Last October, a group of clergy to which I belong had a session on creativity with the Manchester artist Stephen Raw. He got us creating banners and suchlike, which made me wonder whether it might be possible to build a "Lent course" around creative activities. After all, we spend lots of time reading and discussing. Surely we ought to be able to engage with our faith in other ways?
So, in conjunction with the local Methodist church, we embarked on five weekly sessions on discipleship, working in the church building. (The Methodists made their own smaller scale version of the project to take back to their own church. Hopefully, I'll put up some pictures of their project when I can get some.)
The sessions were broadly on:
1) Barriers to discipleship
2) Helps along the way
3) Walking together (the church)
4) The cross transforms
5) Christ is risen
The main idea was to produce something pretty impressive in scale which would turn the church into a statement about the call to discipleship.
Each session began with a short discussion in groups, sharing personal experiences and how best to express that within the constraints of each session:-
1) Barriers - we made a "flower arrangement" of dead and thorny things, with the container decorated with designs which expressed some hindrance to following Christ.
The start of the session had the church looking like a builders' yard; sand, branches, containers, and art material. What I hadn't really considered was the sheer amount of time and effort needed to gather material, set out the church for working, and tidying up afterwards.
The finished product was set up in the front pews - there was no chance of missing it, which was an important aspect of the project.
2) Helps - the second session had the participants working in groups to make painted banners which expressed something of what helped them along the way.
The finished products ranged from the deeply personal to more general statements to traditional Christian symbols. Try to spot the one by an art historian!
3) Together in the church - for this one, we decided to make a mobile. I'll confess at the outset that the finished product was slightly miscalculated, so its components do collide from time to time. Our excuse was that most people start with paper clips and drinking straws, while ours is about three metres across.
Groups discussed what they valued about the church, and made an element of the final sculpture which expressed that.
The end result was hung from one of the church's roof tie rods at the front of the nave, and is rather spectacular.
4) The cross transforms - a fairly obvious piece of symbolism, perhaps, but still effective.
We made a large cross and used bits of household rubbish to make decorations and artwork, which were then nailed to it.
The decorations ranged in size and complexity from modified advertising slogans to the most impressive - a discarded keep net which one group filled with symbols to represent Jesus' call to his disciples to fish for people.
Placed at the front of the nave, the colourful cross is the culmination of the lenten journey, with its message of change through the sacrifice of Christ.
5) Christ is risen - the final session is pure Stephen Raw, who has done this a few times. The link takes you to a really big example.
Individuals made letters which were later assembled into a huge banner spelling out the Easter acclamation: "Alleluia Christ is risen He is risen indeed Alleluia."
The end result was hung over the balcony at the rear of the church for Easter.
The complete project has the feel of a liturgical procession. The journey down the nave to communion passes banners depicting the support that is available to us on our journey, and an indoor thicket of hindrance, takes us under the mobile representing the fellowship of our shared journey in the church, and past the transformed rubbish on the cross.
When we turn back from communion, we see, through the mobile, the acclamation that Christ is risen. We think it's pretty good.