An artful encounter with God
Everyone knows that lions live in wardrobes, monsters lurk down the toilet, and dragons emerge from cracks in the pavement. Whatever you do don’t step on the cracks!
It’s the Wednesday evening of Holy Week, and a respectable audience has turned out to see Beyond the Wardrobe, an “alternative Passion play”, written by me and performed at St Cuthbert’s in Sprowston.
Okay, I’ll admit that this isn’t the usual premise for a Passion play, but then, very little about this is what you’d expect. The actors aren’t all card-carrying Christians for a start; the story itself is inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, while these overgrown “children” are going on an adventure during which the monsters stem from their own fears and experiences. But it is a story dealing with love, sacrifice and the hope of new life, and Christ is there; a lion who is destined to become a lamb.
Since arriving in Norwich from my native Yorkshire ten years ago and taking up the post of Associate Vicar in Sprowston, it’s been part of my ministry to engage with people through the performing arts as well as doing all the usual things that vicars do.
Over this time, I’ve joined in with the fun stuff, such as the annual Parish Pantomime; helped people engage with more serious stuff such as Remembrance Sunday performances, and encouraged people to unpack their own ‘stuff’ through improvisation and storytelling.
It has also involved taking a sideways look at old stories and how they might relate to us today; for example, my play Fuzzy relocates the book of Job from its ancient setting to a present-day psychiatric hospital; a place where many, like Job, end up confronting God.
But why art? And what is art? Well, in my opinion, one thing art isn’t is merely a substitute for a sermon or reading – art does a different job, or at least it does if done well. Good art explores the complexity of human experience; through it we gain a different understanding of ourselves, of each other, and of God.
Art allows ‘the soul to speak’; sometimes we don’t know what the soul wants to say unless we allow it expression, so it’s always risky. The art of storytelling, especially our own story, can reveal much that we’ve kept hidden; it can be a form of prayer, or a way of ‘letting go’, as well as a form of expression.
It’s an odd form of ministry; it allows me to be clown on occasion, a writer, an actor, and also a pastor. I get to engage with people who normally wouldn’t go near a church, and to gently challenge those who do. Art also allows us to share in the creativity of God; through it we can encounter God and community in unexpected ways; it deepens and broadens our understandings and challenges our certainties. Actually, perhaps it’s not so odd after all…
This article is from...
Articles in this issue...
The unconscious bias question
Imagine that you are the designated welcomer in church. Today, there is a newcomer: tall, well dressed, and confident. How do you respond?More
Love bade me welcome
In many, perhaps most cultures, the obligation to offer welcome and hospitality is taken very seriously.More
You’re very welcome!
After 37 happy years attending the same central Norwich church, we felt it would be better, having moved out to Taverham, to find somewhere local to worship. After a couple of services at St Edmund’s we knew that this was the place we wanted to be.More
Refugees welcomed with love in Lulea
During an intense period in the autumn of 2015 thousands of refugees came by train to stations in the Diocese of Lulea. Emma Berkman describes how the parishes acted immediately to make the arrival as loving as possible.More
Welcoming different faiths at school
Each year Corton Church of England Primary School on the East Suffolk coast near Lowestoft holds three multi-faith days as part of their RE curriculum.More
Sacred spaces for children
We can all picture the scene in church: a parent struggles to pacify a crying baby while making fraught attempts to keep a toddler sitting and quietly engaged before finally the stares of other congregation members send them scuttling for the exit.More
Sprowston’s vestry hour outreach
Andy Bunter unpacks how a different approach to vestry hour has opened the door to new opportunities.More
I’ve been thinking about Biblical hospitality. Romans 12:13 reads “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality”. Sounds fairly straightforward, right?More
A tasty welcome at Blakeney brunch
Biddy Collyer paid an early morning visit to St Nicholas Church in Blakeney to see for herself the tasty welcome that's taking the place by storm.More
Places of welcome and sanctuary
Churches across the Diocese will welcome visitors to their buildings in Celebrating Open Churches that opens on Norfolk Day 27 July. It's a welcome that extends throughout the year in many and diverse ways, writes Marion Welham.More