How Sleepy Hollow woman decorates West Dundee church for Easter

  • Sleepy Hollow resident Barbara Hansen has been decorating the altar at West Dundee's First Congregational Church for 10 years. She draws on her faith for inspiration and her years as a school art teacher for experience.

    Sleepy Hollow resident Barbara Hansen has been decorating the altar at West Dundee's First Congregational Church for 10 years. She draws on her faith for inspiration and her years as a school art teacher for experience. Courtesy of Gerard Dziuba

  • The use of colors and items, such as palms and candles, are essential to setting an inspiration mood for worship services.

    The use of colors and items, such as palms and candles, are essential to setting an inspiration mood for worship services. Courtesy of Gerard Dziuba

  • Sleepy Hollow resident Barbara Hansen collaborates with First Congregational Church senior pastor, the Rev. Aaron James, when designing and setting altar decorations. Easter religious traditions are challenging for Hansen and members of altar guilds in other churches.

    Sleepy Hollow resident Barbara Hansen collaborates with First Congregational Church senior pastor, the Rev. Aaron James, when designing and setting altar decorations. Easter religious traditions are challenging for Hansen and members of altar guilds in other churches. Courtesy of Gerard Dziuba

 
Updated 3/29/2018 6:20 AM

Go to church on Easter Sunday, and consider the art that adorns the altar. Lavished in lilies, backdropped in white, the colors, aromas and hymn-filled sounds all add to the worship experience in churches.

Then, consider the unsung heroes who work hours, long before the church bells ring to make services and Masses more inspiring. Some of those folks are part of groups called altar guilds; other are parishioners with no titles. They volunteer their late nights and early mornings, realizing altars are the centerpiece of churches.

 

Sleepy Hollow resident Barbara Hansen is one of those volunteers. She considers her calling to be an artist who prepares West Dundee's First Congregational Church's altar for Easter, along with Christmas, Pentecost and other holy days.

"It starts with Palm Sunday. Colors are important. Purple is used for Lent. Black is used for Good Friday. White is used for Easter, and red is used for Pentecost," Hansen said. "We don't use as many Easter lilies as other churches. We'll have about 50 flowers in all."

But she does use banners. Many of them hold just images. Others have words that reflect words the ministers' words while conducting services.

Hansen and the church's senior pastor, the Rev. Aaron James, work together to coordinate the altar's decorations. James gladly admits not all eyes are on him every second of services. Many glances fall on the images around the altar, and take in the fragrance.

"The preparation takes a lot of work. A lot of change takes place during the week before Easter. Everything has significance," he said. "The candles, the wreaths, the palms and the colors are important. At other times of the year, such as Christmas, they are just as important to make sure the services are inviting and inspirational."

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The Route 31 church has more than 300 active members. Attendance increases during holy days, meaning more eyes are on the minister and the altar.

At Easter, the timing must be right. After Good Friday services, churches strip their altar and cover their statues to signify the death of Christ. No color. No life.

In other churches, some return for Easter vigil services on Saturday.

"We don't have an Easter vigil service, so I work on Saturday to prepare for Sunday services," Hansen said. "It will take me a couple of hours to get ready for Easter. I've had people tell me they can't wait to see what I do (for the altar) on Easter."

Some churches that have sunrise services, posing a challenge for their altar guilds. Members work before dawn, setting dozens of lilies, banners and candles in place. Hansen draws on her years of working as an art teacher at Burlington Central School District 301 for visual experience. Inspiration she receives for her images come from James and her faith. During the year, the decorations reflect the theme of the pastor's sermon.

She put together her favorite display years ago when she hung a banner that held a display of a tree.

"The branches had pockets where people could put their prayers," she said.

It wasn't long before the pockets were filled with prayers.

"This is something I truly enjoy doing," she said. "How the church is decorated sets the mood for worship services. Art and color are important in making sure the mood it right."

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