To describe Rev Ken Rookes as creative would be something of an understatement. The UCA minister is an accomplished writer, artist and performer. In what he describes as his ‘spare time’, Mr Rookes is a volunteer chaplain with the Victorian State Emergency Service. And for the past 25 years, his alter ego – Mr Gravel the clown – has entertained children and adults alike.
Since his ordination in 1986, Mr Rookes has expressed himself in poetry, much of it reflecting on the ancient stories of the biblical texts. His Seasonal Poems illuminate the current or impending season in the Church’s year. He views his creativity as a reflection of his life.
“Art is an expression of life; its fears and hopes, values and passions,” Mr Rookes said.
“It is also primarily an attempt to communicate, and seeks a response from others. My faith is an important component of my life, and certainly I would expect that my faith will find expression in my art. In my poetry, faith is perhaps more apparent than in my visual output, as the starting point is so often a passage of scripture.
“There are many starting points for art, there are many ending points, too, not always planned.”
In recent years Mr Rookes has explored his passion for the visual arts, in particular, painting and print-making. He attended life drawing classes to develop his skills, and considers it a learned discipline. Although not all of his drawings and paintings are intentionally spiritual, Mr Rookes feels they reflect internal challenges and emotions that sometimes need an outlet.
“The artist does not always set out to make a big statement; sometimes artists simply need to explore something, to challenge themselves, to capture some light, or a feeling. Some of the art produced may have been pleasing, but one might struggle to see it as an expression of faith. It was still worthwhile,” he said.
“I have also produced work that was an intentional expression of faith. Three print series, Jesus and the Goths, The Playful Jesus (linocuts) and The Prophet (intaglio), were deliberate attempts to address biblical and theological themes in art.”
Throughout the past decade, Mr Rookes has increasingly sought to use visual arts to engage faith communities in reflecting on biblical stories, faith and discipleship.
“Visual art has a capacity to surprise, to sneak past our defences, parable-like, and take us to a place where we might be ‘enopened’ to the Spirit. I like to believe that a good poem has a similar capacity. He has worked with puppets for more than a quarter of a century, and also engages people at community events and KUCA camp outs as Mr Gravel. He said juggling, balloon modelling and the use of puppets enable him to engage with people from all walks of life and all age groups.
“It is the element of surprise that links my art, poetry and performance work to my calling as a disciple of Jesus, and a Minister of the Word. At the centre of the gospel is grace, and grace never fails to surprise.”
Mr Rookes has been married to Jane for nearly 35 years, and has grown up children, Thomas and Anna. He recently moved to Willowra, a remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory, where Jane has taken a position as a primary school teacher. After 26 years following him around two states, Mr Rookes thought that it was time to honour Jane’s calling as a teacher, and do the same for her.
Ken continues to post a weekly poem on the Loddon-Mallee Blog: http://loddon-malleeuca.blogspot.com/
Ken freely gives permission for people to use his work. He enjoys being asked. Ken’s artwork can be viewed at www.kenrookes.com.au His poetry book, Promptings & Provocations can be ordered directly for $20, ($24 (posted within Australia) from firstname.lastname@example.org