On December 14, 2012, twenty children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
As the community of Newtown struggled to make sense of the tragedy, the nation responded with prayer, philanthropy and politics. One man responded with paint.
Roger Hutchison, a youth minister and lay leader with Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, S.C., was invited to the small Connecticut town to aid in the emotional and spiritual recovery of those effected by the tragedy. Hutchison, who graduated from Warren Wilson College in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in humanities, gladly accepted.
Children and adults alike were invited to Hutchison’s “painting table,” an open arts space with communal supplies, where participants are given free reign to paint whatever and however they please—for Hutchison, the less structure, the better.
“It’s not about what your final creation looks like. It is about the transformation that takes place when you sit with others around a table for a period of time—creating, sharing, dreaming, and praying—together,” reads an excerpt from Hutchison’s book, The Painting Table – A Journal of Loss and Joy.
During his time in Newtown, Hutchison encouraged participants to use this space to heal the emotional and spiritual wounds caused by the tragedy that took place just three months earlier. The town’s response was overwhelmingly positive.
Most noteworthy were the contributions of the children who came to his “painting table.” Hutchison recalls an experience with one young girl, whose painting he described as “dark and frantic.” He encouraged her to paint another, and was pleased to see a more colorful work emerge. But Hutchison was surprised when the child smashed the two paintings together. As the child pulled them apart, the light had overtaken the darkness—a metaphor for the therapeutic possibilities of Hutchison’s “painting table.”
For Hutchison, moments like these affirm his decision to keep children as an integral focus in his spiritual and professional life.
“I started out working with teenagers in the Church. From Taizé in France and sleeping on the floors at St. John the Divine in New York City, to exploring our collective faith through study and formation—youth ministry [has been] an important part of my journey in the Church,” he said.
“There is a ‘thin place’ between children and the holy,” he added. “We seem to lose this as we get older. Children have much to teach us.”
“Thin Place” also happens to be the title of one of Hutchison’s most noteworthy paintings. For Hutchison, “painting is a way I talk to God. It is as if a good friend has joined me for a glass of wine and time of catching up.”
Roger Hutchison is the Canon for Children’s Ministries and Director of the Trinity Center for Mission and Ministry in Columbia, South Carolina. He graduated from Warren Wilson College in 1994 with a degree in the humanities. Roger’s first book, The Painting Table – A Journal of Loss and Joy was published by Church Publishing, Inc./Morehouse Publishing in January 2014.