The arts, rising

Last Friday and Saturday our family headed down to Cincinnati for the biennial Mennonite Arts Weekend.  It was of course special to see friends from our seven years of living and pastoring in the city.  And it is always special to be a part of that weekend gathering which welcomes Mennonite artists from around the continent to share their work.

The weekend started in the early 90’s as an outgrowth of a conversation in which people lamented the lack of support and space for expression given artists in the Mennonite church.  Music has always been in its own category of acceptance, but our rather iconoclastic tradition hasn’t honored a whole lot of other art forms.  Many creatives have had to leave the church, or live at its fringes, to do their work.  For the last 20 years Mennonite Arts Weekend in Cincinnati has been a venue that brings the margins into the center and celebrate Mennonite artists of all varieties.  A lot has changed – for the better – over that time span and it’s wonderful to see the arts flourishing.

Throughout Saturday I attended workshops which included ceramic artist Eric Kaufmann, poet Jean Janzen, and the delightful mountain music band The Steel Wheels.  The highlight of the day for me was a workshop by Brooklyn painter Randall Stoltzfus.  He talked about his journey from rural upbringing to urban artist and his “slow eye” method of painting, which is really a method of seeing.

Somewhat coincidentally, on Sunday after church at Columbus Mennonite Robin and Greg Walton led an open discussion with people in the congregation interested in elevating the role of the visual arts in our worship.  Our Advent worship experience was a case in point of how multiple forms of artistry put together within a sacred space – visual, vocal and instrumental music, words, etc – speak to a very deep part of our being.

As a person whose primary artistic expression is through the written and spoken word, I deeply value folks who work with the visual and the tangible – as well as others who shape language!  It is our hope that Columbus Mennonite be a place where the arts flourish in all its forms and where we have a culture of creativity which enriches the whole congregational and wider community.