The Church’s artistic mission
Toby Coe is a musician and has been a member of the Church of England most of his life. He has recently been thinking a lot about the topic of Christianity and the arts, particularly in terms of the role of music.
The obvious question is why should we be concerned with creativity in the first place.
I believe that if Christianity is to be of any relevance the modern world, it must address all areas of life. So often in our increasingly commercial world anything that doesn’t have any obvious functional merit is dismissed as unnecessary or secondary. This is a temptation that must be resisted.
God is the ultimate example of an artist, for out of nothing he created everything. If we are to try and follow this example we must walk the way of the artist. To reject creativity is to fall short of our full potential as human beings.
A common theme that has run throughout the many different churches I have attended is how much musical material is old or, alternatively, a new but pale imitation of secular music. This projects the image of a Church harking back to the past instead of revelling in the uncertainty of the future. This is not to say there is anything wrong with tradition in itself, but when it comes to dominate most aspects of Christian worship and expression something has gone wrong. The truest expression of admiration for the past is not imitation but innovation – great works from the past pushed the boundaries of what was musically possible. True reverence for the past involves moving forward.
Today the vast majority of interesting music and art is made in a secular context. It is hard to know precisely why this is the case but it is easy to see how various forms of traditionalism in Christianity may have led to this.
If the Church wants to reengage the community with Christianity, it needs to encourage creativity. This can be achieved by the Church reclaiming its position as an artistically creative institution.
There are a few measures by which I think this could be brought about. (These ideas may have been implemented without my knowledge, in which case I do apologise.)
1) Use existing Church spaces for concerts and exhibitions (this has already been done successfully around the country, one of the most notable examples being Bath Abbey).
2) Make Church spaces available for people to create in. Lack of good space to practice in is a real problem for artists.
3) A new order of the priesthood dedicated to the promotion of creativity and the arts. If we really want to change the way things stand we need more than existing ministers working on piecemeal projects in a part-time capacity. In addition, members of the laity could be encouraged to give their time to this project.
4) Reach out the poor and disadvantaged through art. One of the problems with being poor (apart from the lack of food or shelter) is not having access to social groups and aesthetic experience. By putting on events for no charge with this group in mind the Church could help to alleviate this problem. Again, Bath Abbey has held exhibitions of art work made by the homeless.
Obviously these ideas have limitations and a great amount of work would be needed to be done for any of them to be brought to fruition on a large scale. However if any progress is to be made we need more people to be thinking about this problem and bringing their talents to bear on it.
Which of these ideas do you think would be most effective?
Do you agree with Toby’s position on how music and the arts are used in churches? Let us know in the comments!