God’s word in sketches

The current crisis has not only changed the way divine services are conducted, but also the way we follow and assimilate them. How active listening works and how it can strengthen the congregation is shown by the art of visual notetaking.

Where others need a hymnal for a divine service, Natalie Simon from Wiesbaden in Germany currently needs quite a pile of notetaking materials: paper, a clipboard, a whole array of coloured pencils, highlighters, as well as something to drink. For what she is about to do is really hard work.

The young woman, 34 years old, listens, processes, and then writes and draws. Stroke by stroke she creates a picture of a divine service—including hymns, Bible text, but especially the sermon—in a well-structured and easy-to-understand way. Some call this a mindmap, others refer to it as sketchnoting. In this case, we could even call it “visualising God’s word”.

A summary with a lot of positive echoes

“We’re thrilled,” are some of the reactions on Facebook. “Thank you for this beautiful summary.” Someone else says that drawings “create strength and comfort, they convey unity, and allow the service to linger on”. And: “It allows you to relive the service in an intense way.”

The first and most active disseminator of sketchnoted sermons is Apostle Uli Falk from Northern Germany. As an active member of the Youth Day team, Natalie had already done corresponding projects with him before she recently moved from Hamburg to the Frankfurt area.

A first during the coronavirus crisis

The skills needed for this artistic way of capturing ideas, the young teacher—who teaches the subjects of Music, German, and Art—taught herself, initially for the purpose of teaching. The idea of sketchnoting a divine service came to her during an event about inclusion last year in September: the live sketchnoting of a podium discussion, projected onto a large screen, helped participants with a range of cognitive deficits to better understand what was happening on the podium.

It was during the first streamed divine service of the District Church Northern and Eastern Germany on 22 March this year, that Natalie first put her idea into practice. Since then her sketchnoting has become so popular that she is now also active for the District Church.

Of use to herself and others

For Natalie this means a double shift every Sunday: “I am exhausted afterwards, but also happy.” For her kind of work does not only help others, but above all the person who is actively doing it: “You experience a divine service much more intensely, and you are better able to retain its content.” It is not surprising then that the publication of her sketchnoting has inspired other creative heads to similar works.

Memory training techniques in the context of divine services are not all that foreign to the New Apostolic Church. At the International Youth Convention 2019, for example, there was a workshop in which it was possible to learn techniques on how to take more out of a divine service. Using technical means to allow people with varying cognitive abilities better access to the contents of our divine services has long been officially implemented in the context of divine services in plain language.

What will happen to mindmaps and sketchnoting after the coronavirus restrictions are lifted has yet to be clearly defined. “I hope we can still benefit from your gift,” one Facebook comment reads. And another comment says: “Once this is gone, I think I am going to miss it.”

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