Ginny Lichlyter is photographed near one of several murals she has completed for her church family at North United Methodist Church. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/
Ginny Lichlyter is photographed near one of several murals she has completed for her church family at North United Methodist Church. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/
Ginny Lichlyter says that while God gave some people the ability to preach, sing or play an instrument to bless the church, He gave her a paint brush.

Lichlyter, who has been a member of North United Methodist Church in Madison for nearly 25 years, has spent the last few years using her gifts to liven up the NUMC walls. She said it started with a framed painting of the denomination's symbol of a cross and flame.

The cross is a reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the flame is a reminder of the Holy Spirit's gift of "tongues, as of fire" that is recorded in the New Testament book of Acts. These are two vital moments in the history of the Christian church that are captured by Lichlyter on her first painting that greets church members and visitors in the entryway of the church.

"There's nothing like it, to be a blessing to someone," Lichlyter said. "I can't sing, but I always loved to paint. So this is a way I can contribute."

After the cross and flame, Lichlyter was asked to do something special - something bigger - for the church's pre-kindergarten classroom.

"I did a mural of the Nativity," she said.

She said the challenge was to incorporate all of the parts of Jesus' birth narrative - the birth in the stable, which was actually a cave; the shepherds in the field; the angels making a pronouncement in the sky; even the city of Bethlehem - all in the one mural.

Lichlyter did research to make sure her painting was accurate, then got to work on it during her time off from her job as a teacher at Southwestern Elementary School.

"That's how I spent an entire summer vacation," she said.

She spent a considerable amount of time on Mary, Joseph and the Christ child.

"It's up there and it's not like a little framed picture that you can hide away if people don't like it," Lichlyter said. "So I really wanted to get that right."

She also painted an animal scene with animal silhouettes for the church nursery. Lichlyter said she was originally thinking of a Noah's Ark theme, but said the detail would have been too great for her to tackle at the time.

"I would have still been working on it," she said.

Her latest creative endeavor for her church family was a 10-by-18-foot mural in the family life center, which is also used for Sunday school and more traditional services.

"They basically said, 'Here's a wall. We want a mural.' And they let me go to do what I wanted. It was a lot of fun. I got my paint, got my ladder, cranked up the K-Love (a Christian music channel) on the radio and got to it."

Though fun, Lichlyter said murals do have their challenges.

Up until this year, Lichlyter was an elementary art teacher. She has since been reassigned to teaching fourth grade.

As an art teacher, she mainly got to work on smaller projects with her students and at home. Murals are a lot different, she said, because as an artist you have to keep forcing yourself to take breaks, to step back and get different perspectives, otherwise it just goes off in ways you don't want it to.

"So it's up the ladder, paint, down the ladder, step back, take a good look, back up the ladder, paint, and on and on and on," Lichlyter said.

She said it is also hard because, since the project takes so long, it is a vulnerable feeling to have unfinished work for people to see as the project moves along.

"This work (in the family life center) took six or seven months," she said. "I would work on it at nights, or on weekends, or when my husband was here for a meeting and I would just do as much as I could, whenever I could."

When the work was finally done, it depicted what Lichlyter calls a memory of the Blue Ridge Mountains where she spent a lot of time in her youth. She completed the piece with a compass rose and an excerpt of scripture from the King James Version of Psalm 121:1.

"The gifts God gives you, He gives them to you to give back to Him, to the church, to others," she said. "That's what I've tried to do."

When asked if she will do any more murals at the church or elsewhere, Lichlyter laughed and said, "If someone gives me another wall, I will."