It is a crisp, spring morning and every single WinShape Foundation employee fills the dimly lit gymnasium on the Berry College mountain campus for the annual employee event called One Conference.
The Christian non-profit, which aims to shape winners in life, is comprised of six different ministries and serves the community through camps for kids, marriage retreats for couples, loving homes for children in Foster Care and team building programs for companies and more.
This morning, a crowd of almost 1000 rises to their feet. As the colored lights begin to spin, the worship band takes the stage and soon the praise music begins to swell. Another woman takes the stage with the band, but instead of picking up an instrument, she does something surprisingly different. She picks up a paintbrush.
Sandra Auger, who serves on the hospitality team at WinShape, is an artist and worship painter who uses her paintings during church services to showcase God’s love. “People are under the false impression that there are only a few certain ways to worship,” explains Auger. “Really, if you’re working in the gifting that God gave you and sharing it with the world to show people that God loves them, then you are worshiping.”
Auger has been an artist all of her life and credits her early training and inspiration to her grandfather. “I was born and raised in France. And my grandfather was painter. Out of six grandkids, I was the only one who showed an interest in [art]. So while he would paint, and everyone else would be playing…I would just sit and watch [him]. I was just fascinated by the process,” she says. “And so he would give me things to do. Like he would give me a little easel, a little canvas and show me how to do something and ask me to replicate it. And at age five, I could; whereas my sisters who were age 15 and 16 couldn’t. So he realized there was something there to nurture.”
But using her art as a means of worshiping God never occurred to Auger until about 20 years ago when she, her husband and their daughter were living in and attending a church in San Diego, Calif. “We started to do a worship night about every three months or so; it was called Beyond the Veil. People came and went as they pleased. It wasn’t a sermon or anything. It was just about an hour and half of worship. And [the worship leader] really did value the different venues that people use to worship. And he said to me, ‘would you be willing to paint?’ I was like, ‘I’ve never done it before, in that context. But sure, I’ll give it a try.’ I did it, and I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s one of the most freeing things I could do…to be able to express myself to God in a way I knew how.”
After moving around the states during her husband’s almost 30-year military career, Sandra and her husband, Chris, finally settled in Rome, Ga. last year and they both began working for WinShape. Every year, the non-profit gives every employee three days off to attend the company-wide conference designed to build unity. One Conference features inspirational speakers, delicious food and Christian worship. Auger says that when she was asked to be a surprise addition to the worship experience, she was elated.
Yet Auger takes the process of worship painting seriously, and she diligently prepared before the actual event. “I do research. I’m not a prophetic painter who just gets up there and puts whatever on a canvas that they feel the Holy Spirit is showing them. While people do that, and they do it very well, it’s not me,” shares Auger.
To her, the process begins first by praying and then spending time reading the Bible. Then she looks up techniques and other artists, following blogs and watching videos on YouTube. “I follow this one lady who does painting on glass,” she explains,” with a sandblaster…and I follow another artist who is from China and she takes bubble paper…she injects color and paint into each little bubble, so it’s like a pixel. And when you stand away from it you can see the whole picture. I get ideas from everywhere and everyone. I don’t just follow one artist, one type. I really try to learn from everything.”
Abstract styles are Auger’s favorite medium though, and she feels that is the style in which she is most gifted. But that doesn’t stop her from challenging herself. For the One Conference, she decided to paint with palette knives, a technique that she is not entirely comfortable with. “I had tried it a couple of times a few years ago [with a small canvas], and it didn’t go very well. I was a little discouraged, so I put it down for a while,” she says. “But watching people on YouTube…it kept fascinating me, and I could not let it go. So to me, that is the Holy Spirit saying, ‘You really need to pursue this.’ When something keeps coming up over and over and over again, you probably need to pay attention.
“So I thought to myself, okay, God, I’m in,” she continues. “Teach me how to do this.”
After weeks of working up the courage, Auger bought a couple of palette knives and throwaway canvases and started practicing. “There were a couple of times when I felt like throwing the canvas across the room,” she laughs. “But at the end of day, I knew if I didn’t do it this way, I wasn’t going to be happy with myself. So I decided to go all in; whether people liked it or not. That is not mine to worry about. Mine is to be obedient to the vision that God gave me.”
On the morning of the One Conference worship, Auger’s nerves threaten to get a hold of her. “Even though I know it’s [only for God], the nerves can still take over. The worship team that was up there was in the green room with me. And we were talking…I told them I hadn’t done it in a while and that I was nervous. And they said they were nervous, too. Their vulnerability made it so much more doable. Something clicked,” she says.
“So we get on stage. They start playing, and my hands are shaking. And all of a sudden, all I could hear in my head is, Just Worship.’ So I actually started singing before I started painting. I was just worshiping. Then all of a sudden, my hands stopped shaking, I felt peace completely come over me. And it was just me and God.”
During this special experience Auger heard another message from God, she says. “God reminded me that he’s an artist as well. The very first thing in Genesis talks about it. The first thing that God did is he created. So, I just asked the ultimate artist what to do. He showed me that I wasn’t the artist; I was the canvas because the canvas doesn’t paint itself. So I asked him, ‘what’s the point of all this?’ And I remember hearing this clearly in my head. The purpose of a canvas is to reflect the will of the artist. Period.
This message rings true not only for Auger, but she hopes for every audience that witnesses her worship painting. She explains: “My hope for the [audience] is they become fully alive in the gifting that God has given them to show the world that he loves them. People think worshiping has to be done on stage. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Use your gifting to worship God every day. Your gifting could be cooking; [you can] take a meal to a friend. Your gifting could be ministry of presence, when someone’s going through a hard time and they just need somebody to listen, and you’re a good listener. That is a gift.”
She smiles. “Whatever your gift is that God has blessed you with, use it to bless others so your canvas will reflect who he is.”