'An ecumenical group of like-minded artists'
A creative ministry which harnesses the talents of local artists to explore life and share faith in Jesus is looking forward to its third year
Exploring the theme of 'broken' in an empty high street shop through poetry and photography; helping residents think about recycling through an interactive exhibition; joining the steering group of the town's festival - it's been a busy couple of years for Christian artists in Bicester.
A group was formed in November 2016, following a five-week ‘Creative Call’ course run by Sy Baker, artist and creative ministry lead at Orchard Baptist Church, Bicester.
It began with 10 people, with an aim to support and encourage local artists and creatives of all types to use their creative gifts in mission.
'The arts are an ongoing dialogue in which people explore what it means to be human,' explains Sy. 'The church has a lot to offer the local community and the arts, the experience of creativity, is a meeting point on a path to explore and share our faith in Jesus Christ.
'As creative people, we must embrace God’s gift to our utmost and seek to be faithful witnesses of what we have seen and heard in and through our art. As Christians we are called to create and portray authentically our life experience, biblically informed and through the lens of a Christian worldview.'
The groups meets regularly to encourage each other and make art, and outreach is a significant aim. Its first exhibition took place in May 2017: called ‘Broken’, it used poetry, mixed media and photography to explore the brokenness of our world, our lives, and how Christ willingly became broken because of his love for us.
Held in an empty high street shop, the exhibition engaged and challenged 235 mainly non-Christian members of the public through the artists' interpretation of the theme. With artist and prayer teams on hand, visitors were able to discuss the works of art, some at length, often leading to shared prayers, requests and further contact.
A book of the exhibition was created and distributed to the coffee shops in the town.
The second major project took place in June 2018 - an exhibition of art and poetry called Recycled and Renewed
based on 2 Corinthians 5:17
- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!
The aim of this interactive exhibition was to provide artistic and cultural outreach to the community in Bicester, drawing attention to the belief that ‘Recycling & Renewed’ speaks into a condition that impacts us all. In particular, the contributing artists wanted to share the good news that we are all renewed in Jesus Christ, as well as exploring the obvious environmental issues. 250 people viewed the exhibition with similar engagement.
Sy explained that many of the group had never previously exhibited, and the first exhibition was 'a challenge and a blessing'. For others, he added, using the arts more openly as part of a service was not just a case of rocking up with paint and easel: in both areas a level of trust between artist, minister, congregation and community, has to be built with a few barriers to overcome first.
'Many of the group have never explored using their God-given gift for His purpose in church let alone in public, but the opportunity to say through our creative expression, what for many words struggle to do, can and has had an impact on local people’s lives.
'It is a privilege to watch creative people come out of the woodwork from artistic isolation, wanting to be a part of this creative ministry while growing in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and seeing how God uses that creativity.'
The group has now grown to 53 members from churches in and around Bicester, including a few living further afield. They have a range of creative skills, backgrounds and experience, and include painters, illustrators, textile artists, poets, writers, photographers. Other non-artists who support the group in prayer and encouragement.
There have been other developments, too. Earlier in 2018 the group was invited by Cherwell District Council to be part of the new three-year Bicester Festival of Culture: it represents the Christian community on the festival steering group, bringing a Christian prospective to how the community, culture and creativity of Bicester is encouraged.
Last month the group was formally recognised and endorsed by CiB (Churches in Bicester), and has been renamed the CiB Creative Arts Group. Member churches in CiB are responsible for overseeing, nurturing and providing guidance to each of the local town-wide endorsed projects: Orchard Baptist Church, under the ministerial leadership of Revd Steve Barber, supports the newly re-named group.
With the support of CiB, the group is looking forward to more opportunities in 2019. 'We are becoming an ecumenical group of like-minded artists', said Sy, 'with regular gatherings at a local pub or coffee shop to encourage and make art.
'Some are expanding networking in community, joining the local Bicester Arts Network and contribute to the Bicester Festival from the outset.'