Churches are called to transform in-between spaces into vibrant, life-affirming meeting places by encouraging dialogue and embracing various groups in their city. They are called to foster encounters and facilitate renewal and creativity. Arts are highly effective for accomplishing this calling. They submit a new kind of encounter and foster movement.
Creating a piece of art and planting a church have a lot in common.
A creative act requires two things: You have to shape things and you have to allow things.
— Martin Schleske
Abilities that are necessary to create art can be helpful in church planting. Outcomes from an artistic process are competencies to go with and to promote transformation.
If I am creating a painting, I am always stepping into a dialogue with the piece that evolves and creating through a transformational process. It is a process of observing, searching, shaping, forming, resonating, and finding. Layer after layer of paint is added, in different textures, different formations with breaks in action in-between where I just observe what occurred on the canvas and listen to what the piece demands. It is a dialogic process — a process of call and response and a process of change.
In the same way, a church planter acts like a sculptor or painter forming the body of the church in collaboration with God, listening, acting, moulding, composing, resonating, and shaping what has been placed before him. It is also a process of call and response and a creative act to plant and form the church.
Engaging the arts will provoke implicit learning, promote creative skills and extend social abilities. Aesthetic competencies such as being present and open, awareness, lateral thinking, and creativity enable you to foster community and transformation in fast changing times. Embracing creative methods and artistic elements will help you to refresh your church community and to build relationships with your city in a powerful way.
An artistic intervention for “cross”-cultural encounter
Culture Dine, Hamburg
Culture Dine is an open, pop-up dinner with small cultural bites. Each “happening” frames opportunities to share food and short bites. (I use this term instead of “event” to emphasize their artistic approach. From my perspective, “happening” is more suitable because such evenings are designed as artwork — they are framed and enacted as living pieces of art or social sculptures.) There are contributions from different media such as music, poetry, pictures, paintings, short films, and more on a given topic. The shared material can be your own material or from other sources. This means everyone is able to participate, whether artistically inclined or not. Every evening offers time to share food at one long table, time to share contributions, and three times of creative action, where participants are guided in an artistic process. Interactive elements encourage dialogue and impulses inspire creative action. At the end of every evening, a piece of “community art” is created with the material of the evening.
During one happening, for example, the topic was “Beginning and End.” Throughout the evening, participants drew on the table, made little sculptures, and completed free-writing compositions. String that had been placed at the table functioned as material for interactive sequences and became an installation to which table-fellows added their pieces. The collective works — in this case, a community text composed of freewriting sentences and an installation — were made of diverse material ranging from sad to funny, from concrete to abstract parts.
Many Culture Dine participants mentioned that they have been inspired and touched by the variety of perspectives, the atmosphere of the evenings, and the opportunity to meet people outside of their usual routine.
A basic rule in this project is to use well-known spaces that are part of the city’s cultural scene and are outside a physical church building. Easy-access and low-level locations with big windows help people to stumble in spontaneously and add to a more diverse mix of people.
Engaging the arts will enable us to fashion transformation in fast-changing times and to step into relevant and compelling dialogue that leaves a mark on the cities we live in. Art is an invitation for us and others to share common ground. It is an opportunity to leave well-known territory behind and step into wildwaters of change in an alternative space. It allows us to be present, open, and connective. It is an invitation to create and to find, to let go, and to sense what makes sense. Art is a change maker, an incubator for innovation, and a meeting place for everyone.
Art as a space between allows a deeper relation with our cities. It enables us to overcome boundaries and to collaborate with familiars and strangers to sculpt society.
God pitched a camp in-between. Let’s engage in art and sit down to marvel. He is already waiting on the threshold.
This blog is part of a longer essay called “Transforming the Gap: The Arts as Mediator Between the Church and the City” in the free ebook Movements of the Gospel: Experiments in Ministry in Unfamiliar Places.
Sude Hope is a visual artist and community builder based in Germany. She studied Interior Design and Arts in Social Transformation and works with arts in mission and social change. Sude has designed and realized several community building and art projects in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and has connected churches and cities in creative ways.