RCTalk: Central Christian Church celebrates arts, music with new book

The stained glass window behind the dais in Central Christian Church. A book by choir member John Lynner Peterson documents the art of the downtown church.
The stained glass window behind the dais in Central Christian Church. A book by choir member John Lynner Peterson documents the art of the downtown church.

Central Christian Church music director Michael Rintamaa was never surprised to see choir member John Lynner Peterson with a camera. Even on august occasions, such as when retired Lexington Philharmonic music director George Zack led the ensemble, Peterson would have his camera out, documenting the moment.

And that's what Rintamaa thought Peterson was doing: documenting the life of the church as he had photographed many things from London to Papua New Guinea as a marketing and communications professional.

So Rintamaa was quite surprised at the end of the May 19 service when he was presented with Central Arts, a handsome photo book by Peterson celebrating the arts at the downtown Lexington Church that was published in celebration of his 20th anniversary as Central's music director.

The book was accompanied by numerous prints of Peterson's photographs of the church's artistic features including stained glass and woodcarvings on the front doors, facing Short Street.

"I was stunned the church would honor my years of service in charge of the music program with this incredible photographic art work John has produced," Rintamaa said the morning after the presentation.

Producing it was sometimes a bit of a trick for Peterson, who started working on the project two years ago with some grand ambitions. While he could essentially hide in plain sight photographing the music ministry, he had to be a bit more sneaky shooting things that would reveal he was up to something.

He had numerous co-conspirators, from church members who wrote essays for the book, to his wife, Brenda Bartella Peterson, who edited it, and people who helped him get some of the most difficult shots.

That included a grand effort to photograph Jesus on the Outside, the stained glass image of Christ tending to a flock of sheep familiar to anyone who has passed the church driving down Short Street at night.

To get a straight-on view of the glass, Peterson had a platform constructed and taken down overnight to get up there and shoot the photo. Chad Snellgrove actually climbed the platform and took the photo with Peterson's camera settings. And even then, the image required some digital editing to appear perfectly direct.

But to Peterson, it was worth it to capture the art work in the church and make it available to a wider population, both through the book and the art works, all of which are available for sale. (Visit for more information.) Jesus on the Outside is a perfect example, because it is a piece that is only visible outside the church.

"How appropriate!"wrote church member Bill Paulsell in an essay that accompanied the picture of the glasswork. "The Man from Nazareth did not confine himself to synagogue or temple; he did his ministry out in the world, where the people were."

Rintamaa says that what he loves about the book and artwork is, "It takes what is trapped in our building and frees it to go other places."

For example, Peterson says, images of the stained glass could be taken to places where the church has feeding programs to bring a touch of the church to those locations.

In creating the print pieces, Peterson worked with Lexington-based Expansive Art to make works that echoed the stained-glass character of the originals. And he unabashedly used digital technology to enhance some pieces. The doors, for example, are basically brown. But in his photographs, they have been outlined in black to bring out the etchings. Similarly, a carving of the Last Supper at the back of the church sanctuary is pulled from behind glass and set alone on brown background.

"Whoever did this had a vision for the role the arts play in the life of a congregation for spiritual reflection and communal worship," Peterson says of the art in Central Christian.

Through his work, in tribute to the church's chief artist, Peterson continues that vision.