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So you want to…start or develop a creative project?

Perhaps you are a church who wants to start a creative project with your community?  Or  maybe you would like some fresh ideas to develop what you are already doing? An AIM consultancy might be the answer.  Mandy Carr explains why.

Part of the purpose of the Arts in Mission ministry is to encourage congregations to engage with their communities by doing things that ‘make their hearts sing’.  I’ve seen how both big and small projects give purpose and meaning and how, through this engagement, relationships are forged and nurtured.  Often people find a place to belong and at times that leads onto discovering faith.  New skills are developed and a deep sense of satisfaction comes, both from the process and the finished article.

In my travels around the Diocese I have seen some beautiful artistic expressions and some great imaginative ideas that could easily be adapted and used elsewhere.  Although my time as Arts in Mission Co-ordinator has convinced me of the value of this ministry, often churches are not sure how to envisage a creative project that suits them.  It can either be seen as an optional extra, and therefore a luxury that falls outside the often heavy demands of parish ministry, or it’s seen as not relevant for their congregation or their context.  In response, I would like to suggest an alternative view.

We are starting a new initiative as part of the Rochester Arts in Mission ministry.  We would like to offer an AIM consultancy to those looking to pursue a creative project.  The most important thing to state is that this is about starting where the church is.  It is not about taking an idea off the shelf and squeezing it in to fit each context, it is about a partnership where an idea may go through many incarnations in order for the church to make it their own.

One example of this is at St. Peter’s church, Ditton.  Revd. Priscilla Payne began a knitting group, called ‘Crafty Coffee’ two and a half years ago.  Advertising in the parish magazine, she was amazed when eighteen people turned up for the first meeting.  Since then the group has gone from strength to strength, meeting weekly and having a meal together at the end of each term.  They have found their focus in a number of projects for Uganda, Cambodia, Israel and Nepal.  They have made hats and puppets to go in the shoebox gifts, tunics for newborns, jumpers as part of school uniform, and blankets.  They are, as one put it, ‘supplying the world’. The group welcomes newcomers from the community and there is always someone on hand to assist the beginners.  It is a positive focus for those who like to knit but don’t want to knit for themselves anymore.

There are also benefits for those closer to home.  The group makes special sleeves complete with buttons and other features designed purposefully for the restless hands of people with dementia.  These are welcomed by the hospice and now, Maidstone Hospital.

They also make small gowns for the stillborn association for children to be buried in; a sign of care when life is at its rawest.   Christmas and Easter has seen the creation of ducks and Christmas puddings both with chocolate in.  These have been sold and the money given to Demelza hospice care.

This group has been prolific in their output and creativity.  We are showcasing all that they do to help other ‘knit and natter’ groups with ideas, or to encourage communities to start their own.  However, there is still room to develop other ideas and this is where the AIM consultancy came in.

Here was the opportunity to use this established and enthusiastic group to reach out to its local community, drawing in the schools and businesses in the area, and connecting it to the church year.  The idea put forward was to knit the characters of the nativity and to place them in various locations around the parish, including any local businesses that would participate.  Then the children in the pre-school and schools would be invited to look for them and tick them off when they have been found.  In discussion with Priscilla, this simple idea was transformed into a much bigger one, that involved the characters moving around every week for three weeks in Advent until they are joined by a tableaux of adults dressed up as nativity characters drawing them all to the church for the Christmas services.

This variation illustrates the point of AIM consultancies.  It is a partnership where ideas are developed in context, working with the resources available and what skills and interests the home congregation already have.   The idea put to the ‘Crafty Coffee’ group was immediately taken up  with enthusiasm and a ninety-five year old mother of one of their members set to work knitting the characters.   Negotiations are under way with the schools and pre-school and some of the businesses, all building community connections and drawing them into following the journey of the Advent Travellers. A simple idea, has become a vision and is now being shaped in the way that is appropriate for that place.  We hope to report back later on how this project has progressed.

AIM consultancies are not just about providing ideas that can used to initiate or develop a creative project or ministry, some of our artists are available to give support to others.  Since featuring the Textile Artist, Diana Springall, on our website, a congregation have asked her to help them oversee their own project.  It is wonderful to have such skill and experience to call on.

In order to promote the work of AIM in the Diocese and to help a wide variety of congregations, no fee will be charged for a general consultancy.  Donations are however always welcome for the continuing work of AIM.  Those who wish to engage an artist for a consultancy through the AIM website should speak to the artist independently to see if a fee or expenses are required.

Whether you are a church wanting to start something but are unsure about what to do or how to go about it, or like Ditton, you are already established in a creative ministry but are looking for another strand to develop, an AIM consultancy may just be the thing for you.

If you would like to discuss the possibility of an AIM consultancy then please contact me at

mandy@carrfamilyonline.co.uk

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