The following appeared in the Highlands Today newspaper. The article is by Pallavi Agarwal with photography by Ryan Pelham.
For his Christmas Eve sermon at Tanglewood, Pastor Ken Thoreson whips out his chalks and his canvas and lets his wife do the talking. While Marilyn narrates a story from the Bible, her husband quickly draws out a picture that goes with the story. Sometimes it's baby Jesus in a cradle or mountains with Christmas trees. Then when he's done - usually in 12 to 14 minutes - Thoreson turns off the room lights and switches on the black lights attached to the top of the easel. In the semi-darkness, an image the audience did not see Thoreson doing - because he didn't do it then - unexpectedly stands out.
Turns out, the pastor had etched it in invisible chalk ahead of time. In the dark light, the audience might see a Jesus in the sky or an angel, completing the picture. "They sit there frozen," Thoreson said with a grin. "When the black lights come on, they don't expect to see a picture." Thoreson also likes to use fluorescent chalk to add a new dimension to any stars or snow that he may include. In the dark light, it all glistens, sometimes with a slight 3-D effect. Thoreson became a chalk artist pastor by accident. Actually, he became a pastor somewhat by accident and much later in life, at age 42. He was born in a bar, he likes to say. His parents owned a tavern and they were alcoholics. His life was in turmoil. Then he got the call to serve, and his life has never been the same, he said. One day his wife saw a chalk artist minister and prodded him to do the same. "'You could do that, you could do that,' she kept saying," he remembered. "But I didn't want to." He got the same coaxing from the people at the seminary he was attending. But he wasn't ready yet. Then one day he painted at a church where he was invited.
He's been presenting his sermons in chalk ever since. His chalk artist ministry has taken him to many places in the United States and even abroad. He's been to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Canada. He's open to invitation from people from other churches in the area. This Christmas Eve he invites the community to come join the worship service, set for 7 p.m., at the Tanglewood clubhouse. Actually, this year's idea did not come that easily. The Thoreson's usually look through all the Christmas cards they get for inspiration. This year was tough, though. Then his wife pointed out something they saw while visiting a Christian bookstore in Lakeland. Bingo, they knew it was it. Sometime between now and Christmas Eve, Ken will practice a little bit before the actual finale. He expects about 400 people to attend but the 1,100-capacity clubhouse can accommodate much more. "I feel like I have to share my gifts with other people," he said.
Here are some samples of Pastor Ken's Chalk Art collection.
The first (lighted pictures) are drawn in 12 minutes while the audience watches and the second picture (darkened picture) is what appears when the black light is introduced.
Please note that all art and music is the sole property of Pastor Ken Thoreson (unless otherwise noted) and may not be copied, duplicated, or reproduced without Pastor Ken's express written permission.