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Becoming a more creative church little by little

Christ Church, Orpington, is a community that values the Creative Arts.  Over time a Creative Arts Ministry has developed and this has included creative arts days, involving poetry, music, ceramics, textile art and mosaics.  Mandy Carr takes a look around with vicar, Jay Colwill. 

The first thing you notice when you arrive at the church is the large mosaic on the front of the building.  This was created by volunteers last year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the church.  It is a beautiful tree of life with the words ‘Jesus said: I have come to bring life, life in all its fullness.’  It has been a huge project and a result of the culmination of the learning attained through smaller projects in the previous years.  As you walk  around Christ Church there are a number of smaller mosaics, on the walls of the building, in the car park, even as part of a prayer walk.  Clearly everyone has got in on the act.

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It’s been something that all-ages have been involved in.  The Mosaic ministry has been led by Caroline Bailey and Jo Colwill.  They have offered a number of Creative workshops to children to educate and inspire.  First, they are shown a style of art, like Klimt’s or Gaudi’s, then they create a corporate piece in a similar style.  They are then encouraged to look at a sacred art theme and make their own piece of art.

The children’s art is taken very seriously.  Behind the church there is a special prayer walk where children have created their own mosaics on the theme of creation and these have been cemented into the walkway. There is a description of each of the tiles, framed in the lobby, not only honouring the children’s creative contribution but encouraging visitors and congregation alike, to walk the prayer path as an act of worship.

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Mosaics are such a feature at Christ Church that their on-site Café is called ‘Café Mosaic’.  Apart from offering food and drink and an opportunity to meet with friends there is also art to look at.  When I visited, Orpington Photographic Society were exhibiting some of their pictures. It is a great way to make links with the community and to welcome visitors into the church to see the exhibitions.

Creative days aren’t just for children either.  Jay showed me what had been created as a result of a session on the subject of freedom.  Participants were encouraged to express themselves freely with different coloured paint, splashing it all over rolls of wallpaper.  Then the artist, Jo Colwill, took the paper, tore it,  and cut shapes out of it, eventually mounting it on a screen to create a striking and original altar frontal.   It shows what can be achieved with imagination; something that they don’t lack at Christ Church.

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This ‘thinking outside of the box’ was illustrated further when we went into another part of the church.  With dividing doors it became another meeting room, but it didn’t stop there.  It was agreed that mirrored panels would be put on the dividers and suddenly the room, with its wooden floor, was transformed into a dance studio.  Jay explained that there are monthly meetings held there to dance, worship and pray together and the church has a partnership with Springs Dance Company as Christ Church provides a community placement for their apprenticeship scheme students.

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For all that Christ Church has achieved, and it is considerable, it starts with wanting to be creative and drawing all ages into that creative expression.  Jay said that when they started out they didn’t know anything about creating mosaics.  It was important to have Caroline, as a ceramicist, and Jo, as an artist, leading the projects, but the rest of the congregation have all learned along the way. It has enriched their community life together and given them the courage to think more creatively.   Now an All-Age worship workshop may focus on creating something together, like each person making clay poppies that will be painted and fired for an installation for Remembrance.

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Christ Church shows what can be done with vision, desire, and a willingness to take some risks together.

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