Gathering in artful abundance

At the 2012 Tasmania presbytery gathering, Artfull Faith project coordinator Christina Rowntree led attendees in reflecting on abundant life, creativity and joy through artistic expression.

“The camp was led by six local Tasmanian artists (some ministers) in music, digital photography, drama, mosaics, textile craft and rangoli (an Indian art form). The central metaphor in my presentation to the camp at the beginning of the weekend was the ‘Tree of Life’,” she said.

Ms Rowntree told the story of Creation (Genesis 1) in ‘Godly Play’ form for the children in attendance.

“The Creation Story has been described as a beautiful song which offers a way of understanding what happened in the past when abundant life was spoken forth and blessed as good by the Word of God.

“I also told the story of a future vision (Revelation 21) of abundant life within the City (the New Jerusalem) where a river of life flows. On either side of the river grows the Tree of Life with 12 kinds of fruit and ‘the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’.”

The calendar photograph (above) shows a jigsaw of leaves from the Tree of Life assembled by the children at the gathering.

“What may we discern from these ancient, visionary texts about our own creativity and artistry? Both biblical texts, the Song of Creation and the Vision of the New Jerusalem, present vibrant images of abundant life. The cosmos is gifted by God with health and wellbeing,” Ms Rowntree said.

She hopes that as a church we can assert the creativity of artists in visual, performing and literary arts – whether in the making of art or the appreciation of it – as a significant marker of ‘faithful discipleship’.

“We [the Uniting Church] accept that through the arts we may express the depth and mystery of faith, and give form to our doubts, fears and lament.

“And as I work with the arts and with artists in our synod, I am encouraged to see signs of abundant life everywhere, examples of the arts bringing joy and healing.”

Ms Rowntree sees herself as a catalyst to spark creativity within the church but also to link congregations with the artists in their locality. This kind of engagement is built into the process from the moment a presbytery or congregation request her involvement.

“When the Tasmania presbytery asked me to come to their gathering, they were after a retreat that was led by the arts.
“I responded by requesting they identify Tasmanian artists who could contribute as well.”

Ms Rowntree is interested in Alain de Botton’s recent claims about the value of art as something instrumental and therapeutic.

In an article for The Guardian he wrote: “There is nothing wrong with thinking of artworks as tools and asking them to do things for us.

They can help our psyches in a variety of ways: rebalance our moods, lend us hope, usher in calm, stretch our sympathies, reignite our senses and reawaken appreciation.”

Through bringing the Artfull Faith project to presbyteries and congregations throughout the synod, Ms Rowntree is hoping to communicate the importance of art and reawaken an appreciation of it as a core element of church life.

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