling that is part of my greater purpose in life to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. I know that I am called as Philip was to literally show Jesus to the world. For me, it is a matter of stewardship. In putting this stuff to the service of the Gospel, I am using God’s gifts to God’s glory.
SA: How does creativity/art lead you to wholeness?
SB: There is nothing that calms, relaxes, and makes me more myself than making art. I think in images. I pray in images. It would not be an overstatement for me to say that I am most aware of the presence and grace of God when I am drawing.
Rev. Scott Bryte lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his lovely wife Kathleen, and near his brilliant grown children, Meghan and Zachary.
He collects antique cylinder phonographs and is sadly obsessed with sloths and with the tiny nation of Liechtenstein. He was ordained as a pastor of the ELCA in 1989, and currently serves Berkley Hills Lutheran Church in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.