London Calling (part IV)

Starting my second week in Earls Court, I was full of expectation and excitement about what’s going on with this community and what I’m learning and discovering about myself and ministry. To start with, I’m being continually challenged and reminded of how big God is and how easily we limit Him to the work we’re involved in but so often this week I’ve been made aware of what God is doing all over London in different people’s lives and sometimes those things have nothing to do with the intentional and active work of the Church. God is already out working in people’s lives; all we have to do is go and get involved and help people to see Jesus as Lord!

Anyway… enough of that.

One of the main activities I’m involved in is an ‘Art Cafe’ which was set up by a passionate vicar in training (V.I.T.) already serving in Earls Court. His original idea behind it was making the church a space where Christians could invite their friends to engage in art and ask questions about faith. This was something I was very interested in but I saw a greater opportunity. This would be a great chance to reach out to artists who may not necessarily be invited or interested in a general event like this. V.I.T. and I have been creating a space where Christian artists (a painter, an urban photographer, an singer/songwriter and the homeless community) can display their work and present it as worship so people can see and, hopefully, find God in it.

The discussion we’ve been having throughout this week has been around who do we aim this event at? Do we need to have a specific audience in mind when it comes to events like this? If we specifically invite artists we need to aim to give them top quality art and discussions on the issues surrounding spirituality and art.

V.I.T.’s original desired audience was anyone who wants to come, interested in art or not. This broad target audience is great and all should be invited because God wants all to know Him and meet Him but does this mean we need to keep the content vague? Does this mean we should not explore deep issues and complex thoughts and ideas in order to not alienate people? If we are to have deep, meaningful and profound conversations with those who are deeply involved in the arts scene then we need to cause them to ask questions and to engage with the topic afresh on a deeper level. It’s like inviting a renowned scientist to come and engage in a conversation about physics and sitting them in a room with a small child and explaining why an apple falls to the ground with picture books. V.I.T. and I deeply want to engage in conversation, open and honest dialogue, with artists to explore the spiritual side of art with them in genuine and truthful way but we don’t want to go too deep that we lose the other side of the audience. Do we put aside the artist focussed event for another time and do it to the best of our ability or do we try and mix the two audiences?

This connects, also, with my experience in this multi-national area. As an English speaking (attempting to be) academic communicating to 25 different nationalities all of whom vary from non Christian visitors to lifelong disciples, I’m finding it difficult to find the right level at which to pitch a sermon/talk on discipleship. How do you engage in a discussion with people on several different levels at once without short changing one group and losing another?

In both these instances it is matter of who is it for? If the Art Cafe was solely aimed at ‘artists’ then the art part of the content can be deep and presume knowledge in this area and we could offer something genuinely challenging and thought provoking for them. The Art Cafe is not aimed solely at ‘artists’ and therefore we cannot speak as in depth about art or faith due to the non Christian visitors. The video prepared for the event (see ‘London Calling (A Little Interruption)’ post) presumes a certain knowledge of art and understanding of the language used but it was commented on that the audience will be various nationalities, stages of faith and involvement in the arts world. This means that something that, hopefully, will inspire conversation amongst some people needs to be diluted to engage more people. Would it then lose some of its impact?

But I want to engage with all people not just artists and I want to inspire conversation in all people. The vicar, quite rightly, suggests,

I think in an evangelistic setting it is entirely appropriate to preach as if no-one there knows anything (Nicky Gumbel’s old maxim – never underestimate intelligence, or overestimate knowledge) and you are explaining faith to a total non-Christian (albeit a seeker). Even if there are only two non-Christians there out of an audience of 100. Cos the aim is outreach.

The same is true of the art content for artists. It is right in this context to not overestimate knowledge of the art world or underestimate the intelligence of the public.

So it comes down to a question; should we presume no knowledge of the art world? If we do are we shying away from a great opportunity to discuss faith with artists in a challenging way?

Through these questions we’ve arrived at some final decisions for this event; The video will be there for those who want to engage on a deep level along with some of my introductory thoughts. The introductory thoughts will try and presume intelligence but not knowledge of arts. The theatre piece, which I will perform, has been tested in front of a ‘non arty’ and ‘arty’ crowd and both have loved it. The artist and the musician, along with the brief talk by the vicar will be accessible to all and hopefully will further feed those who want to discuss further the topics raised.

The event is going to be great and there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and there’ll be a group of people ready to engage with the any issue on any level. The Art Cafe will be open from 3pm to 9pm on Thursday 16th and Friday 17th September in St Luke’s Church, Redcliffe Gardens, and there will be a short presentation by an artist, musician and me discussing the relationship between art, faith and our work. The presentation will start at 7pm. Come along on the day for coffee, tea and/or cake, or the evening for the presentation and live music. If you are aware of anyone who’s interested in art and faith/spirituality why not invite them too!