Creativity Begins in the Sanctuary

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As part of our True North Campaign, we are publishing articles that highlight the impact of Anglican Compass. Here we welcome Elizabeth Demmon, who explains the unique relationship between Anglicanism and the arts, and calls for the continued development of an artistic community here on Anglican Compass. Enjoy!

A Heritage of Artists

The Anglican heritage has a long history of producing and nourishing artists. The poetry of John Donne and George Herbert, the hymns of Charles Wesley, and the celebrated works of many beloved 20th century authors including Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, and C.S. Lewis, were all informed by a robust Anglican faith.

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And it is no wonder. Our very form of worship—in which we draw near to the heart of the Creator God—requires the creative engagement of each worshipper. One of the hallmarks of Anglican worship is the beautiful language of our common prayer. Another is our sacramental, liturgical, whole-body worship. Grappling with divine mysteries, like the incarnation or the grace of the sacraments, requires theological imagination. This is a creative endeavor.

Catechesis in Creativity

Growing up, I was moved by the mysteries of Christian worship from a very early age. The holistic experience of the liturgy laid down, layer upon layer in my heart, a lasting foundation of prayer and worship, thanks be to God. It also shaped me in my creative life.

From my humble beginnings as a preliterate choirgirl, music surrounded me and nourished me. My parents were both active in music ministry at church, and I often found myself hanging around before and after services as they practiced—and usually roped me in. I went on to learn a whole jumble of different instruments and to study clarinet in college. For all the many ensembles I have performed with, the very first in my memory is my own church family, singing songs of praise together.

Together with music, the church was also a place filled with books. The weight of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Hymnal juggled in my hands throughout the service seemed like a natural part of corporate worship. And what the books themselves contained, from Holy Scripture to the poetry of the collects and hymns, wove around me as a literary tapestry long before I could even understand many of the words. These shaped my love of literature and creative writing.

Across reading, writing, and music, my creativity began in the sanctuary.

A Disconnect of Community

In adulthood I have participated in a number of creative communities: Brazilian drumming, creative writing, arts galleries, critique partners. They have provided friendship, solidarity, and support – but often not a shared faith. In my experience, many communities of artists are decidedly secular.

Christians believe in a Creator God who has made us in his image. As sub-creators, to use the term coined by Tolkien, Christian artists belong at the forefront of artistic expression, and the church belongs right there with them, supporting and equipping artists to be witnesses. The arts also belong in church conversations and teachings, whether created by believers or not, in order to fully engage our hearts, minds, and imaginations.

Here is the exciting thing: Anglican artists are involved in communities and organizations all over the province and internationally. But, as is the case with the many ministries and initiatives popping up throughout the young ACNA, they don’t always know about one another. This is where Anglican Compass can step in and serve as a gathering place to highlight these projects and connect artists and faith communities to each other.

Anglican Compass and the Arts

Anglican Compass already has posts that explore the dialogue between faith and art, especially in literary and musical expressions. I love this list of novels for every pastor to read because it celebrates the formative power of fiction. The Behind the Hymn series of articles dives into the context and beauty of beloved hymns.

One favorite essay touches on how the Anglican faith offers an important antidote to the world’s invitation to “follow your heart,” a particularly threatening temptation to those in the creative arts. The author, a self-proclaimed “recovering expressive individualist” tells his story from the perspective of a seminarian and then priest, but his point is vital to the creative life of faith for artists as well.

Anglican Artists in Community

Are there groups of composers who are collaborating to write new music for the church service? Are there works of poetry, children’s fiction, screenplays, or choreography steeped in liturgical worship and releasing its flavors in new ways? How can Anglicans today interact with secular artistic culture? These questions and more can connect Anglican Compass readers to the many projects and communities already out there working to strengthen ties between faith and art.

My hope is for more posts that dive into that rich intersection of faith and art, exploring works of Anglicans artists, and providing tips for how Anglicans today, both clergy and lay, can engage with art to enrich their spiritual lives and ministries. And, finally, to take the delightful and inviting image of a digital front porch, let’s create a gathering place to connect with each other and discover projects, communities, and events that will support and inspire a new generation of Anglican artists.

Look for more by Elizabeth on the intersection of faith and imagination. And please support the work of Anglican Compass, so we can continue to publish on Arts & Culture, serving both artists and the church!

Published on

November 11, 2022

Author

Elizabeth Demmon

Elizabeth Demmon is a writer and musician who grew up in the Anglican tradition. She is married to Mike, an Anglican priest and U.S. Army chaplain, and together they have three children.

View more from Elizabeth Demmon

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