- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - Ministers are called. Artists are born.

Sue Trowbridge is a pastor and a painter. She knows about heaven’s calls and natural gifts. She’s even seen heaven and nature sing. What she didn’t understand was how to be both, the Battle Creek Enquirer (http://bcene.ws/1TxNCDM ) reported.

“My dad always said, ‘We knew Susie was going to be an artist, because she started on the wall, in the crib, with you-know-what.’” Trowbridge laughs. “I really was born to paint. I feel that is my nature.”

She graduated from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, but not to paint.

“I didn’t understand how I could make money as an oil painter,” said Trowbridge. “So, I became a jeweler.”

Trowbridge received her first call to the ministry as a 19-year-old camp counselor. She was listening to a counselor sing a song of praise to Jesus by a lake.

“I heard the trees, the hills, the lake and the whole company of heaven join in and sing with her,” said Trowbridge. “It lasted as long as she was singing, and when she stopped, it stopped. And I went, ‘Did you hear it?’ And she said, ‘Hear what?’”

It was a beautiful moment, but Trowbridge didn’t understand it.

The call came again at 27, this time through prayer, but Trowbridge wasn’t ready. The final call came at 29, as Trowbridge was reading about a woman minster.

“It just hit me that God was saying, ‘This is what I want you to do’,” said Trowbridge. “And I looked at him and said, ‘God, are you trying to tell me something?’ And I can just see God saying, ‘I’ve been trying to tell you for 10 years and you just don’t get it.’”

Trowbridge quit her job and headed to Boston University to earn her Masters in Divinity.

The workload was intense and Trowbridge was struggling. A counselor advised her to replace a theology course with an art class. Trowbridge did, enrolling in a jewelry class she was qualified to teach. Soon, she was painting again, and it made all the difference.

Trowbridge finished her masters and began life in the ministry, first in Boston, and then Michigan. Art took a backseat. After 17 years, it all but stopped.

Trowbridge was depressed, but didn’t know why. Her husband knew, and drove her to the Art Center of Battle Creek to take a painting class.

Again, it made all the difference.

“I kiss him for that,” said Trowbridge. “I was dying because I wasn’t doing my art.”

Her teacher, Craig Bishop, knew Trowbridge was different.

“She’s not like a normal person who came into class because she had previous experience,” said Bishop. “She knew how to paint; she just hadn’t been painting. She enjoyed it and she’s been there (Art Center) ever since.”

Then, after witnessing the affect Mary Cassatt’s artwork had on her young son, Trowbridge had an epiphany.

“The influence you have with your art for God will have more influence than your sermons do for God, so take it seriously,” said Trowbridge.

God was calling her again. This time, Trowbridge got it.

Trowbridge left the ministry to paint full-time, creating art that speaks to “a spiritual reality instead of a physical reality.”

Trowbridge works with vivid, “joyful” colors. She uses women figures, who represent, at turns, Mother Nature, the Madonna, the Bride of Christ, or Wisdom.

Then, there are the roosters.

“A rooster is a symbol of “Wake up! Wake up!” said Trowbridge. “It’s our inner-voice, where God is speaking to us.”

“She doesn’t just paint to paint,” said Andrew Freemire, a multi-medium artist. “She delves into subjects of humanness, relationships, spiritual-connectedness, and depth, all with confident spontaneity.”

“There’s a spirit of her ministry in her work,” said Bishop.

And Trowbridge was always a minister.

“Even when I was painting full-time, I was never not a pastor,” said Trowbridge. “It didn’t matter where I went, people talked to me. They would tell me their story and I would minister to them.”

When her son graduated high school, Trowbridge returned to the pulpit, ministering at Stockbridge and Munith UMC.

But, only half-time.

She understood there are no hobbies with God.

“I consider my call as an artist to be a vocation, to inspire people to be more loving, and to teach people that heaven and nature do sing,” said Trowbridge. “And if your spiritual ears are open, you will hear it.”

Currently, Trowbridge has an exhibit at Brownstone Coffeehouse. She will host a February 13 reception and art sale there, offering 20 percent discounts.

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Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com

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