Gluing for God

Members of the Church of Craft worship through the divinity of, well, crafting

On a cold Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Trismegista "Tristy" Taylor greets congregants as they arrive in the "chapel" of her unusual church, which meets once a month in various San Francisco art spaces. This month, the meeting is at a Bayview art gallery, and when the spirit moves her, Taylor takes to her pulpit -- a folding chair in the center of the room -- and begins wrestling with a roll of wire, struggling to shape the unruly coil into a pair of angel's wings. As she does, members of her flock -- elementary school teachers, emo band members, and Web designers by profession -- enter the space and position themselves around the gallery. Some start cutting out pictures for a collage, while others tend to intricate beadwork. Jazz music warms the room, and a comfortable calm descends upon the congregation.

Church has begun.

Taylor's services are anything but traditional; she presides over the Church of Craft, which worships through the divinity of, well, crafting.

"There's a meditative quality to crafting," explains Taylor, a 30-year-old artist who ordained herself through the Universal Life Church in 2000. "It takes us out of our chatter-brain selves, the list-making, the worrying. It's a way to focus in on a deeper, soulful level. There's something holy about having an idea and physically creating it. There's a direct connection between making and feeling that divine presence, that brings the heavens down to make the unseen seen."

Soft-spoken and bespectacled, Taylor co-founded the Church of Craft two years ago with a friend in New York following a particularly rousing conversation about spirituality, art, and creation. After a few small meetings held at friends' apartments, flocks developed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Montreal, Houston, and San Diego. And the congregations in most cities no longer fit into urban living rooms.

Since the first San Francisco meeting, more than 500 people have signed up on the mailing list, though usually 15 to 35 members show up every month. The S.F. flock -- the majority of whom are twenty- and thirtysomethings who look as if they were on their way to a Sleater-Kinney concert -- has created baubles, jewelry, paintings, frames, sculptures, collages, and rubber stamps. Out of social conscience and a sense of good will, members have also sewn dolls for children in the hospital, and some plan to knit blankets for refugees through the United Nations Population Fund.

The church is run entirely on faith and love (it has no budget), but Taylor usually finds a location for worship in a donated art space. (Starting this month, the church will meet at Cell Space.)

A spiritual therapist who "grew up in a Joseph Campbell household," Taylor used to deliver sermons at the early meetings, but she toned down the religiosity after some crafters complained about overt piousness.

Now she has quiet "conversations" and heart-to-hearts with people who are interested in discussing spiritual topics (and as a result, she fields nearly daily phone calls and e-mails from members seeking personal, relationship, or emotional advice). Also, she is careful not to use the "G-word" at church.

"There are those that respond to the spiritual part, and there are those that are not too into it," says Taylor, who is earning a master's degree in transformative arts at John F. Kennedy University in the East Bay. "It's a place for everyone. People of all faiths come, from atheists to Christians. People always ask me, 'Why does it have to be a church?' And I tell them about my definition of church -- church to me is a holy feeling, when I realize it's not all about me. When I realize I'm here in this whole thing, and we're all connected."

"I come more for relaxation," admits a 31-year-old brunette who was painting by numbers at the Bayview gallery, sitting some distance away from Taylor. "There's some spirituality for me, but probably some other people get into that more. It's cool."

But Taylor says that spirituality aside, it's the sense of community and openness of her church that draws people in, and keeps them returning religiously every month.

"This is accessible to all kinds of people," she says. "It's helpful for people who are seeking a community that is nonjudgmental about art and about religion. Because there is such a sharp, ironic tone to being a young person in America right now. And this biting, intellectual, competitive trip -- I think people partake in it because they think they have to. I want to provide a space that says we don't have to be like that, that we can be supportive of each other."

Can we get an amen?
Bernice Yeung

Where There's Smokes There's Ire

You may have noticed that tensions are running a little high at Walgreens stores lately. Over the last few weeks we've witnessed several scenes like this one:

"This is ridiculous, I'm 49!" screamed one irate Walgreens customer, who, with his horseshoe hairline, potbelly, and gray hair, frankly didn't appear to us to be a day under 60.

"Sir, this is Walgreens' new policy and there's nothing I can do about it," the sales clerk replied, undaunted. "Even if you were 70, I would still need identification."

At that, the customer stalked toward the exit, screaming obscenities and giving the clerk the finger on his way out the door.

According to cashiers, that seems to be the most common reaction to Walgreens' latest policy on the sale of tobacco: At some stores, everyone buying cigarettes is being asked for ID to prove he is over 18.

The root of such customer outrage is Walgreens' settlement of a lawsuit originally filed by the attorney general of Missouri and soon joined by attorneys general from 39 other states. The suit accused three chain stores, including Walgreens, of selling tobacco to minors. So now, after signing a voluntary agreement to settle the dispute in February, Walgreens has decided to leave no stone unturned and is requiring "government-issued IDs" from customers of all ages.

As a part of the settlement, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer demanded identification of all customers who appear to be under the age of 27, but clearly nervous store managers aren't taking any chances. Unfortunately, no two stores seem to agree on how old a customer should look before he can legally buy a pack of smokes.

"We're carding everyone who looks under 40," explains Norman Villarent, the manager of Walgreens' First and Mission store. "We've really been bad with selling cigarettes up to now and are trying to make sure everyone shows identification."

Walgreens also requires employees to watch an instructional video, though apparently the training left a little to be desired, because even carding everyone who looked middle-aged wasn't helping.

"The truth is, we started out by identifying anyone who looked under 40," explains Sherri Cookson, a Walgreens store manager we spoke with at another site, "but the problem was that government watch groups kept insisting that we were still selling to minors." How could that be? "I guess no one could say what looks 40."

So now many stores are carding everyone. That way, says Michael Polzin, in Walgreens' corporate communications office, "Our cashiers don't need to make any judgment calls on the age of a person, and [the policy] puts them in the habit of checking the age of any person so that they don't forget to do it for someone. That makes it much more definitive that minors won't be able to purchase cigarettes."

To soothe customers outraged by yet another indignity to smokers, Walgreens now passes out slips of paper to cigarette buyers that read: "We are sorry our tobacco policy has inconvenienced you. We strive to be a more responsible retailer, and are committed to complying with tobacco laws in order to prevent tobacco sales to minors. We believe customers would be more inconvenienced if we weren't able to sell any tobacco products because of a violation of the law."

But the apology doesn't seem to be working. Recently, while waiting in line at Walgreens, we watched in amazement as, one by one, incensed customers left in protest, each exiting with a warning of doom to Walgreens about this new policy. Taking their lead, we marched to the cashier and decided that we too will not give in to this kind of corporate cowardice. We firmly resolved that, like the others, we will not buy cigarettes here -- and a good thing, too, because we forgot our ID.
Andrea Renee Goode

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