Theatre Church (part VIII a)

So the start of term is well under way up here in Durham; Freshers fill our streets wearing togas, academic gowns and other varieties of fancy dress, songs identifying them with their college ring in the air and the traditional rivalries are back! In our quiet, more ‘mature’ part of the university system our college, not the typical undergraduate college, has begun lectures and we returning students begin to build a new community from the shattered remains of the previous year. This process is fun, exciting, full of potential but exhausting for an introvert like me. Meeting so many new people and always judging ‘how much do I commit to this relationship?’As I watch from a relative distance this new community forming, with its intricate dynamics and power plays (some of them involve me I have to admit) I wonder what makes a community.

As I step ever closer to the first utterance in public of the seed of an idea that is my placement, I have begun to feel ‘pre-launch jitters’. The two questions I have for myself are: ‘How do I invite people to something I don’t know?’ and ‘how does this community organically grow if I have created a forced introduction?’

Let’s start with the first question. Communicating the vision is an important part of the establishing of any community but how clear is any vision if you don’t know the people who will form your community? We can have hypothetical people with hypothetical needs and create something for them in our imaginations thus constructing a vision for the trajectory but it’s based on hypotheticals. I’m left with the same question that I have played through in my mind for some months. I sought the advice of two friends and advisors. One of them suggested that the invitation should be honest and intriguing “Come along on Monday nights to explore, play and see what happens!” … interesting concept. Creative people will love the space for creativity and it’s certainly different from the usual “I’m doing such and such a play and I need you to take on the role of so and so with these lines.” It also doesn’t limit the possibilities. It also helps me to remain honest about where I’m coming from; I’m a trainee vicar whose only aim is to meet some people passionate about drama and to see what happens. My other friend/advisor suggested a slightly more prescriptive approach but one that equally has benefits. “I have a process of theatre theory that I believe in and would like to share it with whoever wants to hear it.” Another interesting approach. What I like about this approach is it narrows the criteria but not too much that it will be alienating.

This first question forces me to face an issue that needs to be addressed; what is my aim? The original vision was deliberately vague to take into consideration the complete unknown. Now, however, I’m at the stage where I have processed a lot of information, I’ve reflected on where I feel passionately called to and what I feel God wants to do. I have arrived at a place where the things around me are coming into focus, instead of looking far off into the horizon I’m seeing things close up. I have been able to arrive at this place by way of negation. I don’t want my Monday night workshops to be busy, I want the group to be small so I can form relationships with people. I don’t want Monday nights to be director led, I want there to be an ensemble feel which I am a part of. I don’t want Monday nights to be planned, structured and full of material, I want to be led by the spirit responding to the needs of the group. What I have concluded is I’d like to gather a group of people who are committed to exploring the nature of theatre and how they as an individual can, through this exploration, discover what it means to be human.

This sounds like a good mission statement. There are some issues in it which need to be worked out, i.e. what does commitment look like and how realistic is this within an artistic, student community. The interesting thing, however, is that there’s no mention or prescription of spirituality and or religion allowing people the freedom to engage in whatever they want. This leads me to Acts 17 where Paul goes to Athens and preaches to the philosophers there about ‘the unknown God’. This passage as served as a basis of most of my theological reflection on my placement and it struck me that Paul never mentions Christ and yet people come to believe in Him. The powerful thing about this is that I don’t have to force Christ into the room because he is there already. As we discover what it means to be human we discover more about Christ…discuss!

As the new community in college is being shaped I am conscious of the people who I welcomed last year as they looked around the college discerning whether to come here or not. I remember talking about ‘this community’ but now that they have entered into ‘this community’ it has changed, people have left and new, unknown people have arrived. I was inviting people into a community that no longer exists and I couldn’t guarantee what ‘that community’ would look like. At the time, however, I had an idea of what a community in this place with these aims would look like. It turns out to be different but I hope the central idea and concept still remains. To invite someone to something that you don’t know is impossible because the truth is if you’re inviting them to it its because you have a vague understanding of what it could be and that must be worth an invitation!

So I guess I do know what this placement looks like, in theory. I must press forward with this but be alert to the fact that it may not, indeed it probably won’t, look anything like that! Should the invitation be open to all or should I be specific? I guess that leads me into my second question…

Join me tomorrow as I reflect on ‘how does a community organically grow if it has begun by a forced introduction?’


  1. Dearest Ned
    You seeem to be asking two questions. Can we discover more of what it is to be human through theatre? You also ask if in discovering more of what it is to be human we will discover more of Christ. I think you know the answer to both those questions.
    You are wondering about how to allow the Holy Spirit to work and to lead and how random that might be. I only know from my own experieince that the Holy Spirit seems a bit like art in this respect, 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. Some good preparation can give tremendous freedom to others and allow the Spirit to move and surprise and lead. Sometimes when that happens it feels like all the prep went out the window but that’s ok. Sometimes the prep is everything and, pardon the pun, it all seems very undramatic. The Spirit blows where it will.
    As for changing communities – isn’t that part of our western culture now? – harder for introverts to feel comfortable with that. You may only have a few people. Many of the Fresh Expressions communities start with fewer than a few it seems! You only need two or three..
    With much love

  2. Thank you, Bernadette, for your encouragement and reminding me of some important points. I’m reflecting today on the nature of invitation. I’ve known for some time now that the personal invitation is a powerful tool. Arrow Leadership programme points out the we should aim to lead more like Jesus and he personally invited the people who he wanted to lead into leadership. This has given me more boldness to approach the people who I think/feel will benefit this space and time.

    Lookig forward to chatting things through with your husband later. I hope your well.

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