Crosses and Hugs

Just a short time ago her life was in utter chaos.

Her husband was in jail, she didn’t know how to run the business that she was suddenly in charge of and her head was spinning like unformed clay on a potter’s wheel. But Elizabeth Bunbury felt blessed the day she found inspiration in the conversation of an insistent stranger.

A compassionate and strong woman and artist, Bunbury is open to telling her story. She married twice.

“I had a husband that died, another was an alcoholic,” she said.

Her 50th birthday was approaching. She wanted to thank all the women in her life who helped her.

“Because if it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t be alive today and met this potter at the gym,” Bunbury said.

She earned a Bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in art. Bunbury wanted to go back to get her Master’s degree in social work, but never did.

“Thirty-two years later,” she said, “That’s exactly what I do.”

In the Morean Arts Center for Clay, she has a private studio. Through making crosses, she aims to help others that have struggled throughout life.

Bunbury watched the guy from the gym, Sean, throw pots, a term for moulding clay while it’s on a potter’s wheel. He laid out a slab of clay for her to use.

“He said ‘I’m gonna roll out a slab of clay, you do what ever you want, but there’s nothing more healing than working with clay.’ So I walked over, and I made a cross. And I’m going oh my gosh, this is exactly it,” Bunbury said.

“Now if you told me 5 years ago I’d be making crosses or talking about God, I would just die laughing. But that slab made 110 crosses,” she said.

All of the crosses she made were hanging up the night of her birthday party. A woman that Bunbury had talked to used to be Catholic. Something changed and that woman became Agnostic. At Bunbury’s birthday party the woman said to Bunbury that she didn’t want one of her crosses.

“And I went, ‘That’s okay, I’d love to hear your story’ And at that moment, I heard God speak to me saying: sweet child this is why you did it,” Bunbury said.

It was finalized, Bunbury knew what she was meant to do.

Bunbury offers one-on-one classes for people who need to chat. Every first Tuesday of the month, Bunbury and her ministry, Answered Prayers Cross, invite women to the Morean Arts Center for Clay to have what she called a “Potluck.” Women come in with food in hand, sometimes homemade or store bought, and $10. They create crosses, but most importantly they share their stories and listening. Bunbury said that the ministry is about  the crosses, but it’s also about talking to each other.

“We’ve come such an age of email, text message, Facebook, that we are losing the ability just to talk. So this is just a gathering of women,” she said, “And you’re always standing right next to the person that you’re supposed to be there for. It’s all God. It really is.”

The crosses, moulded and glazed by two different people, are finished with a mustard seed of faith, numbered and passed forward. The crosses are registered at www.answeredprayerscross.org. Many recipients, national and international, have written their stories on the website with the number of the cross. Two books have been published from the words of these inspired people.

“The stories are endless, I could be here for hours just telling you. It’s just so amazing,” Bunbury said.

Her potter’s crosses have reached St. Petersburg, St. Louis and St. Maarten in the Caribbean. In total, the crosses have made it to 49 states and 14 countries. She has received messages from recipients of her crosses in the Philippines and South Africa. From Oregon, Angie with cross No. 11.477 said that a friend gave her the cross.

“… as hope to find some answers to my life long journey in a vast wilderness of unfruitful choices,” Angie said.

Bunbury is looking forward to exploring new opportunities to expand her outreach program. She is interested in working with PARC, or the Pinellas Association for Retard Citizens. Bunbury is reaching out to the male population with their first ever potluck for men.

“So I may not be an artist, but I am using art and it is changing our community,” Bunbury said.

Another local artist, Barbara Lewis, works with the Morean Arts Center. She has her own studio in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg.

She said, “No matter what level of art you are at, you always feel the joy of creating.” She also believes, “In the process of creating art, we are the closest to God.”

When searching for someone who represents the importance of art to the local community, two artists strolling through the studio give Bunbury their highest recommendations.

“Oh, you have the right person,” they said.

Her charisma and her passion instantly attract anyone near her to her cause. She smiles easily and says goodbye with only one condition.

“I’m a hugger,” she said.