Beyond Words

How one church is growing the gift of creativity

by Tegan Brozynagirl painting

Picasso once famously said, "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." In a child's imagination anything is possible; a stick becomes a sword, a rock is a pirate ship, and the family cat is a tiger. In the drawings of a child a green unicorn can scamper beneath an orange sky. A child's creativity recognizes no limits.

As Christians we know that the source of this creativity is our Creator God who breathed life into the world and formed complex humanity from simple dirt. To create is to mimic the Creator. When artists paint or poets write they reflect the one who formed them and spoke them into being. Because we are formed in God's image, humans at any age have in them an innate creativity, and, as Picasso suggests, the real task is maintaining our inner artist as we age.

Modernity witnessed a growing divide between the art world and the church, with a significant amount of distrust and unease on both sides. But over the past 50 years, people of faith have been trying to reconcile this gap and help the church find its way back to God-inspired creativity. The first generation of artists of faith to lead the way found their voice in the 1960s and '70s. These forbearers worked openly as Christians in the art world, formed art departments in Christian colleges where there previously had been none, and also created organizations like Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), which seeks to support Christian artists as they relate to the church and to the world. Today, a new wave of artists of faith are reinterpreting the place of art in the church.

In 2004 the Boise Vineyard Church in Idaho launched VineArts in order to attend to and grow the gift of creativity in their community. The program was birthed rather organically when church member and artist Jessie Nilo felt a call to to bridge the gap between art and worship. Nilo knew that art and creativity could serve God, church, and community as well as reach out to artists both inside and outside the church.

Prior to the formation of VineArts, few leaders or members of the church expressed interest in engaging art, let alone in using art as ministry. However, as more people discovered the freeing and worshipful qualities of creating, the program caught on. Like life-giving red blood cells bringing oxygen to all parts of the body, VineArts now serves hundreds of men, women, and children in the church as well as in the greater community, reaching out to artists and non-artists alike to nurture their creativity, artistic ability, and spirituality. The mission has expanded to include open studio sessions, workshops hosted by teaching artists, art-focused Bible studies, and quarterly themed exhibitions in the church's gallery. Writing, design, multimedia, culinary arts, and gallery-hopping groups meet regularly throughout the year. The goal is to encourage every church participant to explore the world, connect with others, and worship God through creative play and an engaged imagination.

"Doing art at my church gives me a forum to express what the Spirit of God has laid upon my heart when words are not deep enough," says VineArts artist Sherri Coffield. "Without this form of expression I wouldn't be able to share my groanings from within, and others would miss the enrichment of seeing how the Lord moves in our lives. Being in community with like-minded artists has created a bond or family tie where once I felt alone, different, and isolated."

art tableArt also helps us to better understand ourselves. Like the Psalms, art is an outlet to express our joys and our sorrows. Says VineArts participant Alyee Willets, "Creating an art series about my recovery from anorexia in seven paintings brought me closer to Jesus, because I could visually express the process of brokenness that was bringing me to my knees in front of the Father for the first time…We are his hands. We hold his brushes to the canvas he has given us. I show up because I can show his glory, bring his healing, and reveal his majesty through my art in places mere words cannot go."
It is the desire to take that healing beyond the walls of the church that led to the creation of VineHearts, an outreach that brings art experiences to marginalized populations. Whether to a frightened young woman facing an unwanted pregnancy, a refugee family dealing with displacement, a lonely man in a nursing home, or a victim of domestic violence processing her pain, VineHearts provides an artistic outlet for expression and healing.

The folks behind VineArts believe that art is worshipful and that creativity breathes life into dry bones and reinvigorates the soul as well as the community. Church member Samuel Burns testifies to this: "I was someone who didn't 'know a thing about art,'" says Burns, "but just being in the church, seeing how much status quo has been 'destroyed' in such a beautiful, holy way through God's hand and many hands covered in paint, I now do know a thing or two about art. The VineArts team has been a witness and inspiration to me that I do have a creative side—and it cannot go to waste!"
Learn more.

Tegan Brozyna is a freelance artist and writer.

Also of interest:

Embracing the Arts, for the Love of God by Scott McElroy

In Protest of the Protestant Art Ethic by Tegan Brozyna

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