By Sue Doggett
My interest in Christian spirituality began back in the mid 1990s when I was training to be a Reader in the Church of England. Alongside theological studies, the training course covered a wide variety of topics exploring many aspects of ministry and the Christian life. As Readers in training, we were linked in to the Oxford Diocesan programme of Continued Ministerial Training and able to book on to training days which took place at Diocesan Church House. One of the courses that caught my eye was entitled What is Christian Spirituality?. As this was a question I hadn’t really thought to ask myself in the many years I had been a Christian, I was curious as to what the answer might be, so I booked on to the day. The training turned out to be rather dry and word-based and, to be honest, I came away none the wiser. But it did get me thinking. I realised that my experience of the Christian faith up to that point (some 30 years, if truth be known) had largely been word-based. Yes, there was the fellowship side which had, of course, been very meaningful and there was worship music which also touched me at a deep level but, beyond that, I had never explored Christian spirituality through what one might term ‘play-based’ experience.
Through my work with Bible Reading Fellowship, I had the privilege of attending the annual national conferences of the Church of England Diocesan Children’s Work Advisors network. Among other exemplary skills, Diocesan Children’s Advisors are on the whole highly creative people and I was soon introduced to a kaleidoscope of creative ways to reflect on one’s journey as a Christian. From imaginative props to a myriad of artistic expressions, the ideas flowed in a seemingly endless stream. I was very excited. Here was the answer I had failed to discover during my training as a Reader. As Christians our relationship with God is deeply enriched when it is allowed to resonate with all our senses. Essentially, far from being word-based, Christian spirituality is experiential; full of colour, imagination and creatively. It is to be found in visualisation, in stillness, in the natural word and, yes, in play. Above all, it is available to everyone, whether or not we count ourselves as artistic.
In 2013 I was delighted to meet Revd Annie Henry Holland who, at that time, was in the process of training for the ministry. As part of her training, Annie had developed an idea of exploring Christian spirituality through the arts and she invited me to join the group. At first, it was just a four session programme run over consecutive months during the season of Epiphany. Each session used a different art form to explore four themes related to Epiphany: star, gifts, journeying and, to link in with Jesus’ baptism, water. The group loved the sessions so much that Annie was persuaded to continue running regular monthly sessions and Art & Spirituality in the Mounts Bay United Benefice was born. Annie stepped back a few years ago when she moved to Truthwell to mange her own studio, The Angel at Tremorran, together with a busy B&B business, but the group continues to run at Perran Church under the leadership of Vivien Taylor who has been involved with the project since its inception. The Mounts Bay United Benefice Art & Spirituality group news can be found on the benefice website: https://mountsbayub.wordpress.com.
Divine Creativity has been born out of all the experience described above, it’s been quite a journey! Essentially, Divine Creativity is an invitation for people to meet together in a non-threatening environment to enjoy fun, friendship and food. Under normal circumstances we would start the session with a short time of biblical reflection centred around a visual focal point, comprising carefully selected 3D artefacts related to the theme. This is followed by a guided craft activity, again related to the theme. The session concludes with an informal opportunity for the group to share their thoughts before everyone enjoys a shared lunch to which each member has contributed. Sue Doggett