Being a Creative Open Presence
In early-November, the Diocese of London hosted their most recent training event for churches on being an Open Presence in your community, entitled ‘Being a Creative Open Presence.’
The event was hosted by St John on Bethnal Green, with presentations from the Vicar of St John’s Revd Preb Alan Green; sponsor of the Capital Vision Creatives Network Archdeacon Liz Adekunle; leader of the Creatives Network Julia Porter-Pryce; Chaplain to University of the Arts London Mark Dean and Director of Arts and Christianity Enquiry Laura Moffat.
Attendees were a mixture of clergy and laypeople visiting from across the Diocese, with interests ranging from prophetic and artistic use of empty church space, gathering ideas for enhancing the church, fundraising through the arts, and vision for community arts projects hosted by the church.
In her introduction, the Archdeacon of Hackney gave a thought-provoking insight into the prospects that a good relationship between the church and the arts holds. She spoke of the intrinsic relationship between Christianity and art, and the value which art can add to faith through ‘struggle, risk and uncertainty.’ She also described the importance of the arts to the Christian faith, by saying:
“The arts offer those making the journey of faith, a picture of what they are going through.”
Laura Moffat spoke in her presentation of the necessity of the church to be proactive in its interaction with the arts, and the many opportunities awaiting the church in this area. She shared stories of a few artistic projects from recent years which attracted wide interest and increased engagement with churches in London, noting, “art works often appeal across different faiths and demographics,” and described their tendency to cause people to look at the church, to visit, and to be inquisitive.
Julia Porter-Pryce also shared some of her personal experience of engaging with art in her church St Peter De Beauvoir Town, and gave advice on engaging the church congregation with the arts.
Julia shared a collection of stories from the last 15 years at St Peter’s, including various relationships built with local artists, participatory projects which offered people new opportunities to relate to each other, workspace offered to various artists in the crypt of the church, and creative, innovative worship opportunities for the congregation to connect with each other and with God.
She also shared advice for those looking to host artists in their church, including trying to integrate liturgy and worship space into the artist’s work and exhibitions, and, where possible, encouragement to work with artists who’ve experience of working with communities.
Mark Dean, Chaplain to the University of the Arts London, also shared an interesting project he is heading up with the intent to connect graduating students with London churches as potential places to build relationship and exhibit their work.
The Revd Preb Alan Green, our host for day, shared some of his personal experience in hosting artists at St John on Bethnal Green. In speaking of his desire to engage the church with the ‘world outside the church,’ he noted:
“The church does not need to be fearful about being part of the modern world.”
Preb Green shared the impact of investing trust in the artists which they have fostered, by suggesting:
“We find that the handing over of keys is a really significant moment – the artists are not just being left in the place, but given it.”
He also shared some of the challenges which come with sharing your church space – perhaps disagreements about the location or size of exhibitions, which might interfere with church life – but he also mentioned that in their brief to interested artists, they are clear that artists must understand their environment. There is a culture of respect around the church building, artists must understand that the church is a functioning church, not an art gallery. It is evident that there is a harmony in the relationship between the artists and the church there on Bethnal Green, as Preb Green opened the event by saying:
“I never did see the gap between the sacred and the secular in art.”
‘Being a Creative Open Presence’ was a brilliant venture into the logistics of reuniting these sometimes separated partners – the arts and the church, and an exciting look into the future and potential impact of their relationship with the church in London.
It is easy to join the Creatives Network through this short sign-up form. If you would like more information on any upcoming Open Presence events, keep updated by checking the events page.
This was written by Gemma Scharnowski, a former Capital Vision 2020 Assistant at the Diocese of London. [edited on 14 May 2019]