A Christian Artists Place

A few little things have happened recently that have brought back an old gripe of mine. That old feeling that as a Christian artist, one of the hardest hurdles is finding a sense of belonging in the church.

Next week there’s a five day Christian event for Christian artists. Professional Christian artists and creatives from around the world will be coming together to run workshops and events around Christianity and creativity. Of course, it’s all online because of the current situation, but that makes it even better, more affordable because I don’t have to find hotel fees and the event doesn’t need to hire huge venues.

The first small event happened a few weeks ago…

Actually, as I sit here, the first event that caused this recent sense of not belonging happened several months ago when an off-handed comment made it clear that my art will probably not be shown in my church.

Yep, my church won’t get to see things like this…

It’s ok though, this quilt was seen by someone who really wanted it and it has pride of place with someone who values the work and promises to use it.

The sense of not belonging goes way back to childhood though, being made to sing in the children’s choir at the Salvation Army, then told I’d never make friends if I didn’t learn to play a brass instrument.

I didn’t hate singing or playing a brass instrument, but it wasn’t really something I loved to do, more something I had to do, which as often happens, led to me fighting against it.

Probably the most memorable fight was when I was old enough to have a say in what I did or didn’t do. My parents were the visiting ministers at a Salvation Army church one weekend, and mum had told me that she wanted me to sing in the evening service.

At lunchtime I developed a headache and told mum I didn’t feel well enough to sing. Mum said I didn’t have a choice. Now, I was a determined young person and decided that this time, I would stand my ground. I told mum I was not going to sing. Her reply, “Oh, you will.”

We got in the car to head to the corps and again I said, “Mum, I’m not singing”

Her response, “Oh, you will”, and so it went on. This time, I would have my way.

Several times I repeated myself, as did mum, and I decided that I simply would refuse, as was my right.

The service started and I thought I’d won.

My mum was relentless in getting her way and unknown to me had approached the pianist, telling her that when she announced that I was singing she was to get herself ready. I normally sang with backing tracks and thought I’d win by just not handing any over.

So, halfway through the service, mum announced that I was going to sing, then said I would be singing from the song book.

I sat there, determined.

The pianist started playing.

I sat there.

Mum had the song book opened at the right page.

I sat there.

Everyone looked expectantly and I realised I would be the one looking foolish, so I got up, took the songbook and sang.

Forcing young people into doing things only makes them hate, and I put that event down as the time when my feelings of participating in Christian music took a downward turn.

Of course, I came to a better place with my singing for a while, managed to get a place in the London Philharmonic choir, switched my brass instrument to the flute which I enjoyed and at some point in the past, my solo singing career was thankfully put to rest.

But the damage of being forced into what really should have been free worship had been done, not just by my mum, and I have struggled with it ever since.

Anyway, after the off-handed comment about textile art not being allowed in church the isolation happened and we all went online. What a fantastic opportunity for a creative person and I’ve certainly used my time in isolation to my advantage.

My church recently started an online women’s group, so I joined. It was the usual join up process, reply to questions as to why you want to join then get a list of rules and agree to them.

Rule number 2 was a bit of a downer though:

2. No promotions or spam: Give more to this group than you take. Self-promotion, spam and irrelevant links aren’t allowed. If you have something personal that you’d like to promote please message an admin :-)

So, while the posts are mostly people showing other people’s art or photography and why it helps them as a Christian, or why they have a message to include about someone else’s art, I read the rule as saying I cannot post my own artwork, since that would be self-promotion.

So, I cannot share with my church images like this…

I don’t think my church is bad, quite the opposite, but I think it’s a part of the church on the whole that sees more value in musical arts, than in visual arts.

The third recent event, that really prompted me to write this post was a very recent comment from a Salvation Army minister on a random facebook post.

Not all recent events have been negative, and recently I took notice of an advert for a Christian Creative Summit. A 5-day online event for Christian artists and creatives. Of course, I signed up and am looking forward to experiencing that rare sense of belonging in Christianity.

I noticed the advert again on Facebook but it was the top comment that got my interest.

It was just a simple response which said,

“I haven’t seen what this entails but immediately a shudder went down my back.”

The idea of people finding value and worship and dare I say, a deeper relationship with Jesus, through non-musical art sends a shiver down the spine of many Christians and churches. Maybe that’s not exactly what he meant, but it’s how I’m often left feeling.

When pressed as to why he felt so negatively about this his response included the words…

“I’m words and music. Colouring in as worship leaves me cold.”

That, sadly is what I feel the church thinks it’s all about. Messy church, children gluing paper together, colouring in bible pages or a group of card makers adding to a stand of unsold crappy cards at the back of the church hall that no one wants.

Art, as worship, is actually used a lot in churches, just looking through the women’s facebook group at the endless photos of trees and sunsets shows that the church still wants to see visual art, but it’s got to come a long way to be appreciated.

You don’t sing a single song in church without the composer and writer credited and a contribution being given to the artist for allowing the church to use their music. Perhaps there needs to be a visual art license in the church, so that the artists who took the photos of trees that are so loved and shared, those Youtube videos that are added into the Sunday services, can also be financially supported. At the very least, they should receive the same accreditation.

In the meantime, I look forward to five days the rare sense that I am amongst like minded artists, and maybe I can find a way to move forward in feeling a better sense of belonging in the church as a whole.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

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