The Church and The Arts

It is very topical to talk about the arts here in the UK as a lot of funding has been cut.  Earlier today I read Phil Ritchie’s blog, who like me is a priest in the Church of England.  During prayers this morning we both remembered John Donne who was a poet, a priest and the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.  This inspired Phil to asked the question “where are today’s poet priests”?  When I read this it opened up a much broader issue for the church to consider:

‘How are our churches cultivating todays artists, musicians, poet’s, singers, songwriters, sculptors, glass blowers….. our artists’?

Historically the church was the main place that cultivated the arts.  It funded the arts.  It commissioned the arts.  It inspired the arts.  *God* inspired the arts.  People looked at the majesty of creation and artistic expression poured from within.  When people read the scriptures, poetic expressions overflowed.  As people contemplated the awe and wonder of God, the notes flowed onto the manuscripts.  You need only walk into one of the many museums in the UK and you will see the great works that the church has cultivated and inspired throughout the ages.  The church was the hub around which the arts rotated.  Music was created on the church’s instruments.  Glass was crafted for it’s windows.  Stone was carved for display in, on or around it’s buildings.  Art was painted to hang inside or even painted straight onto the walls of it’s chapel’s, monasteries and Cathedral’s. 

When I was training for ordination I was lucky enough to do a placement at a church where they carved the prototype pillars for Durham Cathedral.  With the modern church there is a financial reality that causes me to marvel that there was an era in which Durham Cathedral could be envisaged, never mind created.

The modern world comes with all sorts of things that people didn’t predict.  They said that in “the future” we would have vast quantities of free time with which to enjoy ourselves.  Now that we are here and now firmly planted within “the future” the reality is that we have less free time than ever before.

Where are today’s poet priests? 

Whether ordained or lay the modern church is struggling with a financial reality and an administrative reality that leaves little time for the arts.  As parishes are placed together with reducing numbers of both ordained and lay alike, “the job” becomes increasingly time consuming.  This is coupled with the propensity in all modern world workplaces for paperwork.  Everything must be filled in, signed in triplicate and sent to the correct office to be stored in the appropriate filing cabinet…. for each church that you are working with.  For those who work for the church this comes with an additional emotional constraint that plays upon the sense of guilt about these things.

An unending task with an emotional attachment?  Ponder that for a moment if you will.

When we contemplate the arts and their place within the church we have to ask how much they are currently valued by the church.  For many, the arts are a guilty secret that is indulged in when a sneaky couple of hours off are partaken of one evening whilst no one is looking.  If we engage with them more often we are often perceived to be elevating our self-indulgence above our calling to serve ‘the church’.  This is why I know several people who were musicians in the ‘previous life’ that they ‘gave up’ before ordination. 

If this is the reality in which the modern church lives, how do we perpetuate the “rich tradition of priests who fulfilled this part of their vocation through poetry” and other art forms into the future?


Mental Illness

My wife works with adults suffering with mental health problems.  This is something that affects a large portion of people and is hugely stigmatised.  It is time to break this stigmatism and enable people to live their lives.

Why Approving Women Bishops is Important for Fresh Expressions

With the current debate in the Anglican Church about whether women should be consecrated to the Episcopate in the UK part of the communion it is rare to see debate that doesn’t just revisit old territory.  I don’t think I have previously come across debate around this issue that explores how our leadership structures relate to Fresh Expressions of faith. 

David Muir has written an excellent piece for Share The Guide entitled “Why approving women bishops is important for fresh expressions“.  It is an excellent, concise and profoundly theologically reflective piece calling to examine the issue of God’s character.  I hope you will go and read the whole article so I will merely quote it here.  This paragraph highlighted a very important question about the way in which we view the past, present and future and our relationship with God.

God is forming communities of faith within 21st Century British society. He calls those communities to be different, in ways that reflect and reveal his holy character within our particular human cultural setting. But he does not call us to be the same as the peoples he has related to before, as if they were entirely shaped into his will already. If we copy our forefathers in that kind of way, we become merely a people apart, separated from society around in a kind of time warp, a culture trap, with distinctives that for that very reason fail to reveal the heart and character of God in our particular setting.

Lenten Reflection

For lent I’ve been looking for ways to reinvigorate my prayer life and my bible study.  I have been doing the Big Bible project with my wife and it has been a real springboard to our discussions.  A friend began posting these 24-7 prayer video clips.  From Ash Wednesday I have been posting them to our church Facebook page.  They’re all available via their YouTube channel and I’ve found it a really easy way of encouraging people through lent.

New Monasticism

Say One For Me

Last year you may remember the “say one for me” campaign.  People were encouraged to put a poster in a local venue and collect prayers from the people in our towns and cities.  These would then form part of the intercessions in our churches during lent.  Well it’s back and this time there is a website and a facebook group.

I guess I’d better put a poster in the coffee shop 😉

Cafe Church

One of the questions I keep asking when it comes to Fresh Expressions is “why do we take a cafe and put it into church rather than the other way around”?  It isn’t limited to cafe church but this picture of a Starbucks cup with a paragraph by Rick Warren made me ask it again.  And then my question became “when did cafe church become so corporate”?

Jennifer Aniston’s Sex Tape

For a while I’ve been looking at social media as a communication tool.  You will have noticed that I have posted  many blogs about the ways in which the internet can create a sensation that either builds up or destroys its target.  This flash mob video is a great example of how something can spread like wildfire and become a sensation.  However, who can forget the 10 million hits that destroyed United Airline’s reputation?

Above we have a great example of how the internet viral has challenged mainstream communication.  By bringing all of the viral clichés together with the words “Jennifer Aniston’s Sex Tape”, Smart Water pinpoint two key things:

  1. Viral video clips sell things by word of mouth and recommendation unbelievably well.
  2. We can identify what has worked in the past but it is really difficult to say what will work in the future.  It is a totally deregulated phenomenon and out of the hands of “the man”.  “The man” wants to use it but doesn’t know how.  And if it is used by “the man” people are less likely to pass it on as it stinks of “the man”.


For international women’s day there are some stark statistics which are highlighted in the above video.  Well done Daniel Craig.

I’m married to a woman with a doctorate who earns vastly more than I.  Fortunately she has been given the opportunities that many women on Earth are not.  Some times because I grew up in a world of equality where we were educated to believe that we were entitled to the same rights, I forget that globally there are many whose rights are taken away from them.  Expectation is not that they should achieve their potential but that they should  make sacrifices for their brothers.

@DaveGorman pointed out the irony of this poll.  Dear world, please can you stop corporately failing us!

To Hell With Rob Bell

I’ve been pretty busy at the moment.  I missed out on the whole “Rob Bell nuclear winter” that the internet experienced over the weekend due to the above advert.  There will be much debate about the Systematic Theology of the after life.  This will no doubt continue to chunter on until the returning Eschaton arrives and cracks some heads together. 

I am intrigued by the book and look forward to reading it.  However, what has actually stirred within me is a question about the way in which ‘the church’ operates.  How do we as Christians deal with each other in a world of social networking?  If social networking is to be a useful tool for communicating the Christian faith within the world in which we live, what are we saying about ourselves?  Rob Bell made it into the top ten trending topics on twitter because of the above advert.  @robbell became the focus of much abuse based upon the suppositions people have made about the theology contained within this as yet unpublished book.  It is perceived as a threat to the orthodoxy and status quo of bible belt America.

Unfortunately, @robbell is a web designer from the UK.  @robbell has become the focal point of a campaign of abuse misdirected at @realrobbell.  And with this incident the world exposes the truth about how disciples are really known.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.


Sorry @robbell and @realrobbell.  Sometimes we suck.