Like Ron DiCianni and Ron Wheeler, whose stories you’ve recently read, the ANTHEM artists also express their art work in uniquely individual ways.

The ANTHEM ARTISTS are a class of artists who meet each week at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. They are one of the more special service ministries that I have run across.

ANTHEM is an art class for adult individuals with special needs. I’ll define a special needs person as someone, man or woman, who has particular educational requirements resulting from learning difficulties, physical disability, or emotional or behavioral difficulties. Assistance is often needed in order for that individual to better live or work in today’s society. These individuals have different levels of abilities and talents. They may be young or old. Many still live at home with their parents regardless of their age.

Parents or caregivers of a special needs individual are on duty 24/7. When their family member is school-age, there are classes and programs in the schools to meet the many needs to a great extent. But, when that child matures past school-age, these parents have few options for their family member to be in social and learning situations.

The “coming of age” birthday of their child is a time when these parents wonder what the future holds and what they can do to provide for their child each and every day. Johnny may be six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, but he is not able to perform adult tasks such as driving, working, or living on his own. There are few programs for him and those like him. To fill that vacuum a special ministry for adults having special needs was started a few years ago by Stonebriar Community Church.

Darla Hill, the Early Childhood and Special Needs Ministry Assistant at Stonebriar, is in charge of the ANTHEM ART class for adults. “Anthem” is defined as a song of praise and devotion to the Lord. She states, “The ANTHEM ART class is designed to be a praise to God as the participants create, learn, and fellowship together. The class is much more than painting. It develops character and life skills like the following:

1. Artists feel the joy of accomplishment when their work is completed. They also feel the admiration of others when they stand upfront during recognition time.

2. The artists are growing to appreciate the creative work of others, as shown by their compliments and applause for each other’s work.

3. Artists are creating community as they spend time with fellow artists and volunteers. The Art class has become a gathering of friends, peers, and leaders. They have a chance to share life’s problems and pray for one another.

4. Artists are connecting with a larger community as they show others their work, see their paintings displayed in art shows, and sell them or offer them as gifts.

The art class has grown from just six to nearly thirty art students with “special needs”. Darla Hill says, “The class could easily grow to one hundred, but we want to maintain the quality of what is offered. Because there is very little turn-over, many who wish to be in the ANTHEM Art Class have to be put on a waiting list.”

In addition to meeting on Sundays for church worship and praise, many of the art students meet during the week year-round, taking breaks between quarters. The class is primarily for adults aged 18 and older, and each one expresses their individual artistry during their meeting time. When I visited the class I met one member who was 64!

The ANTHEM ART class begins with prayer and devotions, instruction about beneficial character traits, and directions for the day. Then they put on their aprons and go to another room to begin painting.

Church volunteers have already set up round tables on which easels with 2’ x 3’ canvas frame are set. In front of each easel is an 8” x 10” picture each artist uses as a guide to create their own painting on the blank canvas.

Next to each canvas frame are paint brushes, water to clean the brushes, and a paper dinner plate, which serves as a palate on which there are several blobs of different colors of paint.

Projects are adapted to the abilities of each student, but the overall goal is to teach students to be as independent as possible. The artists have a volunteer available to teach, encourage and assist when needed. Some painters might want other colors, more paint, or a paint brush cleaned. When paint touches canvas in an anthem of color it creates a crescendo of good feeling, peace and joy for these “special needs” artists. While volunteers are there to bless these artists with love and tenderness, one volunteer told me, through tears of love, the artists are also ministering to the volunteers.

One artist I saw was using his paint brush as though it were a drumstick to keep time or rhythm to music. He showed his creativity by flicking paint onto his canvas. Some artists choose pastel colors, others bold or bright colors. Although everyone is using the same picture, each artist uses his or her imagination and paints a personal version of that same picture.

Just like the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, give us four different views of Jesus, so each of the ANTHEM artists creates a different perspective of the same picture. Thus there are thirty individual paintings.

Darla Hill told me that many of these artists use one side of their brain more often than the other side. In painting, artists are developing their brains as they make new connections. As each painter moves the brush from one side of the canvas to the other side, their brain function also has to move from one side to the other as well. When this happens the brain makes new connections through new neural pathways. Darla said she has seen this developmental process result in the artist becoming more settled. This has been verified by parents and caregivers as well. This process also improves language skills and increases attention spans.

After each has painted his or her own rendition of the day’s picture, there is a break for lunch. When the group reassembles, there is prayer followed by what they call “recognition time”. It is during this session that the painters applaud one another’s paintings and feel the admiration of the others for their work. The individuality of each painting is celebrated.

Artists are free to take their paintings home, sell them, show their painting in art shows, offer them as gifts, or give them to the church. Some paintings are printed on greeting cards to raise money to support a fun, age-appropriate family camp called Family Retreats.

The camp is organized and sponsored by Joni & Friends International Disability Center. The families receive encouragement and care in the comfort of a safe and accessible family camp environment. They enjoy fun and fully-accessible, age-appropriate activities, along with meaningful conversations with other families who understand the challenges of life with disability.

The ANTHEM ART class helps people with “special needs” integrate into the life of the church, and aids with the development of character and life skills. The class gives them a feeling of worth and a special opportunity to fellowship with friends, work toward independence, and to have the chance to have active roles in serving God.

One major aspect of Jesus Christ's ministry on earth was His outreach to people with disabilities - to the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the sick - so they could enter the kingdom of God by trusting Him as their Savior. Christ worked mightily in their lives by healing them.

Darla Hill says “It is our hope that other churches and organizations will begin similar programs, and we’d be glad to help them get started.” A visiting missionary saw what ANTHEM is doing and began a similar art class in Kenya.

Whether it’s the “formalized” art of Ron DiCianni, the “cartoon type” art of Ron Wheeler or the “unstructured” art of the ANTHEM ART students, these are all GOD’S OTHER WAYS©. He uses art to minister to and bless others.