Treasure in Clay Jars

Written on 10/18/2023
Marianne Jones

A Thunder Bay potter’s creations replace her church’s single-use plastic communion cups

Written by Marianne Jones

“I was constantly making things as a child. I was the little girl who couldn’t stop cutting paper,” Liz Straiton reminisces. “I always did well in art classes at school, and later took fine arts courses at Lakehead University. My mom and I used to do watercolour painting together.  But after she died, every time I picked up a brush I bawled. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Then, in 2010, when a friend signed up to take a course in pottery, Straiton decided to do the same. And that’s when she discovered her true medium. After years of creating bowls, plates and cups, the potter from Thunder Bay, Ont. has more recently made over 500 communion cups for her local church, Redwood Park Alliance.

Her conviction to protect the environment, along with her church’s mandate to seek reconciliation with God, others, and the earth led to her making reusable cups to replace the disposable plastic ones formerly used during services. It took eight weeks for her to create the hundreds of glazed and fired cups that were dishwasher safe.

“I read somewhere recently that if you want to see God, go to nature. That’s where a lot of inspiration for art comes from: ‘Can I copy that, make it a part of me?’ There’s a lot of pain and suffering in this world. Beauty shows us that there is hope and a reason for living,” she says.

Her connection to God through nature has given her a firm conviction that we have a responsibility as Christians to protect the world God gave us.

“It says right in Genesis that God gave us this earth and we are the caretakers, the stewards of this world. Protecting our environment is part of that. Our world is falling apart because there’s been too much urbanization and fossil fuel emissions and things which caused temperatures to rise on our planet. We need to be more cognizant. People lease a car and get another one three years later. We’re a throw-away society. That’s damaging to our environment.”

For Straiton, the benefits extend beyond the environmental ones. “Communion is such a solemn, personal experience. At the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples would have used clay mugs. They didn’t have silver trays and dishes. Each of these clay cups is different, just like us.”

One member of the congregation said that communion has become more meaningful to her with Straiton’s creations, because the uniqueness of each cup reflects our uniqueness even as we come together in celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

The communion experience is made even more meaningful because of the local, personal context; the cups were made right in Thunder Bay, not shipped from another part of the world.

For Straiton, pottery is a way to connect with God. “I think of how God is the Potter, as it says in the Bible.  I feel him holding me, molding me and making me into a beautiful vessel. It’s a powerful spiritual experience,” she says. “Clay is dust, really—wet dust, and that’s what we are. When we are on the wheel God is controlling the wheel and he is controlling us as long as we allow him. He can move in us and shape us as long as we’re pliable. When the clay becomes hard, it’s brittle and can’t be molded.”

Bending over her wheel for two months to make the cups was a physical strain she doesn’t wish to repeat. But Straiton would love to see other churches similarly inspired to create their own communion cups and to explore how to connect with God through creativity.