Carving out a place in the hearts of the congregation

Published May 12, 2007

SPRING HILL - A new hand-carved piece of artwork - a 9-foot-tall crucifix - adorns the sanctuary at Forest Oaks Lutheran Church, and the creator is a member of the congregation.

Orville Carrow began wood-carving during the 22 1/2 years he spent in the Army. At the time, Carrow was stationed in Germany, and his penchant for craft shops led to an interest in wood carvings, particularly crosses.

Carrow's expertise included home-building before he decided to teach himself to make crosses.

Many of his crosses have been original designs for wall hangings, but he also has created an entire Christmas nativity scene.

Most of Carrow's work is done in cedar, because he likes the various colors that come through. Never using a chain saw, he makes everything by hand, using a Dremel tool.

Being in the Army took him many places, and Carrow has given away the crosses he has made to people all over the United States.

"It seems like the Lord wanted me to start carving, " he said. "I give them away because I love my Jesus so much that I can't accept money for them."

The 79-year-old married father of five and grandfather of 15 decided to put Jesus on some of the crosses and said he thought about making a large cross for a church one day.

He had been advised to make carvings using small pieces and gluing them together, instead of using one large piece, "which is the process I used when structuring the cross at Forest Oaks Lutheran, " he said.

For the Forest Oaks cross, Carrow used bark from a dogwood tree. "There is nothing in the Bible that specifies that (Christ) was hung on a certain type of tree, " he said.

The head for the crucifix was started about 20 years ago when Carrow was living in Kerrville, Texas. He didn't finish the crucifix, using cedar, until he moved to Florida.

When the Rev. Glenn E. Fisher, the associate pastor at Forest Oaks Lutheran, came to lunch at the Carrows' house one afternoon, he saw the carving of Christ's head and discovered that Carrow was at a standstill at that point because he had run out of wood.

It was during hurricane season, and a cedar tree that Fisher had planted when he was 15 years old had blown over during one of the storms. Fisher had the wood cut up and told Carrow he could have all of the cedar he needed. For the next couple of years, Carrow used the cedar for carvings, finishing in 2006.

"This was an example of how God can take the bad and turn it into something good, " Fisher said.

Fisher describes the crucifix, which was recently hung on the wall to the right of the altar at the church, as "gorgeous, beautiful, inspirational and awe-inspiring."

He emphasized the red in the cedar as a reminder of the blood of Christ.

"When I look at it, I remember how God died to pay for our sins, " said Fisher, a 43-year-old married father of three.

Congregation member Elloise Emke describes the crucifix as "stunning and inspiring."

"It creates a perfect balance to the Jesus statue" on the opposite side of the altar, she said. "The original is more traditional. This one gives you a flavor of reality, of what it probably really was like, with the reds and the whites coming out. It's just striking."

In addition to being a master carver, Carrow is also a master cook. During his Army years, he was an enlisted aide and cooked at the homes of various Army generals. He also had his own restaurant for 14 years in Missouri.

"Cooking is my trade, and carving is my hobby, " he said.

Carrow said he was happy that the congregation accepted the crucifix. He said he has received many compliments.

Carrow said he has been getting requests for more crosses.

"I try to satisfy people if I have the time, and I still give them away, " he said. "I do these things for the Lord."