NESTLED in the small town of Rock Harbor, in Cape Cod Bay,
Massachusetts, lies a rare jewel. The richly decorated Church of
the Transfiguration, adorned with contemporary artwork, is the home
of the Community of Jesus.
The buildings and the community are the realisation of a dream
of two Episcopal laywomen, Cay Andersen and Judy Sorensen. The two
met at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Orleans,
Massachusetts, in June 1958, and quickly became friends.
After initiating a prayer-and-Bible-study group in Mrs
Sorenson's home on Crystal Lake, New Jersey, the women began to
reach out to larger audiences, who were inspired by their practical
application of biblical teachings to everyday life.
When the women and their families decided to share a home in
1961, however, they began to appreciate the benefits of community
life. By the following year, they had gathered a significant
following of women who shared their enthusiasm.
By now, they had defined several principles: emphasising the
importance of preferring others to oneself; striving together for a
common purpose; and depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in
making joint decisions. The Community of Jesus was conceived.
It continued to grow, and, by 1969, the homes of the earliest
members had been converted into buildings for church use; other
houses near by were bought, and the foundations of the community
were established. Through the '70s and '80s, the community life
evolved into an ecumenical monastic order in the Benedictine
tradition, and the community adoped a formal Rule of Life in
NOW, more than half of the lay members live in housing
surrounding the church buildings. There are also 25 Brothers living
in the Zion Friary, and 60 Sisters in Bethany Convent. Worship and
daily life remain distinctly Episcopalian, but Benedictine.
The earliest buildings of the community - one of them a working
bed and breakfast - were the homes of the founders and its first
members. But, as the community and the number of visitors grew,
expansion became necessary. After Andersen's unexpected death in
1988, and Sorensen's retirement in 1992, the community elected a
prioress, Mother Betty Pugsley, who still leads the community.
It was she who drew together earlier plans and ideas for a new
church to replace the first chapel (a converted pump-house). She
formed a planning committee to collaborate with architects and
lawyers in coming up with a suitable design. William Rawn
Associates, Architects, of Boston, was comissioned with the design
for the community buildings and the church itself, the construction
of which began on All Saints' Day 1997. By 2000, the basilica-style
church, built from Minnesota limestone, was complete.
The most striking feature of the Church of the Transfiguration
is its commitment to the use of contemporary art and craft,
displayed in a recently published and richly illustrated book.
Anderson and Sorensen believed that the images in the church should
bear faithful adherence to scriptures, and should, throughout the
community buildings, tell the story of the Bible from Genesis to
Sister Mercy, who works in the marketing department of the
community, says: "We believe that beauty, visualised in the arts,
can be an expression of the nature of God himself. The spirit of
creativity released through the arts can carry the message of the
gospel in a powerful way, beyond just words."
The community commissioned artists from around the world, the
quality of whose work would not be out of place in a major
The eloquent narrative begins with the church entrance. Carved
into the outside of the high bronze doors, which were constructed
by the sculptor Romolo Del Deo, is the image of Adam and Eve with
the Tree of Life - the tree is a recurring theme - welcoming all
INSIDE, a processional pathway in mosaic, constructed by
Alessandra Caprara and painted by Helen McLean, runs the length of
the nave, and connects the font and the altar. The first image is a
seed and the roots of the Tree of Life. Then, stories from the
Bible flow in chronological order; Cain and Abel, Noah and the
Flood, the life of Moses, and the life of Elijah.
Towards the end of the pathway, near the altar, are four images
that portray the values central to community life. An image of a
bee and a beehive, depicting the organised activity and spiritual
life of the monastic community, is followed by a chrysalis, a
symbol of conversion and of the resurrection. Next is a crane,
symbolising obedience, and then a rock to portray stability.
On the east wall of the church is a mosaic of Christ returning
in glory at the end of the time. He presides over the River of
Life, which swirls around his feet and gushes forth in the four
Gospels, which are represented by the four winged creatures,
symbols of the Gospel-writers. In the centre of the bottom panel of
the mosaic is the Lamb of God.
The series of frescos on the north and south walls of the nave,
painted by the Florentine artist Silvestro Pistolesi, recount the
story of the life of Christ, from beginning to end.
Perhaps the most surprising image in the community is the
depiction of the Transfiguration, which flanks the inside of the
main door in the west wall. There is no physical representation of
Christ; instead, a panel of gold and clear glass rises to the
ceiling, filling the space between the oculus window and the
apostles sculpted in the lintel below.
The glasswork, by the German sculptor Gabrielle Wilpers, evokes
both the Hebrew Shekinah - the presence of God -
descending upon, and dwelling with, his people, and the brightness
of Christ's transfigured raiments.
The presence of Christ, whose face "shone like the sun", is
symbolised in the vibrant, fiery colours and shapes of the oculus
window, created by Helen McLean.
The carvings beneath the glass panel, designed by McLean and
sculpted by Régis Demange, show Peter, James, and John, who, true
to Matthew's description, "fell on their faces and were filled with
The Church of the Transfiguration by the Community of Jesus
is published by the Paraclete Press at £39.99 (Church Times