Each year hundreds of artists make the move to New York City to pursue their ambitions in creative fields. This opens the door to a lot of unsolicited advice: be sure to have something else to fall back on, give yourself a time limit after which point you should move on to something else, beware of losing your morals in the theater.... But rarely will you hear someone say, “Moving to New York? Get ready for a spiritual awakening!” or “Hey, you should check out this great church there!” Can you imagine if the church in New York became so engaged with artists in the city that being a New York artist was inextricably tied to questions of faith and calling?
On a crisp, autumn morning this November, Maria Fee and I met in the loft space of the Neighborhood Church in the village. Sitting around a breakfast table with artists and pastors from various churches in the city, we talked about how to serve the growing number of artists in our congregations and communities. One pastor wept as he testified to God’s faithfulness in making a place again for artists in the church, and explained that he himself had once been an aspiring painter but quit after he became a Christian. At that time, there was no one to help him integrate his faith and his work as an artist.
That morning over breakfast we recounted the names of early contributors to art and faith dialogue: Francis Schaffer, Madeline L’Engle, Hans Rookmaker, Calvin Seerfeld, Colin Harbinson, Nigel Goodwin and many others who helped to build a bridge theologically and relationally for artists to find a home among Protestant, evangelical churches. We sat together in awe of those who came before us and prayed for the reconciliation of artists and the church. The rapidly growing number of artists in New York City churches and the lay leaders equipped to serve them gives hope to the vision of gospel renewal in and through the arts in New York City.
The church has a unique message of hope for the artist. At Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work, we teach that our artistic work, not just our bodies and souls, could one day be purified and included in the new, eternal city of God. This belief in the eternal significance of our earthly work and bodily life gives the people of God a unique opportunity to speak into the hearts of artists about the one topic that concerns them most, that is, the issue of calling.
Artists, like all people, want their lives to matter. Their work is an expression of their life. Even in an era in which a sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness tends to pervade much artistic expression, I contend that all artists sense or long for an eternal significance in their life and work. One doesn’t have to look far beneath the surface of many contemporary art works to find this resonant longing. Perhaps the artist’s struggle to make sense of a world that seems caught between the dreaming and the coming true is one way in which the Spirit is working to renew the frayed fabric of culture.
This year Redeemer’s Arts Ministry, several hundred strong, will welcome a host of newcomers to the city at InterArts Fellowship, our quarterly artists’ gathering. They come to the city with a sense of calling but, in fact, only the gospel can reveal to them the true nature and context of that calling. Through the gospel, lay leaders, pastors, attendees and church members can give artists in New York a new reason for working. As the people of God, we can lead artists to discover the real story to which they’ve been drawn, a story that begins in a garden and ends in a city.
It is truly a unique time in which the church could play a major role in the shaping of many artists through their relationships and experiences in the evangelical churches of New York City. The intentional inclusion and care of artists that is becoming commonplace in churches like The Village Church, Trinity Grace Church, Park Slope Presbyterian Church, All Angel’s Church, and Resurrection Presbyterian Church is laying the foundation for a movement of the gospel in the arts community through a network of churches that will engage, equip and mobilize artists with a renewed sense of their callings.
Please join Redeemer Arts Ministries in prayer for the artists that God will bring, and the churches that will receive them. Join us as we welcome artists to Redeemer and New York at InterArts Fellowship, January 14th, with recording artist Kelley McRae and Redeemer lead pastor, Rev. John Lin. Learn more at: faithandwork.org/iaf