‘Unity Project’: New exhibit at La Jolla church to feature locals in a ‘measured response’ to racial division

La Jolla Christian Fellowship's Jeffery Edwards prepares photos of church members for the "Unity Project" exhibit.
La Jolla Christian Fellowship musical director Jeffery Edwards prepares photos of church members for the “Unity Project” exhibit, for which he served as curator.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

To celebrate the uniqueness of its members and to promote unity, La Jolla Christian Fellowship will display a photo exhibit titled “Unity Project” throughout March.

The exhibit will feature 13 photos of congregation members from different backgrounds, pastor Adam Stadtmiller said.

The pictures were taken by church member Laura Fellows, for whom photography is a passion, though not a career. “I tend to do it for the art, for the personal fulfillment and for the joy it can give people when it is pro bono,” Fellows said.

She said photographing people is “just a gift; people trust you to try to be vulnerable.”

The church members who were photographed for the exhibit were “opening themselves up,” she added. “In talking to them while we’re taking pictures, you land on something that makes them happy or brings them joy or brings them comfort.”

La Jolla Christian Fellowship musical director Jeffery Edwards acted as curator for the exhibit, ensuring “that the images are very true to what Laura did,” Stadtmiller said.

The images were matched with 13 values that Stadtmiller identified as “the core values out of the New Testament”: courage, grace, empathy, character, wisdom, love, compassion, hope, gentleness, joy, forgiveness, trust and peace.

La Jolla Christian Fellowship's "Unity Project" exhibit will feature photos of church members.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Christian Fellowship)

“Unity Project” is part of a “three-part measured response … to much of the [racial and social] division that was happening in the summer of 2020,” Stadtmiller said. “As a pastor, people were looking [to me] for response, and the one thing I have learned is to have my responses be measured and oftentimes not immediate.”

His first step, he said, was to listen, inviting church members of color to share their perspectives with him. “I understand that I do come from a different experience,” he said.

As part of that, his education continued with historical reading and a sermon series, he said. “The more I read history, the more I realize this isn’t the first time the world’s been here.”

The second step “was to work with other churches in urban settings,” partnering on outreach programs like feeding homeless people, Stadtmiller said.

The “Unity Project” exhibit is part of the third step, for the church to be a “visible presence through art and through media,” he said.

The exhibit was prepared more than 18 months after summer 2020 intentionally, Stadtmiller said, to show “we’re still here. It’s still important to us.”

The photos are “a unique look at our church,” he said. “I don’t speak for the people who ended up being in the images. … I am incredibly honored that people from such unique walks of life would trust me to use their images on a campaign about unity.”

Though the exhibit is visual, it “seeks to find unity from the inside out, not from the outside in,” Stadtmiller said. People’s shared values promote unity, he added.

Fellows said that “what’s just beautiful about this project and this initiative is it looks deeper at people than just the physical differences.”

The exhibit, then, is a “little bit different than some of the other ways people have been going about addressing some of these divisive issues in our culture,” Stadtmiller said. “One of the things that’s missing in the majority of the secular response outside the church is the idea of forgiveness.”

‘Unity Project’

When: March 1-31

Where: La Jolla Christian Fellowship, 627 Genter St.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and at services at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Sundays. The church also will have “Unity Sunday” services at 9:30 and 11 a.m. March 20, including a discussion of the exhibit and more.