Posts

Pilgrimage is in the People

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Greg Klimovitz is curating a series featuring those who made their pilgrimage to the Holy Land with NEXT Church from May 19-27, 2019. So much of the biblical story, especially the narratives that surround the work and witness of Jesus, occurred en route somewhere and in a context of political occupation, social, ethnic, and economic divisions, and conflict with religious and political powers that be. This month, contributors will contemplate “pilgrimage is…” as they ponder: where did you sense “God with us?” Where was “God with Us” more difficult to claim? How did you imagine leaning into “God with Us” as you returned home? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, even as you make your own pilgrimages this summer and beyond. After all, life is pilgrimage. 

by Lydia Kane

I do not know what my expectation was for the pilgrimage before we boarded the plane for Tel Aviv. I think I wanted to see holy sites and be open to letting God work in my life. I was seeking renewal. I realized in reading and preparing for the trip, I had been willfully ignorant about the situation with Israel and Palestine. Learning about the conflict made me realize the pilgrimage would not be as straightforward and inwardly focused as I had originally thought, but I was hoping to make the journey without setting too many expectations, without limiting myself by seeking a certain place, feeling, or experience.

I found each place we traveled to, both in Israel and Palestine, whether incredibly new or old, was a place where people felt connected to the land and in many places expressed that through various forms of art. From holy sites from 2,000-plus years ago to schools, farms, and settlements in the present, God has always sought us out where we are, in our bodies, embodied, so this makes sense that we humans would mark these experiences of the holy in our lives with art.

(Lydia Kane)

The art exhibit Limitless at The Walled Off Hotel gave me a window into the people of Palestine. Yes, it is a tourist attraction (misery tourism as one of our trip leaders called it). And yes, I was moved by the gallery as well as the exhibits without and within the hotel and think tourists should keep going there. If there is a giant symbol of a problem, like a border wall that separates two groups of people, should not a person take the opportunity to go touch it, to know it exists and to empathize with the people whose lives it affects daily? With the artist Banksy taking the creative lead, the wall outside the Walled Off Hotel has become a mural and recorder of this moment in history with images as well as stories from the people. This wall, which once was not a part of their holy land, has now become a part of them.

(Lydia Kane)

Inside the small art gallery, just inside the border wall in Bethlehem, is a small collection from some of the most influential and well-known Palestinian artists, along with some newcomers. The collection is called Limitless after a piece by Mahdi Baraghithi, titled Had. I asked the woman working in the gallery to tell me about Had and she explained that all of the words on the bright blue canvas are variations with the same root of the word limit — to be limited, limitless, and so on.

Looking around, there was a painting by Nabil Anani titled Border with a woman sitting on her suitcase, as if posed, with the wall as the backdrop, cutting off and hiding the bottoms of the buildings it conceals behind it. Looking to the other side of the gallery there are two canvases with little boys doing jumps and tricks, like at a skatepark, but with the wall as their ramp. Mohammed Al Hawajri created another pair that looks like magical realism come alive. In one piece a man and woman float, the man holding on to the woman, above the wall, flying past the limit since they are not allowed to pass any other way. In the other piece a couple is on a rooftop near the wall and the man’s feet are firmly planted on the roof while the woman floats like a balloon on a string, the image suggesting that some force is drawing her toward the open air space over the wall. These Palestinian artists seem to say that if their bodies must live with limits, they at least have no boundaries imposed on their art.

Pilgrimage is in the people, past and present. Seeking the holy through the art of the Holy Land led me back to hope. I think hope is found in the relationships we make, the stories we carry with us from scripture that are our tradition of hope, and in creating new means of expressing hope, to which the artists of Palestine bear witness. This was my experience of pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

As we progressed through holy sites and met amazing people doing amazing things for youth and children in Palestine, I thought about how much is needed in my own community. I do not want to ignore the need for reconciliation, education, and human rights in Palestine, but I left feeling a renewed calling to be awake to the human bodies within a mile of my own home that do not enjoy the same safety, education, and standards of living that I do. Hope is big enough for all of us and we know that God cares for every body.


Lydia Kane is a parent, spouse, and educator living in Tarboro, NC with her family. She has studied literature, theology, and special education and loves seeking out ways for those three fields to intersect.

Public Art as Prophetic Word

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Katy Stenta is curating a series called “Worship Outside the Box” that looks at the elements of worship in new ways and contexts. Each post will focus on one particular part of worship, providing new insights about how we can gather to worship God. Today’s post serves as the sermon. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Shawna Bowman

When we consider the sermon moment we often think first of the spoken word, whether an extemporaneous litany or carefully crafted prose. In the predominately white and western Christian communities I’ve been formed by, we have historically privileged the voice of a single preacher and depended upon the auditory (and hopefully eager) listening and learning of a gathered community in worship. This method of preaching and proclamation is beautiful, rooted in tradition, and has the capacity to inspire, form, and stretch the theological and spiritual imagination of our people.

And… and… it is only one of so many ways we human beings can engage with God’s dream for us and with God’s dream for the world. Rather than use words alone to demonstrate what I’m suggesting, I will invite you on a multi-sensory journey. Let us move for a moment from a stationary pulpit into the streets and look with fresh eyes and open hearts for a prophetic word preached in the visuals of street arts, graffiti and public installations.

As an artist/preacher, I am interested in cultivating an honesty about our own power and perceptions as we approach either the task of preaching or receiving a prophetic word. I invite you to carry these questions with you as we begin our journey into the streets:

Who decides what is acceptable “street art” and what qualifies as graffiti or even vandalism? Who and what artists are commissioned for particular and planned pieces of art and when does an artist risk a prophetic word or statement over and against the institutions who “own” public space? When is it the right time to break the rules, even the law, to risk a prophetic word or piece of visual proclamation?

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL

Chicago based artist and designer Matthew Hoffman has been the custodian of a public art project that began in Chicago but has expanded across the globe in recent years. The project began as stickers and now includes public installations with the simple statement: you are beautiful in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It has turned up on the sides of buildings, in parks, along Lake Shore Drive, and has been re-created and imagined by kid artists in public school students and public artists around the world.

You can visit versions of the work here. Take a moment and soak them in! While the artists may not have set out to offer a sermon, take a moment to imagine how prophetic a word this truly is. How does the message “you are beautiful” resonate with our biblical story? How does God’s own voice shine through this particular invitation to embrace our beauty?

WHAT WE DO IN LIFE…

One of the most famous and yet anonymous street artists currently creating and curating work across the globe, known only as Bansky, calls their self a “quality vandal,” and their work appeared first in the UK and recently in Bethlehem, Palestine. The artist offers critiques on the status quo, and observations on systems of oppression and violence often revealing the way human beings in positions of power are complicit in upholding them. I love this because it reminds me of some of Jesus’ best parables. Simple yet prophetic, offered in a way that catches us off guard and invites us to see ourselves and the world through a fresh and potentially liberating lens.

You can visit more of Banksy’s work here. Take a moment to absorb each piece as it moves across your screen. Can you see God’s prophetic words peeking through these installations? How is this artist offering an alternative narrative to what many of us experience and put our faith in, in our day-to-day lives?

LARGER THAN LIFE

We know a prophetic word can change our thinking and can move whole communities towards hope and transformation. Chicago public artist Max Sansing creates public murals that are works of reclamation and representation in his community and across the city. He painted this particular mural in the neighborhood where he grew up. Sansing says, “I know a lot of times we get portrayed as certain things, and I wanted to reinforce we could be larger than life.” Isn’t that often the role of a prophetic word? To give voice, worth and hope to a particular people and in a particular context? To hold God’s dream up for the people to see, not only as a beacon but as a mirror? To say, “look, we have all we need, right here.”

You can learn more about this particular mural here, and explore here how Sansing and another street artist, Sydney James from Detroit, use their artwork to impact culture, encourage diversity, and engage youth in their communities. Can you hear and see God’s invitation to embrace the fullness of our human experience in their work? Do they disrupt, confirm, or challenge your assumptions about God’s dream the world?

AN INVITATION

Next time you encounter public art in the form of murals, installations, or graffiti take a holy moment. Breathe in the color, the imagery, the form and shape and listen for the prophetic word speaking through the work. Let the work wash over you like liturgy and let God’s dream for the world bubble up in your imagination!


Shawna Bowman is an artist and pastor doing ministry with the creative and justice-seeking folks at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Shawna is co-founder of Creation Lab, an arts incubator and working studio space at the intersection of creativity, spirituality, and prophetic imagination, also in Chicago. Shawna is also Associate Director of Field Ed & Experiential Education at McCormick Theological Seminary.

Art Giving Voice to #MeToo

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Ruth Everhart and Cheryl Prose

Ruth: An artist in Tennessee named Cheryl Prose makes art pieces corresponding to #MeToo stories that move her. She began with stories of friends, and came across my story in Sojourners. Since then she read my memoir, and this piece is based on the memoir.

~ The first image shows the piece in production. For “wallpaper” she tore pages from the book of Job from a large number of Bibles. The ink splotches represent gunpowder.

~ The second image shows the completed work, which includes folios of quotations, pieces from a “rape kit,” a gun, speaker wire (used to tie us up), and a plaque of a quote that especially moved her.

~ The third image is a closeup of that plaque, with the speaker wire.

~ The fourth image shows the inside of a folio.

I am moved that another artist found inspiration in my story. We in the church are often word-oriented and I appreciate these visuals.

Cheryl: I was a college student when a senior adult member of my church was kidnapped and gang raped by strangers. While a seminary student I learned that several of my classmates had experienced sexual harassment and assault at the hands of lay leaders as well as clergy—in churches where they grew up and in churches where they served on staff. As a college instructor, I listened as students told of being subjected to unwanted sexual advances—often at the hands of their Christian boyfriends. Where was the justice about which the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah spoke?

Fast forward to fall 2017. A number of my friends began to publicly tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault. The details of what they endured at the hands of others were sometimes unknown to me but there was no shock that these attacks happened given the pervasiveness of sexual violence and given what I already knew from my days as a student and as a teacher. I acknowledged their pain and yet there was a gut-level need to do more. How could I stand by these friends? How could I help give voice to their stories? How could I practice justice? In response to those questions, the MeToo Art Project began.

It is my hope that this project will (1) give survivors of sexual violence an additional vehicle by which to speak their truth about their experience, (2) be a means by which to hold perpetrators accountable, (3) raise awareness of the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault, and (4) be a means by which solidarity is shown- without regard to gender- with and to those who have experienced this type of life-altering attack.

Among the completed pieces is the story of Rev. Ruth Everhart who pastors a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in Maryland and who has written a memoir, Ruined, which outlines the sexual assault she suffered. In terms of design, I knew I wanted to incorporate text from the biblical book of Job. Job’s friends offered religious platitudes in light of the horrors he faced. Ruth experienced similar inadequacies and insult from the church in the aftermath of her horrifying ordeal. The ink that is splashed over the text is a reminder of the fingerprint powder that covered the crime scene. The multi-level case is reminiscent of the multiple-story house in which the attack took place. Because Rev. Everhart’s Me Too story is a hard one to hear, I wanted the viewer to have to work to access the story and so the individual books that carry details of the crime are intentionally stiff and difficult to open.

Sexual harassment and assault appear in many forms from street harassment to workplace harassment to date rape to assault by strangers. If you are willing to have your Me Too story expressed in a visual format, contact me at metooartproject@gmail.com (Participants may choose whether or not to be identified.) Together we are breaking the silence and inviting justice to roll down like water.


Ruth Everhart is an author, speaker, and Presbyterian pastor. Her next book about #MeToo and the church is forthcoming from InterVarsity Press in fall 2019. She is the solo pastor of Hermon Presbyterian Church (Bethesda, MD). Connect on Instagram: ruth.everhart, FB: RuthEverhartAuthor, Twitter: @rutheverhart.

Cheryl Prose spent nearly two decades as an adjunct professor of Religion in a private liberal arts college. She now spends much of her time sharing stories of those who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted—many of those episodes having ties to the church and other religious entities. You can follow the MeToo_Art_Project on Instagram.

Bodies. Trauma. Resilience.

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by abby mohaupt

Listen:

most days I don’t think about the men who betrayed me

the men who saw the line and crossed it

the men who watched them do it

the men who told me to be quiet.

 

But some days,

the moments of betrayal are like coals—

if I blow on them, the pain burns into life

and all my old scars ache.

 

the days when the new pastor at my first church apologizes to my father but not to me

(even though I was the one who lost herself)

the days when the photo of my rapist at my fifth church appears on my social media

with the high praise from others accompanying him with singing

the days when the tune of his grooming rings in my ears:

“heart of my own heart whatever befall”

 

I’m not asking you to fix me

(thank you, Jesus)

I’m just asking you to sit with me awhile

and wait for hope.

 

The video below (the first part is intentionally dark) originally appeared at Ecclesio in an article entitled “Bodies of Hope and Harrasment.” It is, in part, my grappling with what it means to survive in a #metoo and #churchtoo world.


abby mohaupt is a long distance runner and multi-media artist. An ordained teaching elder, she regularly teaches on vocational discernment, eco-feminist theology, and creativity.

Sacred Space for Grief

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Kate Morrison is curating a series featuring reflections on Advent and Christmas from our 2018 National Gathering workshop and post-Gathering seminar leaders. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear what this season means to them through stories, memories, and favorite traditions – and how they see the themes of Advent connecting with the work of NEXT Church. We invite you to share your own memories and stories on Facebook and Twitter!

Editor’s note: Lisle is leading a workshop during the 2018 National Gathering called “The Art of the Desert Journey: What the Creative Process Might Teach Us About Blooming.” It will take place during workshop block 3 on Tuesday. Learn more and register

by Lisle Gwynn Garrity

I don’t remember the negotiations that took place, but I do remember knowing it was a blessing to have my mom home from the hospital for Christmas. I had just turned thirteen, and — to my now horror — I spent much of the holidays consumed with the frivolities of my social life to avoid thinking about the fact that my young mother was in hospice care. My memories of her last Christmas with us are blurred. Was she home for Christmas Eve? Did we have our annual Christmas Day meal? Was that the year Santa filled our stockings with Elmer’s glue and over-sized Fruit of the Loom panties?

What remains clear, however, is the image of her shrunken frame sinking into the couch cushions — her body swaddled in gray over-sized sweats, her balding head tucked into the folds of a beanie, her face both swollen and sunken at the same time. What remains crisp in my memory is the picture of cancer’s devouring disguise.

If you have become an unwanted friend to grief, you know well how holidays are often filled with both blurred and lucid apparitions of holidays past. We walk through seasons of abundant joy with grief tugging at our sleeves.

When preparing materials for Advent with A Sanctified Art, we decided as a team to create resources to help churches carve out sacred space for those grieving in the midst of the holidays. With more than enough devastation and turmoil in the world, we knew many would be entering the season feeling like they were walking with a wet blanket draped over their heads, as if smothering their every inhale with hot, sticky air.

We wanted to offer congregations a way of naming and releasing grief before God as a radical act of hope, one that forces us to sit still in the shadows to acknowledge the ways our lives have torn apart at the seams, one that forces us to wait for the new life that is strangely birthed through suffering. And so, my colleague, Sarah Are, crafted poetry for a Longest Night Service and passed the poem along to me to pair it with visual poetry.

With Sarah’s words as my muse, I created a painting and short film to visually manifest the safe and sacred space Sarah paints with her words. To begin, I read Sarah’s poem a number of times, letting her lyrics wash over me again and again. The beauty of her poetry is that it spans universal truths while also feeling particularly personal. Even if you are not drowning in grief, there is still room for you here. The poem lures each of us into a space of quiet inquiry to simply welcome the emotions that arise along the way instead of trying to fix or silence them.

I began the painting with charcoal to express the rawness of loss and the shattered ways we often cope with our own grief or attempt to soothe the losses others have endured. I wanted these initial marks to be messy and chaotic, a visceral outpouring of the immediate shock loss of all kinds triggers. Then I began to fill the canvas with dark and haphazard strokes, creating a wild storm of sky. I hope we might all feel permission to fully step into the heart of this storm, letting go of control or the need to find our way out—to simply surrender to the ways grief wreaks havoc beyond repair. Gradually, the stormy sky slowly curves into calm. I hope you see whatever you need to see in this imagery—clouds, sea, the Spirit of God, the exhale of grief, or something completely unnameable. I finished the painting with a stretch of gold and ivory near the bottom, symbolizing solid ground and stability—a place in which you can sink your feet—even in the midst of the storm.

After my mom died, I didn’t know how to grieve. I thought that releasing my pain would break me and would expose all the ways my world had fallen apart. I’ve spent most of my adult life confronting and undamming the well of sorrow I didn’t know how to let loose then.

When I watch this film, I experience a journey of return — to my grief, to my mother, and to the inexplicable sense that, no matter what, something bigger and greater than me surrounds me with care. That is the best way I can name what Advent hope feels like.

And they say to me, We are sorry for your loss.
And I say to myself, Me too.
Me. too.
Because what I know now is that
when love takes a hold of your heart,
it gives a piece of you away,
and when that disappears
that empty space aches.
You can’t fill it.
You can’t drown it.
You can’t forget it.
You can’t ignore it.

There’s just space and you have to let it be.
—Sarah Are, excerpt from “Let There Be You”


Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity is an artist, retreat leader, and creative entrepreneur working within the Presbyterian Church (USA) and beyond. As founder of A Sanctified Art LLC, a collaborative arts collective creating multimedia resources for churches, Lisle believes in the prophetic and freeing power of art to connect us more deeply to God and one another. Learn more about her work by visiting lislegwynngarrity.com and sanctifiedart.org.

Twitter: @lgwynnarrity // @sanctifiedart
Instagram: @artbylisle // @sanctifiedart

The Call to Create

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Kate Foster Connors

I have no idea why I signed up for the workshop, but when I read “Thirsting to Create,” my mouse clicked on that option without a thought. By the time I arrived at the NEXT Church National Gathering in March, I had completely forgotten what workshops I had signed up for, so I was surprised to see an art workshop listed on the back of my nametag. (I actually read it and wondered if it was a mistake.)

In another life, before I had children, and before I went to seminary, I took art classes, learning how to throw pottery on the wheel, and exploring watercolor painting. I also wrote poetry, and took long walks in the woods. Years later (after seminary, and a few years into ministry), I was fortunate to be able to stay home with my children when they were young, and those years were rich with making homemade Christmas cards, mixing homemade playdough, learning how to knit, and creating art with my children nearly every day.

My girls are now teenagers, and while they continue to love and make art, I cannot remember the last time I took some time to make something. Actually, I can remember – it was at the National Gathering, in the “Thirsting to Create” workshop.

Despite my initial shock at being registered for an art workshop (!), I went anyway.

The room was set up with all kinds of materials:  papers of all colors and textures, magazines, glue, markers, paint, and yarn, and………I looked around, found a seat, and felt myself exhale, and then inhale, filled with an unexpected but familiar sense of delight and peace.

In the middle of the tables were books, piles of rough-edged papers sewn together with plain, gray cardboard covers. Our assignment was to choose one, and make it our own. I took the book closest to me, opening it to examine the papers inside. The pages of the book were from an old hymnal, and the first page of mine, cut off so only about the last 1/3 of the page was visible, read “LOVE.”

Already ambushed by the overpowering joy and calm that filled me at being surrounded by art materials (!), and given a block of time completely dedicated to making art (!), it became abundantly clear to me that I was standing on holy ground. Like a burning bush announcing to Moses that God had some plans for him, the book-from-an-old-hymnal that began with “LOVE” shouted a reminder that God has given me an assignment in my current call: to facilitate ways for all of God’s children to enact God’s radical and abundant love.

I covered my book in beautiful paper with a blue and green and gold design that reminded me of middle eastern art. Too pretty. I found some old magazines, and cut out words that spoke to me:  Spirit, collaboration, unpredictable, a whole new way, you find there’s nothing these 3 can’t handle. Too predictable.

While I worked on my book, I talked with the people around me, learning about one woman’s ministry of sewing stuffed animals to give to children, and of another woman’s project of bringing “Messy Church” to her congregation (I LOVE that idea!).

I grabbed a roll of silver duct tape. Shiny, but practical, and tear-able. Perfect. I tore 2 strips, sticking them to the front of my too-pretty, too-predictable book, making a rough-edged, imperfect, shiny cross on the front. Perfect.

We ran out of time, but I walked out of the workshop with that book in my hand, confident now that I had been exactly where I needed to be.

I now have my book-from-an-old-hymnal on my desk, staring at me to help me remember that creating is not a luxury – it is a central part of who I am, of how I remember who I am, and who God is calling me to be in the world. Using my hands to make something gets me out of my head, clearing a path for the Spirit to speak without the clutter that often stands in its way.


Kate Foster Connors is director of The Center: Where Compassion Meets Justice, a mission initiative of the Baltimore Presbytery. She is a 2001 graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, where she spent a lot of time on the streets of Atlanta, learning what it meant to encounter the Word in the city. She lives in Baltimore, MD and is married to Andrew Foster Connors, also a pastor. Together, they have 2 teenage daughters.

Fellowship and Worship as Messy Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Suzie Gerrard Fletcher

Five years ago, I moved to a rural charge with three United congregations in the Church of Scotland.  The Sunday School as was had ceased to function during the vacancy, and soon after I arrived, it was decided we would try and do something completely different: Messy Church. An interested group of folk gathered for a training course and three months later held our first Messy Church. It is a great opportunity for people of all ages to worship together, and to create a sense of belonging. Broadly based around fellowship, it is both a fun and creative way to introduce people to Jesus through hospitality, friendship, stories and worship. And, to share together in a meal, which for many families and churches, is a rare occasion in this day and age.

Messy Church is its original form is a fresh expression of church that began in a Anglican church in Portsmouth as a way of being church for people who don’t do traditional church, for whatever reason. It is a church of all ages… and lots of churches have picked up on the idea and been able to adapt it for their own situations, both in the UK and overseas. It has grown and estimates are that well over 500,000 people belong to Messy Church, and that number is growing all the time. A typical session includes an introduction, crafts, a celebration (worship) and a hot meal.

In our situation, we have a craft leader and worship leader (myself), and should have had a catering team. We generally meet on the same Sunday from 4-6pm in the afternoon every month (some do it on a weekday or Saturday). There’s a brief introduction to the theme as folk are gathering and then everyone is let loose to go and explore eight different activities which help to tell the story in different ways. The emphasis is on crafts, being sure there is something for all ages and genders, and the adults come alongside and take part whilst lending a hand to younger children. We have a person at each table (ages ranging from teenagers to the elderly) to help explain how their activities relate to the story.

After about an hour, we call everyone to the front of the hall, as our hall is separate to the Church itself, and have a time of singing songs, telling the Bible story in a creative way, a participatory prayer and Messy Grace (blessing done in a circle), before we line up to share in a meal which we serve around one large circle of tables because our numbers allow for that.  The materials used are very helpful in organising each session.  

About half of those who come have/had some loose connection to church, whilst the other half have not. For most of these families, Messy Church is church and apart from special services, they do attend on Sunday morning, and after education of the elders aren’t expected to.  This sort of fellowship is new and different more many in the UK, and it is wonderful to see God at work in generations of people who might otherwise have never known much of the faith.

Messy Church is enabled, resourced and supported by BRF (Bible Reading Fellowship), a registered charity, as one of its core ministries.


suzie fletcherSuzie Garrard Fletcher is a parish minister in the Church of Scotland, where she serves a united charge of three small rural congregations. She graduated from Presbyterian College in 1996 and has a dual degree (M Div and MA in Christian Education) from Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, as was, and went to Scotland for a year, but she and her husband loved it so much she applied for admission to the Church of Scotland and has been working in Scotland since her ordination in 2001. They have three small children, with another on the way, and enjoy family life in a small village on the North Sea, with the convenience of the beautiful historic and cultural city of Edinburgh, just forty miles away.

New Life for Dry Bones

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post was originally shared on Carolyn’s blog, “Deep Thoughts of a Common Household Mom.”

by Carolyn Gibbs

I sat down at the table. The man next to me muttered, “Might as well hang me now.” The woman to the right of me picked up the block of clay in front of her and started kneading it enthusiastically. I looked at my block of clay and waited for instructions, like a proper Presbyterian. Yep, that’s the gamut of likely responses in an “Arts in Worship” workshop at the Next Church National Gathering.

fear creativity crossroadsI was eager to attend this workshop, thinking it would give us ideas on how to incorporate various kinds of art into our worship service. It turns out we were going to make art ourselves! How fun! Or how threatening! Or both!

Despite the fear, I immensely enjoyed responding to scripture through painting, even though I have zero artistic skill. I feel a great longing to be creative in connection with worship. I think that I am the only one who feels this way. To paraphrase the prophet Ezekiel, “my bones are dried up, my hope is lost, I am cut off completely.” God’s creative breath of life is in our worship, mostly through music, but perhaps we are missing out in not exploring other forms of creativity.

A longer description of the workshop is below, for those who are interested.

How do you like to express your creativity? If you are part of a worshiping community, would you be willing to participate in an art project as part of worship? Or would you make sure you had to be out of town that day?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As the workshop started, we were encouraged to fiddle around with the block of clay in front of us. We had no instructions regarding the clay. We continued to work with it if we wished, as we started the discussion. There were two tables, with about 8 people at each table.

First we discussed how non-artistic adults generally feel about doing art. Art (and any creativity, really) is viewed as fine for kids, but adults just don’t go there. This workshop was about why adults should go there.

The workshop leader must have had a time machine on my life. She described exactly what happened to me in second grade art class, when we painted a scene on a tile. I was quite pleased with my scene of ducks and grass. The art teacher denigrated it; the words are long forgotten, but the feeling is not. Almost all of us encounter something similar on the way to adulthood. Our human capacity for judgment and comparison takes over, and those of us who don’t have artistic talent stop making art at all. It’s just too scary and painful to endure the judgment from others and ourselves.

Then we talked about confronting that fear and leaping into creativity. Making art unleashes freedom, joy, and wholeness, and that’s just for starters. If you believe that you are created in the image of God (the original creativity maven) then exercising your creativity is an excellent way of showing it. Why should only kids be able to do this?! Why should only those with innate artistic talent be able to do this?!

In our workshop it turned out that the clay was just a warm-up to our main activity – painting a large banner. Like most art, our painting was to be based on other art, and was to follow rules. We were instructed to base our painting on our response to the Bible passage about Ezekiel’s vision of God breathing life into dry bones (Ezekiel 37).

We had a few minutes to discuss what images the passage evoked in us. I think this discussion helped a lot, when it came time to start painting. But before starting to paint, the rules:

  • First, paint on the space in front of you. Paint your own response to the passage.
  • After a few minutes, everyone is to move two spaces to the left and continue painting. You may not erase, obliterate, or cover up what the person before painted in their spot. You may embellish and extend their painting, or start painting in a new spot. After a few minutes, go two more spaces to the left and extend that person’s painting. Finally, return to your original spot and fill in spaces as you see fit.
  • No talking! This meant we could not collaborate. We could not form a committee to plan what to paint, or where. (That is extremely un-Presbyterian.) It also meant we could not offer any evaluation of each others’ art. We could not issue comments on our own efforts. This was crucial – no compliments, no criticisms. A compliment of one person’s art could be construed by someone else as an implicit criticism of their own art. (“You liked her art, but didn’t say anything about mine.”)
  • The workshop leader told us where the top of the banner would be. She also said that there were pieces of tape running across the canvas, and she had prepared our canvas by painting blue over the whole canvas. After our art expressions had dried she would be pulling off the tape, creating bold lines across our art work.

fruitful_worship artWe started painting. At first I felt that familiar sense of self-criticism. I started by drawing a kindergartenish slab of grass, thinking of “the fruitful land” from the passage. Being more of a “words” person than a “drawing” person, I wondered if I could dare to write a word instead of just painting shapes and colors. I dared. But which word? I chose “fruitful”. I felt I should paint it upside down (my area was at the top of the canvas) so that the word would be displayed right side up. This was challenging.

After a bit it was time to switch spots. I was perplexed after switching. It felt wrong to mess with what someone else had painted. It almost felt as if that spot was now sacred. Instead of painting within that person’s area, I tried to extend from that area, reaching more into the middle of the canvas.

By the time we switched again, I was feeling more bold, and reached into the middle to start a new shape. I painted the words “new life” in the middle of the canvas. Then I decided to paint a cell to represent a form of life and honor my sweet Younger Daughter and her interest in cells.

When we were finished we had a great sense of ownership and accomplishment at having created a work of art together. I do not know or care if it is beautiful in the eyes of the world, but it is ours, our expression of the scripture. When our canvas was displayed in the worship space the next day, I again felt like a kindergartner, proud to have my work up on the refrigerator.

new life worship bannerI just have to add that I believe that it is good and right to have beautiful art, created by truly talented professional artists, in our worship spaces. It can be appropriate to evaluate sacred art and display what is inspiring. In fact, if we non-artists are to do art, we need the professional artists, who figure out things like how big the canvas should be, what kind of paint is best, how long to let it dry, how to display it.

Our workshop group did not create our banner in order for it to be evaluated or compared to professional art. It is valuable in that we ourselves made it as an expression of our connection to holiness. For me personally, it felt like new life for my dry bones which are longing, aching, yearning to be creative in worship.

To see more photos, visit Carolyn’s blog.


Carolyn 2016-02-29Carolyn Gibbs serves as a ruling elder at Hiland Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA. She blogs at commonhousehold.blogspot.com and enjoys expressing her creativity through writing, raising children, and trying to figure out what to make for dinner.

Singular, Quiet Questioning

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Gary Swaim

A painting by Gary Swaim

Crux by Gary Swaim

At age 81, I’ve been on a rich, extended pilgrimage. I’ve experienced the usual twists and turns of life, but there’s always been a single light and my focus. The light would occasionally flicker somewhat, and my attention would wane, but even when the light turned dimmer, or seemed to, it held me. My ministry (watching or looking for the light) moved from one rooted in a juvenile, outspoken certainty to one more internalized, quiet, and questioning.

My ministry reversed its locus from external to internal, changing almost everything about me.

In time I would learn that the external could not be authentic until it grew from an internal drive and understanding. And, for some twenty-five years or so now, I have lived (or tried to live) the singular spiritual life, with a reasonable quietness and a questioning spirit. I have long ago left the life of parroting others. I have tried to go deeply into the self to find truths and the light, then to come out into the public with my writing (poems, plays, fiction), painting, and university teaching. In these endeavors and with my deeply committed Christian community I can fulfill my mission.


GarySwaim_webGary Swaim is a ruling elder in Irving, TX. He is a professor in the Master of Liberal Studies program at Southern Methodist University of Dallas. He teaches playwriting, the writing of both poetry and fiction, creativity, and studies in diverse interdisciplinary courses. More recently, he has added digital painting to his efforts, professionally. To learn more about Gary’s work, visit his website.

When Creativity Saves You from the “F” Word in Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Lisle Gwynn Garrity is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Lisle Gwynn Garrity

We all know the feeling.  You’re neck-deep in sermonizing, lesson-planning, worship designing, or any venture that requires you to put your blood, sweat, and tears into creating something as an offering to others, and then the “F” word starts to rear its ugly head. FEAR is creativity’s brute oppressor; it shows up right when we’re in the thick of imagining or creating something new, and whispers not-so-sweet nothings in our ears.

“This is the WORST sermon ever written–even Calvin will be snoring from his grave.”

“We can’t possibly try this new youth activity–the youth will mock it and laugh in my face.”

“Members will certainly LEAVE THE CHURCH if I suggest we do something different for the prayers of the people this Sunday.”

Fear has this way of gripping us by the throat, choking us of any God-breathed inspiration for which we are gasping. And, too often, the “F” word wins out, shutting down the whole creative operation.  God forbid, the “F” word may even have something to do with that dreaded and familiar moniker, the frozen chosen.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity1

As a liturgical artist, retreat leader, and worship consultant, my ministry is constantly butting heads with the “F” word. When leading worship arts retreats, where I invite anyone and everyone (artist and “non-artist” alike) to create art in community, I talk a lot about the “F” word. There’s something about a blank canvas and a paintbrush that tend to strike fear into the hearts of most grown adults. So we talk about that fear. I declare that, if the “F” word shows up, we can acknowledge it, observe it, and then move right past it. That is the gospel promise, after all–fear and death will not have the last word.

When creating live visual art during worship, I am forced to practice what I preach. Being a self-proclaimed “artist” offers no protection from the “F” word, believe me. Painting for an audience to witness and scrutinize any mistake is vulnerability at its finest. But, when I step past the “F” word, I can fully offer myself as a vessel to be shaped and molded by God. Giving my whole self to the creative process is a full-body prayer; in those moments of fearlessness, I am most open, most willing, and most able to offer my gifts to others and to God.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity

So, what’s your fear-stomping creative practice? What’s one way you can regularly practice creativity (perhaps through painting, singing, cooking, gardening, wood-working, etc.) to strengthen your capacity to confront the “F” word? What’s one way you can offer your whole self to a creative process and to God? Most importantly, how can tapping into your unique, God-given creativity open yourself to that wild and restless divine Spirit that is so ready to do good work through and in you?

Lisle Gwynn Garrity2

 


Lisle Gwynn Garrity HeadshotLisle Gwynn Garrity is a Pastorist (pastor + artist) diving into ministry with a creative and entrepreneurial drive. A recent graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, she holds master’s degrees in divinity and practical theology. If you’re interested in pushing past the “F” word to create art in community, sign up for her workshop, “Arts & Worship” at the 2016 National Gathering. See more of Lisle’s work at www.sanctifiedart.com or on Facebook at A Sanctified Art.