Celebrating Faith and the Arts

© Leslie Foster 2008

On Saturday night, November 15, between 100 and 150 people visited the CREDO Art Show, held at the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. The CREDO Art show was an artistic exploration of The Apostles’ Creed and the culmination of nearly a year of thinking and planning and nearly three months of worship services and sermons.

The evening began at 7:00 pm when the doors to the church opened. Behind the scenes, a team of about a dozen people were scurrying to put the finishing touches on the main gallery. By 7:30 pm there were 70–80 people in the foyer of the church, eating refreshments that were also artfully created by another team of church members and friends. At 7:30 we gave a very brief introduction and opened the door to the main gallery. For the next two and a half hours people came and went, enjoying some incredible art and having conversation.

For years I have wanted to do a sermon series on The Apostles’ Creed, exploring the ancient statement of faith phrase by phrase. While many Christians repeat the creed weekly in worship it is quite foreign to most Seventh-day Adventists, so I felt it would be an ironically fresh and almost edgy way to approach the subject of “belief” and “beliefs.” Our congregation is also pretty action oriented. It’s unusual for us to spend several months talking about our beliefs, so I felt it would be a good change of pace.

But I wanted more than just a one-way conversation about the Apostles’ Creed, where I stood up front week by week and intoned about orthodoxy. I wanted a real conversation. Most worship services are not set up for this, including our own, but we devised some ways to increase the interactivity.

Each week there were blank sheets of paper in the bulletin with the subject of that week’s sermon, the creedal phrase we were exploring and the question, “What do you believe?” We invited people to write their expressions of faith and conviction or to draw sketches of their beliefs, during the sermon. We collected close to 100 of these pages during the course of our 12-week series. These results were beautiful and thoughtful. You can see a sample of these here, here, and here. A more comprehensive feature will be coming soon.

The CREDO Art Show concept was hatched nearly a year ago in conversation with our leadership. Scott Arany, who is pursuing his M.A. in Worship, Theology and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary, and one of our church elders, wrote to me on December 4, 2007:

Something in my studies tonight prompted this idea that could go along with your idea for a sermon series on the Apostles Creed. Here are my rough thoughts. Let me know what you think.

Credo, “I Believe.” An artistic and musical representation of our faith…. Present as an art gallery with a concert. Music could be composed in advance…. I’ve long wondered what a visual statement of belief would look like, instead of only a printed sheet of bullet-points.

To see this dream fulfilled was inspiring. The goal was conversation; and a broader conversation than just words and the traditional vernacular of modern theological discourse. For centuries, music and the arts have been a central part of theological conversation. We wanted to revive this in our congregation. Our gallery—indeed, all art galleries or concerts—are about listening. One guest said to me, as we were looking a mixed-media piece in the gallery, “I like the fact that you guys are listening.” The comment took me by surprise. Not everyone would ‘get’ what we were doing so quickly, but he had discerned our intentions perfectly.

Among the paintings, photographs, poetry, an architectural model, a listening station, a sculpture and other mixed-media pieces, people’s faith was on display, and not just the faith of our church’s members. There were contributions from a local public high school, from friends of our members, and from friends of friends. Dozens of people visited the gallery that night that I had never seen before. We knew we didn’t want to spend a lot of money and time putting on an art show for our members alone. It just didn’t seem worth it. But the prospect of widening the conversation about faith through art to include our community outside the church was something that really excited us.

Our congregation is blessed with some incredible artists. If I tried to name them all I would certainly miss several, but one example will do. Sean Amlaner is a graduate of Southern Adventist University. He has been in Los Angeles for the past two years working in Hollywood as a special-effects artist on major motion pictures like The Incredible Hulk. Sean was the mastermind behind the transformation our very ordinary Chapel into an art gallery. He marshaled the energies of more than a dozen volunteers who worked tirelessly until the moment the doors opened.

It was a group effort that involved dozens of our members, friends in other churches and in our community, over almost a year.

If you attended the show, we would love to know what you thought. Please leave a comment below about your experience.

By Ryan Bell

Recent Comments

  • sarany said...

    1

    This was truly inspiring to experience! I’m so proud of our congregation, and the great community feel that emerged from both the weeks of study and the art show itself.

    The original thought that inspired this event came from studying the early Patristic Christian father, Athanasius, who lived in the early years of the church.

    Athanasius, On The Incarnation
    For as, when the likeness painted on a panel has been effaced by stains from without, he whose likeness it is must needs come once more to enable the portrait to be renewed on the same wood: for, for the sake of his picture, even the mere wood on which it is painted is not thrown away, but the outline is renewed upon it; . in the same way also the most holy Son of the Father, being the Image of the Father, came to our region to renew man once made in His likeness, and find him, as one lost, by the remission of sins; as He says Himself in the Gospels: “I came to find and to save the lost.

    I was inspired by idea of imago dei and the restoration of God’s image in us, the necessity of incarnation, if the portrait of someone becomes damaged and faded, we need the original model to be present with us in order for the image to be restored. Christ is both the Word (“In the beginning was the Word…”) and the Image of God (“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”). Both art and word are part of experiencing Christ.

    11/18/08 12:26 AM | Comment Link

  • Ray Tetz said...

    2

    Do you have additional photos of the show that you will publish? It would be great to see the work, as well as to sample the multimedia materials.

    An excellent idea; I’d love to see the resulting materials.

    11/18/08 6:34 AM | Comment Link

  • Julia Alty said...

    3

    This show was amazing! I am so impressed with the artistic turn out from our church. I look forward to working again with everyone who worked to make this event happen and to those whom didn’t have the time this round to come on out and pitch in next time. So wonderful!!!

    11/18/08 9:25 AM | Comment Link

  • Kirsten Salvador said...

    4

    i loved everything about this event … the art, the manner in which it was displayed, the conversation, the faces of people i didn’t know, the participation of the entire church body during the series leading up to the art show, the inclusion of the community outside our walls …. i tip my hat and applaud all those of you who put your souls and energy into making this happen. you ROCK!

    11/22/08 8:04 AM | Comment Link

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