There can often be two schools of thought when it comes to pastoral care of artists. The first says that artists should be treated just like any other group within a religious tradition. It should not be assumed that the actor will jump at the chance to direct the church nativity play, or that the dancer will feel rejected if she is not invited to dance liturgically.
The second school of thought says that artists do have particular needs which are often ignored by religious communities. It may be assumed that they’re willing to volunteer skills for which they deserve to be paid. In addition, artists may find creative liturgies easier to enter into, and/or may want to be given the opportunity to share their creative gifts with the congregation in worship. Finally, practicalities like evening-and-weekend work schedules may prevent some artists from attending many church activities.
Many artists participate in their faith communities just as other members do, and would resist any effort to treat them differently. Other artists love the opportunity to participate in their faith communities specifically as artists, and would feel excluded if this type of participation was rejected. Both approaches can also mix within the same person: for example, a folk singer may prefer to attend a traditional liturgy complete with Latin schola, and may resist any invitations to attend a contemporary “folk Mass”. However, she may be happy to break out the guitar during the church’s annual fundraiser.
One approach to the pastoral care of artists is to let them set the tone. If they present themselves at church as a member of the congregation, treat them like any other of the congregation. If, however, they offer to participate as artists, or reveal pastoral needs specific to their profession, then adjust one’s pastoral approach accordingly.
There are situations, however, in which it would be wise for the Church to reach out to artists where they exist as artists, perhaps not even knowing that the Church takes an interest in them. For example, when I was an acting student, I was dealing with heavy challenges to my faith, but did not have any older Christian theatrical mentors or chaplains to guide me, and saw several of my fellow classmates lose their faith. (I, instead, left acting for a while.) A pastor who had decided to take drama students under his care might have helped us discern how our faith could be lived through theatre, contrary to the secular ideologies which pressured us to conform.
During my recent visit to Los Angeles, I spoke with both clerical and lay media professionals about their assessment of the spiritual needs of Hollywood’s Christians. Many of them spoke of the need for a chaplaincy and spiritual centre, which could help walk actors and others through the ethical difficulties of working in entertainment (to disrobe or not to disrobe?), teach them to pray (instead of surrendering the field to New Age spiritualities and pop psychology), and provide community, solidarity, and pastoral support in times of need.
We need to be aware of the artists within our churches, and their particular concerns, needs, and gifts. But we also need to go out to the artists who aren’t in our churches, but would like to be – or who just need someone to walk with them in their artistic life. We need workers to go out into the harvest, and work beside the workers in the field of the imagination. We need shepherds to go out into the wilderness, and lead the sheep home.
What types of outreach and support would you like to see in a chaplaincy for artists?
Cole Matson is a third-year PhD student in the Institute for Theology, Imagination & the Arts. He is exploring the possibility of a truly Eucharistic theatre by putting the work of Jerzy Grotowski in dialogue with John Paul II.
1. I am not thinking simply of clergy, or ordained ministers. I am thinking of anyone able to take a trusted guiding role in the life of an artist. Ordained ministers and pastoral workers are, of course, also needed.
Image credit: Dave Wilson. Image shared under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence.