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Bowls crafted with hope

When thousands gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, for the opening communion service at the 2008 United Methodist general conference, a little piece of Moorhead was also present.

Ron Williams

When thousands gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, for the opening communion service at the 2008 United Methodist general conference, a little piece of Moorhead was also present.

Actually, make that 70 pieces. Ron Williams, a professor in the technology department at Minnesota State University Moorhead, says he took the commission to make 70 small communion bowls for the conference for "the challenge."

"And because it was a pretty big honor to be asked to do it," he said.

Williams is experienced with making furniture, lidded containers and cremation urns, but he's never taken on a project of this scale before.

He made the bowls from cherry, black ash, maple, walnut and red oak, and said he did the work in about 10 weeks, completing the project around the beginning of April.


The bowls were fashioned on a lathe, a machine that spins the wood so it can be shaped as it turns. Williams started with 2-inch wood planks. He worked the back of several bowls, then turned them around and worked the inside. He also attached a buffer to the lathe and worked the bowls to a glossy finish.

"I didn't have any idea how much work it was going to take to make 70 bowls," Williams said. But the project "was a lot of fun," and he said he'd do it again if asked.

Williams came to the project through his brother, Doyle Burbank-Williams, who pastors Methodist congregations in Wayne and Carroll, Neb., and is one of the artists who was invited to help with artistic efforts related to the conference.

Doyle said Marcia McFee, co-director of worship for the conference, told him that for the communion vessels she wanted something "a little less North American and something with a bit more of an Asian or an eastern hemisphere kind of feel."

"I just knew that Ron could do that," Doyle said.

Just as there was a purpose to the shape of the communion vessels, the material was important. The theme for the conference, which is held every four years, is "A Future with Hope." And the primary logo for the conference, that opened April 23 and runs through today, is the tree, with the implication of growth and new life.

Nearly everything at the conference that can be made of wood is made of wood, said Ted Lyddon Hatten, an artist-in residence at the conference. That includes the pulpit and altar, which were created from trees that were felled as a result of Hurricane Katrina, said Hatten, of Indianola, Iowa.

"I think they're beautiful," Hatten said of the bowls. "They're very well-crafted."


Doyle agrees.

"Oh, I'm just really, really pleased" with the work, he said. "There is a sensuality to the wood ... They just kind of invite you to hold them."

Ron Williams' wife, Del Rae, said the project allowed her husband to mix two of his passions, wood turning and his spirituality. Williams' father was a Methodist minister and Williams is a lay preacher. Del Rae said he's a very good speaker and gets calls to speak at area churches.

Williams has been working with wood for 18 years. Del Rae believes the craft allows him, an engineer by trade, to play to his artistic side a bit.

As an engineer, "everything is cut and dried, very methodical," Del Rae said. "But I think (woodworking) lets him be a little creative so he gets to let that little creative piece of him come out."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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