John Hendrix draws as he listens to the sermon at Grace & Peace Fellowship Presbyterian church in St. Louis on Sunday (March 15).  Hendrix, a professional illustrator, sketches on the theme of the sermon during church and then finishes the piece at home later in the week. Photo by David Carson, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

John Hendrix draws as he listens to the sermon at Grace & Peace Fellowship Presbyterian church in St. Louis on Sunday (March 15). Hendrix, a professional illustrator, sketches on the theme of the sermon during church and then finishes the piece at home later in the week. Photo by David Carson, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

ST. LOUIS (RNS) On the second Sunday of Lent, John Hendrix sits in one of the pews near the back of Grace and Peace Fellowship, a Presbyterian church with stained glass in green and orange, and a giant, organ pipe front and center.

Casually decked in a striped, button-down shirt and jeans, he looks like any other member of the hip and young crowd. With his wife, Andrea, and his two children, Jack, 8, and Annie, 5, Hendrix stands and sings and partakes of gluten-free communion.

But as soon as the sermon starts, Hendrix sets himself apart, whipping out his sketchbook and pens to draw the pastor’s sermon.

“My sketchbooks are some of the most favorite things I do where I just love the images I make,” Hendrix, 37, said in a recent interview in his home near Washington University where he teaches at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts.

Hendrix doesn’t make his money through his sermon sketches but in other ways: He teaches and freelances as an illustrator for big-name magazines like Esquire, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. He also draws pictures for book authors. And he writes and illustrates his own nonfiction work.

His first book “John Brown: His Fight for Freedom,” about the white American abolitionist, was published in 2009. This fall, he’s due to release a book about World War I called “Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914.” Both are for young readers.

But Hendrix says his sketches of sermons are pure pleasure.

“In my professional work I always enjoy it but at the end of the day, there’s always something that I wish was different,” said Hendrix.  ”It’s rarely like that with my sketchbook. It just connects me to the joy of making, and it makes me feel like I was when I was a kid and drawing in church.”

In general, bold colors, macabre images and a combination of oversize lettering and text characterize Hendrix’s artwork.

A finished piece by John Hendrix, a professional illustrator, created as he listened to one of the sermons at Grace & Peace Fellowship Presbyterian church in St. Louis. Hendrix starts drawing as he listens to the sermon during church and finishes the drawing and coloring at home later in the week. Photo courtesy John Hendrix and St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A finished piece by John Hendrix, a professional illustrator, created as he listened to one of the sermons at Grace & Peace Fellowship Presbyterian church in St. Louis. Hendrix starts drawing as he listens to the sermon during church and finishes the drawing and coloring at home later in the week. Photo courtesy John Hendrix and St. Louis Post-Dispatch


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

On this particular Sunday, the Rev. Thurman Williams preaches about the power of Jesus to cleanse those around him. He talks about a specific chapter in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus, filled with compassion, heals a man with leprosy.

Occasionally pausing to look up, Hendrix quickly sketches a clothesline. Along with images of socks and underwear, letters hang from the clothesline spelling out what the leper says to Jesus in the gospel, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

By the time the service ends, Hendrix has completed a good portion of his latest church sketch.

In the coming week, he’ll finish the piece at home, adding color, though he says he likes to complete as much as he can during worship because the “magic happens in the pews.”

Originally from St. Louis, Hendrix grew up in a Methodist household. His mother liked to work with crafts and sew. His father was in the Navy for 30 years and had a job as a banker. Both were supportive of the idea of their son becoming an artist.

Hendrix left St. Louis for Kansas City, Kan., to attend the University of Kansas. He then moved to New York City with the intention of making it big, attending the School of Visual Arts and eventually working as an assistant art director for the Op-Ed page at The New York Times. He also taught at the Parsons School of Design.

It was in New York, Hendrix says, that he became comfortable with the idea that his art is informed by his faith.

“I really encountered for the first time this idea of artists, identifying themselves as artists, and also being faithful people, trying to make stuff that, you know, doesn’t look like painted Bible stories and sappy stuff you find in a Christian book store,” Hendrix said.

Although Hendrix sells prints of some of his church sketches on his personal website for about $50 each, he says he’s dubious about turning them into a commercial venture because he’s terrified he’ll spoil the enjoyment of them.

Besides, Hendrix says, mainstream publishers have typically reacted skeptically to the idea of collecting his church illustrations.

“I think a lot of secular publishers feel a little odd publishing a book that’s just about sincere belief, sadly,” Hendrix said.  The idea of working with religious publishers has never appealed to him, either.

Around Christmas time, Hendrix heard a sermon about  Jesus’ birth. It inspired him to sketch a wolf-devil in the underworld who tries to devour Christ in his manger. In other words, not your typical Christian fare.

Even his Web comic “The Adventures of the Holy Ghost,” about what Hendrix imagines the day-to-day activities of the Holy Spirit to be like, conveys  a dark streak. (Christians believe the Holy Spirit is the third divine person of the Trinity.) The little ghost Hendrix colors in blue for his series seems to alternate between sweetness and despair.

Despite the sometimes gloomy elements found in his work, the Rev. Kurt Lutjens, longtime pastor at Grace and Peace, says both he and the congregants are fans of the illustrator’s work.

“John’s an artist at heart and loves to draw, and it always struck me as a great way to take in what he’s hearing,” Lutjens said. “I never perceived it as inappropriate or anything other than the way John expresses himself.”

Hendrix, says drawing the sermon has strengthened his convictions in ways hearing them never could.

They are now ink-sketched on his heart.

(Lilly Fowler is the religion reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

YS END FOWLER

Video courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

9 Comments

  1. This is probably highly unusual for you to receive something like this?!? But is there a means to transmit a note (SEE BELOW) TO John Hendrix?!? I didn’t see any contact info for him on the website segment about him. SO, could I possibly ask YOU to transmit the note to him for me?!? You know, a stroke of one key or two, one click or two? THANK YOU SO MUCH. Please feel free to share with him our email address, if he would so like. (I’m unusual like this because I’m 65 y/o and NOT as culturally appropriate at this point in time as in my own youth?!?)

    _____

    Hi, John. I’m a reader, browser of some Internet webs now and then. I’m an ordinary citizen of this world, and a most contented one of the next–the new heaven and earth!

    I want to tell you how much I fancy the idea of your drawing sermons! I think that’s amazing and am wondering, then, if you are going to compile more books for children, beyond what you’ve already done?? for adults?? Who is the publisher of the books you’ve written so far??

    What happens (i.e., what do you draw, OR do you draw?) WHEN the sermon content is based upon doctrinal portions of Scripture, such as Romans, Galatians, etc?? Just curious. : )

    How long have you been drawing sermons?

    Thank you for your artisanship and obvious great love of the Word of God. I praise God in your earnest posture before the Word, and can imagine how loudly your life speaks just sitting and drawing as you do, in obvious great attentiveness, in desire of handling the Word of God with great esteem and wonder. USING THE GIFT OF IMAGINATION IN YOUR DRAWINGS/STORY ART, FOR COMMUNICATING THE WIDTH AND BREADTH OF THE GOSPEL!

    NOT that I know this, or that God calls you to this, but ‘I bet’ you could teach the Bible to kids very well?!? Maybe even TEENS, if you had some kind of device to display your work in some large instantly visual technique, AS you drew ‘Bible lessons’ and narrated whatever Scripture segment you might have chosen to present?? You would be taking a more personal space in front of people that way, than if they were just to sit in front of various dull video-d presentations or such. It might make the Word become more alive to many?!? : )

    I love the Word, too, and tried to communicate it in an Islamic country of West Africa. In FRENCH, to Muslim university students! AT an off-campus evangelical student center established by missionaries. (Over 6-7 years, I was among the modest # of missionaries that staffed the center, but was immeasurably blessed by their great interest and questions!)

    Eventually I came to wonder if their avid genuine interest wasn’t driven in GREAT PART by their culture of poverty, their daily life. (I mean, the Sahara Desert is the Sahara Desert, you know?!? Which is NOT developed AT ALL in vast remote regions; and then only rather poorly developed along its long southern border, where we were in one spot.) BUT, there were those students who didn’t want to be idle–even though most likely it would be joblessness that would be facing them in their near-future.

    There were those students whose keen minds and spirits were almost always rather instantly interested in things of the spirit of man and of God–who weren’t distracted by multi-media overload and white noise all around them!

    Many were also interested in learning English, in their desire to be a part of the whole world beyond them and the Sahara. I was asked by the director of the center to attempt ‘teaching English’, to offer it, make it available to interested students. I learned by my language handicap, that in any kind of teaching instance–when one could DRAW OUT (on a big ole blackboard made with some kind of paint on wood) depictions of truth of any type, it would help the students to visualize and understand, beyond the language barriers–mine and theirs!

    Well, that’s years of incredible memories now–though they still live as stories in my mind. I wish they were drawn out so as to be seen, even if ‘from afar.’ Maybe I will attempt to WRITE them out with WORDS sometime, as if I were painting on canvas, or sketching on paper?? :)

    Well, again, thank you for your zeal for the Lord and His every word. All praise be to the only living God Who ‘sent His only Son, so that whoever would believe in Him might find eternal life.’ OR, as one physics major exclaimed to me one day, when reading a French Bible together–Genesis 1–”STOP, MADAM! What do you mean when it says here the God spoke?!?! ALLAH does not speak! No one as ever heard His voice. He is far more excellent than men to speak to them. Even Mohammed was delivered messages by angels. But it says here, that ‘God spoke’! … Yes. He did, as utter astonishment crossed this student’s face. But then ‘wonder’ set in, upon his face. Then logical inquiry, though with hesitant breath: ‘Well, if He did speak, madam…if He did…what all did He say?’ WE READ ON FOR HOURS, THEN ON MANY OTHER DAYS, THEN FOR MONTHS! AT WHICH POINT, he then traveled to see his family out in the desert, telling me he wanted to share with them about the True LIVING God! He came back in a month, telling me that as his patriarchal beloved father and uncle heard him give account of what he had learned of the Christian’s God, THEY ASKED HIM TO TELL THEM ALL THAT HE HAD SPOKEN, TOO! THEY sat in astonishment, too, around the night fire.

    Oh how matchless is our GOD, the ever-Sovereign One, the LIVING ONE, the ONE and ONLY, so beautifully majestic in all of His holiness…and in His speaking…in making Himself known to us. God be with you, John, with your mind and hands–blessedly “speaking,” through your drawings. Ann

  2. I saw I this article mentioned in a post on Facebookj from a friend and fellow student here at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. What this article doesn’t really state is that there are more and more of us doing this type of worship and creating. My work is part of my combined Spiritual Discipline, Theological Study, Art as a form of Liturgy and it all started as a way of coping with ADD and now has evolved in a method of Social Justice/awareness. Please, when you have time take a look at my art.
    https://www.facebook.com/The.Art.Project.UMC
    https://www.facebook.com/The.Art.Project.Palestine
    https://supple-stone-studio.see.me/
    I will be having a show starting May 1st both here at Garrett-ETs in Evanston, IL and at Holy Covenant UMC in Chicago.
    Salaam – Steve

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