#MediaLit17 Chronicles 7: Communication and the Arts

Time for Lunch now it’s One O’Clock, but first we had a promising session with Jim Craig, who was Chaplains to the Arts in Gateshead and is now Chaplain to Guy’s Campus, Kings College London.

Arts chaplaincy is something which has been explored to an extent by various people as an aspect of their ministry. However Jim was the only full time chaplain to the arts in the Church of England as a pioneer minister. This was filled with it’s own unique challenges — not least ensuring its funding and demonstrating its value.

Jim is open and honest about the difficulties that can face pioneer ministers; pioneer ministry is incredibly valuable, but so do is the support they get to do that ministry.

His own ministry seems to be deeply rooted in his own ‘primordial’ conviction of truth as word and imagery.

The opening slide looked very much like a gallery, fitting in with his work in Gateshead which involved turning part of a church into a gallery which in turn attracted people to it which ordinarily wouldn’t have any connection with the church.

The origins of the word Chaplain apparently stems from the story of St Martin, a soldier who came across a naked beggar and cut off some of his cloak to clothe the man. This painting depicts it, even though it’s not the one which Jim used in his presentation (I couldn’t find that one). The cloak was called a cappella — a little cloak. This was then looked after by a cappellanus, as it was in Latin. In french this became chapelain, leading us to our word chaplain. So a chaplain means a bearer of the little cloak of St Martin; or, as Jim Described it, they are the Keeper of the Cloak of Compassion.

We turned to look at the Apostle Paul and observed that chaplains are to go where the Spirit leads; and that can sometimes be quite unexpected, just as in Act 16:7 — ”…and when they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not permit them”.

Another image which helps us think about chaplaincy is that of triage. Triage is all about getting the injured to the right place for treatment. Just so, chaplaincy isn’t just a stand alone ministry but engages with people where they are and helps assist them get to the Church, and, more importantly, Jesus. The idea of service was implicitly very strong here too. Following this Jim referred to Nouwen’s notion of the Wounded Healer. He shared the quote:

What came together for me in this image was the realisation that the secret of ministry consists of two things; first, the faithful tending of one’s own woundedness, and second, the willingness to move to the aid of another and make the fruits of one’s own woundedness available to others.

One person he encountered during his training in Durham inspired him to take a similar approach; to offer to join in the stories of others rather than to invite them to join in with our story. Several in the room shared some helpful insights born of their own experiences. Rose made a comment which particularly resonated with me.

I realised that we can’t love people professionally. We are called to be human alongside others in their situations.

I asked her about it and it arose out of her experiences of hospital chaplaincy which has led her to reflect on how we find Christ in the Hospital Ward and on her belief that simply being human is our best gift in ministry, and that when we are most human that is when we come closest to the divine.

A couple of times the idea of making space came up. Jim took us back to Genesis and to the creation of the land; the most primordial instance of creating a space safe from the chaos of the waters which covered the world. This metaphor of creating space can be done in the gallery, in conversations on the streets, to actively listen to the people we encounter and let them lead us on their pilgrimage rather than presuming how that should look.

We paused for a brief coffee break before resuming, turning from the chaplaincy element to focus more on the arts themselves.

Jim was remarkably engaging and interesting to listen to when he was talking about how different people engage with art. To engage with imagination is to explore unlearning a perspective, just for a moment, to look at things afresh. Imagination is always responding to an invitation; Jesus’ primary communication was the parables — an invitation to imagination. We can find it hard to do this. Imagination is such a free space that it can be hard to guide people into it because of our tendency to want to be secure, to be in control of whats happening. To Jim Jesus is one part God, one part teacher, one part artist (as aspects of his identity, no christological heresy intended!) — he doesn’t march into a crowd and deliver a lecture. He tells a parable, a story and then people respond and say ‘what was that about then?’ and then he would teach them.

The Gospel in a nutshell is invitation, no coercion.

Jim proceeded to share with us a variety of examples of the kinds of things that they did in Gateshead, ranging from ‘Urban Halos’ to getting street artists to create murals based on the Lindisfarne Gospels when they had them in the area. One of the moments of joy was seeing children use prayer stalls to lean on to draw. The idea that we can open the church up to enable people to engage with their own creativity and that this will help them to feel comfortable in what can seem like an uncomfortable, unfamiliar environment.

One of the interesting observations Jim made was that the churches we have now were decorated and designed in a spirit of sacramental creativity. What, then, can we do in the same spirit today? When artists visited, the first thing they saw was a gift — the gift of space. One of the difficult balances was negotiating the fear of what could be lost by the community which encouraging the optimistic eye for potential from the artists outside of the church community.

I was reminded of having recently watched the Get Down on Netflix when he started talking about graffiti and street art, and the elements of sometimes quite profound truth which can be found in unexpected places. To return to the theme of Andy Byers’s talk about TheoMedia, we must always allow for God to speak truth through the absurd, unexpected and ‘non-churchy’ forms of media.

The session started coming to a close by looking at a portion of this fascinating TEDX Columbus talk by Cindy Foley, it’s worth a watch as we think about what is art?

“I have been amazed to see how easy it is to get people over the participation gap with compassion”. — Jim

This session has been one of my favourites so far, I think. It has been great to reflect on how creativity can lead to effective communication as we faithfully encounter God and bring that encounter to the people we meet.

For more from Jim, check out this interesting reflection of his on arts chaplaincy.

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