Ghost Lines: The Relationship between the Artist and the Church [Part One]

Martrys' Church - St Andrews (photo by author)

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on the relationship between the artist and the church. The second post will run on 23 October followed by the final post on 30 October.

Church buildings are seldom static. While they may rest on a foundation of stone and seem impervious to the effects of wind and weather, they are perpetually changing, shifting in the hands of those who use them. Sometimes those changes are made without notice. Other times the evidence of change is unmistakeable. Such has been the case with Martyrs’ Church in St Andrews.

In recent years, the Martyrs’ Church congregation merged with another church and so the building was put up for sale. The winning bid was put forward by the University of St Andrews and, as I write, it is being renovated to become part of the University library, housing their special collections.

Several days before the renovation scaffolding was erected, I snapped a photo in the hopes of preserving the memory of some prominent ‘ghost marks’ on the north-facing wall.  Visible below the stained glass window is a sooty outline and a pair of wooden brackets, the last remaining vestiges of a recently removed bright blue sign which welcomed members and visitors alike to the church to worship.  While the brackets have been detached and the ghost marks have been sandblasted, there are still faint traces of what once was present. In some ways these ghost marks are like the scars of a wounded person.  The wound may heal, but a scar remains.  And these scars or ghost marks prompt stories—stories which, unlike the buildings of stone, the people can tell.

Among these scars are those which have been brought about by way of misunderstanding and hurt between artists and the church.  Throughout the past several centuries, the Protestant church particularly has often had a rocky relationship with artists and their art.  Many of these relational breaks have left their share of scars in the church, some physical and obvious like a recently removed sign, others less so, like a dent on a wall covered by a painting.  The question is, what do we do with these?

In a previous Transpositions post, Sara Schumacher, in responding to a blog post by Donald Miller, acknowledged the fact that many artists have been hurt by the church, but suggested that, rather than allow this past history of hurt to lead to a future of distance between artist and church, both parties should look for ways they can “work together to create,” and reminded readers of the churches which are re-engaging with artists and thereby “mend[ing] the relationship between the two.” Sara will elaborate on this in the second post of this series.

Are there scars?  Yes.  Should these scars be despised or hidden, or should we, like Christ in the presence of Thomas, be willing to reveal them and allow them to serve both as evidence of the restorative work God has done and as a hopeful sign of the work he has yet to do?  In the third post of this series, through reflecting on my own experience of working with artists in the church, I’ll suggest an alternative narrative, one marked not by wounds and scars, but by collaboration and grace.

 

This post was written by Dave Reinhardt who is pursuing a PhD at the University of St Andrews with a focus on the theological significance of embodied expression.  Dave considers his collaborative work with artists in the church to be some of the most rewarding work he’s done.

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