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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Circularity/Centrality & HeartEdge - At the Heart. On the Edge.

For the current edition of ArtReview a number of artists were asked to propose values they think will be useful to art in the coming year. Renata Lucas wrote the following:


When you asked me to describe a value that would be important to art production in 2017, I spent a few days wondering how to name the interest of working with the surroundings to create certain consequences in the interior of a subject: working with the margins to produce an effect in the centre, or applying a force in the centre to create a change of direction in a given context (in the margins). What interests me is to work with this movement between the centre and periphery.'

Lucas' value has real synergy with the vision we have developed at St Martin-in-the-Fields: At the heart. On the edge. 

'... led by our Parochial Church Council, in conversation with the other parts of St Martin’s, we started to develop a vision that could encompass everything we do and stand for, in all our diverse activities and identities ... 

What we came up with, was agreed at the January PCC meeting, and subsequently endorsed by all the boards across the site, was this six-word, two-sentence vision: At the Heart. On the Edge. I want to explore with you what this vision means and what it says about what and who we are and where we’re going. 

Let’s start with At the Heart. This is saying something most obviously about geography and culture, but more subtly about faith and life. St Martin’s is, without question, at the heart of London. And, for all our identification with the outcast, it’s at the heart of the establishment: it was built by a king, sits half a mile from 10 Downing Street, three-quarters from Parliament, and a mile from Buckingham Palace. Members of the cabinet and the Royal Family visit almost every year, and countless famous people come here at some stage to celebrate, to honour, or to mourn. 

But more importantly ‘At the Heart’ refers implicitly to life, the universe and everything. For Christians, the heart of it all is God’s decision never to be except to be with us in Christ. That triggers creation, as a place for God to be with us, incarnation, the moment Christ becomes flesh amongst us, and heaven, the time and space in which God is with us forever. As a church, St Martin’s exists to celebrate, enjoy, and embody God being with us – the heart of it all. We’re not about a narcissistic notion that we are the heart – we rest on the conviction that God is the heart and we want to be with God. 

But in addition to indicating something central in relation to geography, culture and faith, the word ‘heart’ refers to feeling, humanity, passion, emotion. This means the arts, the creativity and joy that move us beyond ourselves, beyond rational thought, to a plane of hope and longing and desire and glory. It means companionship, from a meal maybe shared in the cafĂ© or a gift for a friend perhaps bought in the shop. At the heart means not standing on the sidelines, telling the government what to do or waiting for the market to swing back to prosperity, but getting in the thick of the action, where honest mistakes are made but genuine good comes about, where new partners are found and social ideas take shape. But it also means genuine care. Not long after I came to this parish a national figure told me his mum, who lives 500 miles from London, sends an annual donation every year to St Martin-in-the-Fields. When he asked his mum why, she said, ‘St Martin’s cares about what matters.’ That’s what it means to be at the heart. It means practising and being known for compassion, understanding, love. Not walking away from people when life or the church or health or those close to them have let them down. 

And that brings us to the second half of our vision, On the edge. In just the same way this has both obvious and subtle connotations. Most evidently, St Martin’s is located on the edge of Trafalgar Square, looking over the splendour of the Gallery, the honour of Nelson’s column, and the majesty of the embassies, but also the commotion of tourist and trader and traveller and the pageant of protest and performance. But more generally, the word ‘edge’ speaks of the conviction at St Martin’s that God’s heart is on the edge of human society, with those who have been excluded or rejected or ignored. God looked on the Hebrews in slavery, looked on Israel in exile, looked on Christ on the cross, and walks with the oppressed today. St Martin’s isn’t about bringing those on the imagined ‘edge’ into the exalted ‘middle’; it’s about saying we want to be where God is, and God’s on the edge, so we want to be there too. A former archbishop said, ‘If you ever lose your sense of the intensity and urgency of faith, go and hang out with those who still have it – and the chances are they’re among those the world regards as the least, the last and the lost.’ That’s why we’re on the edge: because we want to discover that intensity and urgency for ourselves. 

Being ‘edgy’ is often associated with speaking out on behalf of the downtrodden. We don’t do a lot of that at St Martin’s, for one reason only: we want to walk alongside the downtrodden so that they can find the courage, the voice, and the opportunity to speak for themselves. We’re not about swapping persecution for paternalism. But being on the edge does mean facing the cost of being, at times, on the edge of the church. Some of the issues we care deeply about are not areas of consensus in the church. We aim to practise what we believe is a true gospel where we receive all the gifts God is giving us, especially the ones that the church has for so long despised or patronised. That may sometimes make us unpopular. Being on the edge doesn’t have to mean being relentlessly opinionated or impulsively impatient: we’re in the persuading business, not the railroading business. 

But the ‘edge’ doesn’t just refer to issues of exclusion and disadvantage and injustice. St Martin’s seeks to be on the leading edge, perhaps the cutting edge in a number of ways. We have a truly outstanding music programme, of voluntary and professional singers, free and commercial concerts, liturgical and performance events. It’s getting better all the time. We’re the greenest church in the diocese, and as well as seeking to embrace ecological concerns in everything we do we’re seeking a similar rigour and scrutiny and renewal around questions of disability. Most extensively, we have a commercial enterprise that’s integrated into the life of our church community and rather than simply being a source of funds is at the forefront of what we’re trying to achieve in London’s civil economy. As we’re trying to promote and share these commitments more broadly, we’re developing a sense of how St Martin’s isn’t just about central London, but about an ethos that is national and in some respects beyond; and we’re beginning to develop the appropriately named Heart-Edge Network to make these connections.'

‘At the Heart. On the Edge.’ is a conference to launch HeartEdge, the new network for churches growing practices and patterns of sustainable mission, initiated by St Martin-in-the-Fields. This conference is a day where we’ll be exploring mission by sharing ideas, uncovering solutions and finding support. Starting at 10.30 am (coffee from 10 am) on 8 February 2017 at St Stephen Walbrook, we’ll finish at 3.30pm. We are not charging for the event.

Sam Wells will be hosting the day with contributions from colleagues across England. Our focus will be on:
  • Congregation – approaches to liturgy, worship and day-to-day communal life
  • Commerce – activities generating finance and developing social enterprise
  • Charity – addressing social needs while retaining congregational participation
  • Culture – art, music and ideas to re-imagine the Christian narrative for the present moment
We’re working hard to ensure the day will inspire, resource and equip delegates. To book a place to attend this first conference colleagues can visit here >> You can download the membership pack, which provides background and further information about how to join here.


Bruce Cockburn - Free To Be.

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