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Friday, 31 October 2014

East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land (8)

Our final day began in the ancient port of Jaffa where we took in the view of Tel Aviv, saw art galleries, lighthouse, harbour and the house of Simon the Tanner (where I read to the group from Acts 9. 36 - 42).

From Jaffa we travelled to Abu Ghosh to see the second largest Mosque in Israel which was recently completed with funding from Chechnya. We also enjoyed a delicious Middle Eastern lunch at a restaurant in the village.

The afternoon was spent firstly at the Synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Center, where we saw stained glass windows by Marc Chagall depicting the twelve tribes of Israel, and then at Yad Vashem, the deeply moving national Holocaust memorial. In the time we had available I saw the collection of Holocaust art, some displays in the Holocaust History Museum, and the Children's Memorial.


Henyrk Górecki - Symphony No. 3.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land (7)

We've had another excellent day which began by going to Haifa where we travelled along Mount Carmel seeing Stella Maris (the headquarters of the Carmelites), the Baha'i botanical gardens, and the Carmelite Chapel at El-Murakah which enabled us to view the sight of Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Rabbi David Hulbert read the account of Elijah on Mount Carmel and I spoke briefly about Carmelite spirituality.

From there we went to have a delicious lunch with a Druze family and heard a little about the Druze faith and way of life. Our final stop was at Caesarea where we saw the remains of Herod's Palace including the theatre, hippodrome and aqueduct. There, I read from the account in Acts of Peter's meeting with Cornelius highlighting its significance for the growth of Christianity.


Mendelssohn - Elijah.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land (6)

Today we began by seeing the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. This is a modern design which incorporates a 4th century and a Crusader building, as well as having much modern art. We also visited the Old City with its markets, plus the Anglican Church and the Synagogue Church.

From Nazareth we went to Acco, which was a major Crusader port. There we had lunch at the port, saw the Crusader halls and Turkish baths, as well as visiting the Al-Jazaar Mosque. After our evening meal in the hotel, we had an enjoyable session of singing Shabbat songs led by our guide, Eli Rockowitz.


Sheva - Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.

Monday, 27 October 2014

East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land (5)

Today I have given short talks at the Church of the Beatitudes and on the Sea of Galilee plus a participation in an open discussion tonight about the Annunciation with the Imam on our trip, Dr Fahim. My contributions have aimed to stress the incarnational distinctive of Christianity.

Our visits today have all been around Galilee beginning at the Church of the Beatitudes with its beautiful grounds over-looking Lake Galilee. Then we went into Capernaum where we saw the home of Simon Peter's Mother-in-law and the synagogue where Jesus preached. This was followed by a boat trip across Lake Galilee to Kibbutz Ein Gev where we had lunch.

After lunch we went to a viewing point and war memorial in the Golan Heights before ending the day in the Old City of Tsefat discovering the Hassidic and mystical traditions which underpin its art galleries and synagogues. While there I discovered the work of Asia Katz which offers an engaging and relational combining of cubism and folk art. See examples of her work at


Hasidic dance - Tsefat.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land (4)

Today we left Jerusalem to travel through the Judean Desert to Masada. We saw Bedouin herding sheep and goats as we travelled through the desert. Their lifestyle, which dates back to the Patriarchs, is danger of dying out as they become assimilated into the money economy. We passed Jericho, Qumran and Ein Gedi on our way to Masada. After making our way by cable car to the height of Masada we heard the stories of Herod's palace and the siege and martyrdom of the Maccabean rebels against Rome.

We shared our cable car up with a Christian group who sang all the way to the top of Masada. As it was Sunday, we held a Eucharist at one of the covered areas on the site. Rev Simon Hill led our service and I spoke about the incarnation as this linked to our visit the previous day to Bethlehem.

We then relaxed with lunch at the Hod haMidbar Hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea followed by a swim in the Dead Sea itself. Then it was back on the coach for the drive through the West Bank up the Jordan Valley to Nazareth. Along the way we passed the likely site of Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan, close by what is now the Allenby Bridge, and the Deir Hijla Monastry, one of what were once many locations used by desert hermits.


Taize - Bless The Lord.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land (3)

Today we went through the wall to Bethlehem where we queued to go into the Grotto of the Nativity. Like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre yesterday, this was an incredibly busy place combining devotion with tourism. We also saw one Banksy's graffiti designs - a dove of peace with a bullet-proof vest - close to the wall itself.

We then followed the wall for part of the way to Hebron, passing some of the settlements in Area C, before arriving at the Tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron. This is a shrine complex mainly built by Herod, with additions by the Crusaders, which is now houses a Mosque and a Synagogue. The Jewish members of our group visited the synagogue, while the rest of us went to visit the shrines to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. Then we all went into the Old Town for a short time.

Lastly, the Christian members of the group went to St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem for Evening Prayer.


Jehan Titelouze - Urbs Jerusalem.

East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land (2)

Yesterday we began the first full day of the East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land with a visit to the Garden Tomb before going up to Mount Scopus for views across the whole of Jerusalem. We then went into the Old City via the Jaffa Gate to have lunch before going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We, therefore, heard the respective claims for that church and the Garden Tomb as sites for the crucifixion and resurrection without being able to solve the dilemma ourselves! Rev Simon Hill led Morning Prayer at the Garden Tomb while I spoke about the resurrection.

The Muslim members of our group went to Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock before joining us for lunch and our visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

At dusk it was time for us all to go to the Western Wall for the beginning of Shabbat where there was lots of singing and dancing as well as prayers. There was more singing by the Jewish families celebrating Shabbat at our hotel during our evening meal.


Mosh Ben Ari - Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

An introduction to Transition Town Redbridge

Here is information from Transition Town Redbridge about their introductory event this Saturday:

'"Transition" is one manifestation of the idea that local action can change the world. The aim of Transition is to help you be the catalyst in your community to make where you live more resilient, healthier and bursting with strong local livelihoods, while also reducing its ecological footprint. It’s something that can only happen from the ground up, driven by ordinary people.

Transition Town Redbridge was formulated in 2013 and is hosting its first ‘mini-conference’. An Introduction to Transition Town Redbridge will be talks, discussion and other tasters of how to get involved in our Transition Town.

Time: 2pm – 3.30pm
Date: 25th October 2014
at the ‘Enterprise Exchange’, Top Floor, (3rd floor), The Exchange, Ilford.

Draft Programme
2.00pm Food in Transition
2.30pm The Brixton Pound / Alternative Economies
3.00pm Saving Energy / Cutting Bills
3.10pm The Sharing Economy
3.15pm Seven Kings Time Bank

Please drop in and find out more about Transition Town Redbridge due to have its official launch early in the new year.'


Deacon Blue - The Living.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


John Espin - Tim Harrold - Well House Gallery -


Edward Artemiev - Meditation.

Windows on the world (314)

Canterbury, 2014


Woody Allen and The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band - Shine.

East London Three Faiths Forum trip to the Holy Land

I'm looking forward greatly to the tour of the Holy Land that has been organised by the East London Three Faiths Forum. Our itinerary includes the following:
  • Muslim members of our tour will have the opportunity of joining the vast crowds for Friday noon prayers at Al ‘Aqsa Mosque. Jews and Christians will visit the synagogue at the Hadassah Hospital close to Eyn Kerem, birthplace of John the Baptist. This modern synagogue is famous for its 12 huge stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall
  • Visiting all the most important sites - Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock - in the old city of Jerusalem, In the late afternoon, we shall watch Jews welcome in Shabbat at the Western Wall.
  • Bethlehem (birthplace of Jesus) and Hebron (Al-Khalil), to visit the ancient mosque above the Cave of Machpelah, where we shall see the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. 
  • We leave Jerusalem to make the long and steep descent through the dramatic Judaean Desert to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth’s surface. Close by the road we shall pass Qumran, beside the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Along the shore of the Sea to Masada, King Herod’s impressive fortress and palace (Roman-era). Up by cable-car to the summit. Swim in the Dead Sea.
  • A long drive north following the course of the River Jordan. We shall pass Jericho, the oldest continually-inhabited city in the world. Eventually, we shall reach Nazareth, capital of the northern Galilee region, where Jesus spent his early years and began his ministry. 
  • We leave Nazareth to drive though the Galilee to reach the shore of the Sea of Galilee, visiting Capernaum, the Church of Beatitudes and other sites of Jesus’ early ministry. Then a lovely boat trip across the Sea of Galilee to Kibbutz En Gev, beneath the Golan Heights, where we shall eat a lunch of St. Peter’s Fish (talapia), caught in the Sea. Return to Nazareth via the Golan Heights and the Huleh Valley.
  • Shopping and a brief tour of Nazareth, visiting the Church of the Annunciation (where Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus). Drive on through the Galilee region to the hill-top town of Tsefat, visiting several beautiful 16th-century synagogues of great rabbis and Jewish mystics. 
  • Return to the Mediterranean coast to visit Akko (Acre), the capital of the Crusader kingdom. We shall visit the ancient harbour, the khan (mediaeval travellers’ lodge) and the hammam (hot baths), the wonderful 17th-century Ottoman mosque and the astonishingly well-preserved remains of the great Crusader citadel.
  • We will drive through the modern port city of Haifa, via the lovely gardens of the Bah’ai Temple. We will reach the top of Mount Carmel, where the prophet Elijah (Elias) challenged the prophets of Baal. The large Druze town of Isafie (the religion of the Druze is secret), then descend to the Mediterranean coast to visit the ruins of Caesarea, the Roman capital and port, mentioned several times in the New Testament. Then we continue south along the coast, to the modern city of Tel Aviv.
  • We will climb back through the Judaean Hills to Yad Vashem, the very impressive and moving national memorial museum to the victims of the Holocaust. At the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, we shall see the brand-new & second largest mosque in the Holy Land, after Al ‘Aqsa. 
  • Back down to the Mediterranean Sea for a quiet and relaxing afternoon in Jaffa, the ancient port, from where Jonah (Yunus) boarded a ship in order to escape from his Divine mission. We might be able to visit the beautiful 18th-century Ottoman Mahmoudiya Mosque as well as see the 17th-century St. Peter’s Church (Franciscan) – commemorating St. Peter’s raising of Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9 &10).

Love is the gift

‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.’ (John 3. 16)

God so loved the world that he gave. What did he give and how do we unwrap his gifts?

He gave us the world in which we live, including the life that we enjoy now and the life that we will enjoy into eternity. One of the ways in which we unwrap those gifts is by means of appreciation. In the last session of our Lyfe Course we were encouraged to try and take a break over lunch to get outside and enjoy God’s creation and also to count our blessings by beginning a list of all the things we’re grateful to God for including all areas of our lives - family, work, sport, food, sleep etc.

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Jesus is God’s greatest gift to us. We unwrap the gift of Jesus as we admit to our need for salvation and change. We receive Jesus through the gift of his Spirit, who enables us to change by focusing our thoughts and lives on Jesus. At every moment of every day we can ask ourselves ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and allow the Spirit to answer that question by guiding our actions and words.

To support us in living as followers of Christ we have been given the gifts of the Bible (with its story of God’s dealings with the world he created and of Jesus’ sacrifice of himself for that same world), prayer (which brings us into conversation with God), the Church (the group of people locally who are seeking to go deeper into God and, together, to reveal God to their local community), and the Gifts of the Spirit (talents and abilities given, not personal benefit, but for the benefit of others).

These are among God’s greatest gifts to us for which we should be truly grateful. We are used to the idea of saying grace (thank you) before enjoying the food we eat. In the same way, we could say grace before reading the Bible, conversing with God in prayer, coming to church, and using the gifts of the Spirit which have been given to us.

Lewis Hyde writes that ‘a gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift’ and ‘the spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.’ Leo Buscaglia said, 'Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.’ St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 that ‘the Spirit's presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.’ He follows his chapter on the gifts of the Spirit by sharing, in 1 Corinthians 13, the best way of all; that of love. God so loved the world that he gave; as God’s children and followers of Jesus, we too are to love the world by giving.

God is love. Love is gift.
God so loved that he gave;
gave life, bringing the world into being.
Life is gift. The world is gift.
God so loved that he gave;
gave his one and only Son.
Of his own free will the Son
gave up all he had
and walked the path of obedience
all the way to death -
his death on the cross -
that we might have the gift of life.
Life is gift and giving.
Life without giving
cannot be living.
God so loved that he gave.
Love is unmerited gift,
to be given freely, willingly,
without expectation.
We do not love to be loved;
we love to love.
Love is the gift.
God so loved that he gave.
Love grows by giving.
The love we give away
is the only love we keep.
God so loved that he gave.


Bruce Springsteen - O Mary Don't You Weep.

Yamikani's prayer

Yamikani Dakalira from Malawi is visiting in October to speak to churches about her work, and has written a special prayer for us all to use over the Hungry for Justice prayer and action weekend (18-19 October).

Lord, you are our rock, our fortress and our strength;
guide us, lead us and have mercy on us.
We thank you for the precious gift of your earth, in all its beauty and fragility.
Through it we are each bound to one another in a million ways.
For the sake of those facing rising temperatures, drought and water shortages,
strengthen our movement for climate action.
For the sake of those facing unpredictable weather, disrupted seasons and failed crops,
bless our leaders to work together to find positive, lasting solutions.
For the sake of all those who feel the impact of our changing climate, the poor and the vulnerable,
bring the hope of a brighter, cleaner future.
Lord hear our prayer and fill our hearts with a hunger for justice.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will set up our banners to call for change. May the Lord fill our petitions!

Yamikani works for Christian Aid partner, CEPA, in Malawi to combat the impact of climate change, involving the poorest communities in the solutions.

We will use this prayer in the Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches One World Week service at St John's Seven Kings this evening (6.30pm).


Thocco Katimba - Count Your Blessings.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Blog Action Day: Inequality #BAD2014, #Inequality, #BlogAction

On the 16th October, people from around the world raised their voices through Blog Action Day to generate an unprecedented conversation on how we can address inequality. An audience of millions saw that message — which will continue to ripple forth for some time.

“Malala knew the power she had to speak up for herself, and those who couldn't, by sharing her story. Authentic voices are always the best way to convey struggles of inequality and tell stories of our shared humanity.” — Malala Fund post

“Extreme inequality should not be ignored—or worse, celebrated as a sign that we have a high-performing economy and healthy society.” — Bill Gates' post

“Being a female and from a country where gender discrimination continues to be an enormous problem, I didn’t have to think twice about the topic to write on. The fight starts off from my mother’s womb.” — Blogger Rekha Dhyani's post

These are just a few tastes of the conversation that started yesterday.

If you'd like to see some other highlights, the best place to do so is Orbit Orbit is Blog Action Day's sister platform, where you can feature your own blog's content as part of a conversation, like we saw around #inequality yesterday. You could also search for #BAD14, #BAD2014 and "Blog Action Day" on your social media networks or visit the participants list.


The Specials - Ghost Town.

Sophia Hub update

Ros Southern writes:

For an update of all things start-ups, business and community from Sophia Hubs Seven Kings is on my blog:

20 free pop up market stalls at Enterprise Exchange next Saturday, for info click here.

For an exciting Big Business Skills swap at the Enterprise Exchange on Tuesday morning click here.

For a participatory training on 'Conflict resolution for your business' on Tuesday afternoon click here.

For the exciting Redbridge launch of the London business Timebank on Wednesday 29th click here.

For pics and info on the great day at the Enterprise Exchange last Tuesday and the session by Awele Odeh click here.

For information on the local Transition Town event in Ilford Exchange and all about the Brixton pound, the Crystal Palace local shops smart card and all things Transition Town, click here.


Adam Cohen - Song Of Me And You.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Report - Part 3

The Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England (CFCE) have refused on two occasions the application made by the Chapter of Chichester Cathedral to commission Jaume Plensa's Together for installation in the Cathedral as the Hussey Memorial Commission.  The grounds for rejection are to do with the perception of significant change in the character of the space above the Arundel Bell Screen as a result of the installation.

It is undeniable that there would be significant change to this space as a result of the installation. The more complex question is whether the change that would occur is positive or negative, allowable or not. The chapter have argued that the change should be accepted and the CFCE have ruled that the change would be unacceptable. The commission has therefore come to an impasse because no basis for further discussion exists. This is because there are no objective criteria on which it is possible to discuss this issue or, in my view, the quality of art generally.

All of us routinely make judgements about the art that we encounter. Art is something which generally provokes opinions, whether positive or negative. However, when asked to explain the basis on which we make these judgements most of us would struggle to do so. Often we resort to saying things like, ‘I know what I like,’ which are ways of closing down the conversation without answering the question or examining our own assumptions. We tend to assume though that art professionals do have some more objective means of assessing the worth or quality of artworks. After all, they are constantly selecting work to show and attributing differing values, financial and otherwise, to that work.  

Jonathan Jones is an art critic for The Guardian who has acknowledged that the age of the art critic as an unassailable voice of authority is long gone due to the force of digital debate and the era of readers biting back. Entitled 'how I learned to look – and listen' Jones wrote that the way he thinks about art criticism has changed: "Criticism in the age of social media has to be much more playful and giving ... Criticism today is not about delivering truths from on high, but about striking a spark that lights a debate."

In the past, he argues, he and other art critics could speak in an "aggressive, cocksure, dismissive voice, determined to prove that my opinion was worth more than my readers" but "in today's more open forum – where people answer back, and where people often know more than I do – it becomes more and more absurd to claim such august authority for one's opinions." As a result, the way he thinks about his work, and about art, "is infinitely more plural and ambiguous than it was in 2006." Essentially, Jones is arguing that, while he can still express strong opinions, he is now much more aware that his opinions are essentially personal opinions and need to be acknowledged as such. The underlying implication is that there are no agreed criteria for assessing, evaluating and critiquing contemporary art.

Yet we continue to look for rules or talk as though these exist. Grayson Perry explored the issue of taste in the Channel 4 series All In The Best Possible Taste. He thought that "there will always be this barrier where there are people who are looking for rules. A lot of the lower middle class still need reassurance and clear rules, which they find in brands and in definite trends because they perhaps don't have the confidence to go on their own intuition and try something else out. So there's always going to be a large proportion of the population that have what they think is a very clear idea about what is good taste. But of course the good taste is just an illusion; it's just that they're obeying the rules of their tribe."

Within the art world, Perry suggests, the rule by which people work is that of consensus plus time i.e. “If it's agreed amongst the tribe for a fairly sustained amount of time, then it becomes good taste.” This is no different, then, to the seeking after rules which he criticizes in the lower middle class. On this basis, too, “good taste is just an illusion; it's just that they're obeying the rules of their tribe.” But many choose to work on this basis that, as artists, commissioners, critics, curators, gallery owners, historians or patrons, they know what good taste is because of consensus plus time. If one is in agreement with the consensus it is, of course, a safe place to be.

This does not mean that no criteria exist at all within the visual arts as there are clear technical criteria within each discipline that relate to whether or not the work is well made. However, these relate to the artwork as a craft object and do not provide us with answers as to the difference between a piece which has been competently crafted and one which demonstrates significant artistic vision or merit. Nor does it mean that particular groups, by consensus, do not have their own criteria. What does not exist, however, are any broadly accepted, and therefore objective, criteria.

In a dispute like that over the Hussey Memorial Commission, because there are no objective criteria on which discussion can be based, all that can be done to argue the case in favour of the commission is to demonstrate the consensus which supports it. That is essentially what the chapter did in response to the first rejection presenting significant support for the proposal from public consultation and written support from significant arts professionals; all this on the back of an initial well-run and broad selection process. Yet when the CFCE rules that they perceive a different consensus against the proposal, there is essentially nowhere else that the discussion can go because there is no objective basis for dialogue.   

What has happened in essence within the visual arts is that the action of Marcel Duchamp in exhibiting ready-mades and his arguing that the choice of the artist makes them art (now widely accepted as the most significant art event of the twentieth century) has opened floodgates which render rules or criteria for the creation and comparison of artworks superfluous.

As a result, we enjoy huge diversity in the visual arts. So, for example, I have been able to see a wide variety of styles and media of art and architecture in the sabbatical visits I have made. But the techniques required for each medium are often not transferable to other media, meaning that like cannot be compared with like. In this way, the variety of styles and media that exist within contemporary art limit the extent to which contrasts and comparisons can be made. As art can now be made of anything that the artist wishes, one blindingly obvious implication seems to be that the quality of a piece of video art by Bill Viola, for example, cannot be gauged by comparing it positively or negatively to a painting by Maurice Denis or stained glass by John Piper. Each is its own entity within a medium with its own techniques. As a result, widely accepted quality standards for works of art no longer exist. In addition, the techniques required for many of the traditional forms of Church art – stained glass, mosaic etc. – are no longer as widely understood as previously nor are these media generally viewed as cutting edge; a factor which impacts on the attention paid to church commissions within the art world.

The Church world and the art world, on the basis of Perry’s definition, are essentially different tribes with different tastes and fashions causing confusion for the emerging artist who is a Christian and those who commission art for churches. The dichotomy which is often cited between significant contemporary artists participating in church commissions and "self-styled 'Christian art' that though sincere and well-intentioned" is "often formulaic or decorative" and has "little or no standing within the art world," is essentially a debate about which tribe’s rules of good taste it is best to apply. Ultimately, that is a superfluous debate about illusions.

The way through this situation is, I think, what I perceive Sister Wendy Beckett to be doing in her art criticism, meditations and TV programmes. Sister Wendy is an informed enthusiast who applies the injunction in Philippians 4:8, to fill our minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise, to her writing and presenting. The kind of poring and praying over images that characterizes Beckett's best writing can be a distinctively Christian contribution to the plurality of art criticism and the experience of commissioning for churches. Beckett cultivates a prayerful attentiveness to the artwork through sustained contemplation in order to see or sense what is good and of God in it, regardless of whether the artist who made it has an international, national, regional or local reputation.

Early on in my sabbatical I gave a talk on visual art to the East London Three Faiths Forum in which I said that art, at its best, is epiphany and sacrament. In other words art takes the stuff of everyday life and transforms it so that we see it, ourselves and God differently. This was reiterated for me towards the end of the sabbatical in a talk by Rev. Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, on ‘Art and the Renewal of St Martin’s’ where he also spoke of the sacramental nature of art.

In a talk I gave to the Friends of Chelmsford Cathedral earlier this year I said: “To encounter the Gospel in contemporary art, diversity must be embraced. The traditional forms of expressing the Gospel in art – illustrating Biblical narratives and the lives of the Saints – remain, albeit sometimes in the newer forms of movements like Expressionism, while attraction and reaction to the meaning, impacts and influences of the Gospel also continue to inspire creative work by contemporary artists working in fields such as the abstract, conceptual, performance and relational arts.”

This has been the attitude and approach that I have sought to bring to my sabbatical art pilgrimage and the site visits I have made. There is no value in arguing for a difference in quality between an image by Maurice Denis and another by Bill Viola. What is of value is to reflect on the nature of each image (sacrament) and what that image reveals (epiphany). 


Leonard Cohen - You Got Me Singing.

SKFC One World Week Service

Please note that the venue for the Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches One World Week Service has changed from St Teresa's Newbury Park to St John's Seven Kings. The service remains at 6.30pm this Sunday.

In addition, there is a packed programme of things to do in this year’s Ilford One World Week. Don’t forget the Multi Faith Walk of Peace on Sunday 19th, gathering at the seventh day Adventist church at 12.00. This year’s OWW Celebration and social event will have a climate change awareness theme, on Saturday 25th at Vine Church from 7.00pm. Alongside this there will be a Give and Take on 17th October and a litter pick on 25th.

Living Colour - Solace Of You.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Manessier and Keifer: Spirituality, revelation and religious affiliation

The latest ArtWay meditation is about Alfred Manessier’s The Passion According to Matthew. Jérôme Cottin writes that ‘During World War II he went through a double conversion: to Christianity and to non-figurative art. Actually it was the first that led to the latter. Manessier came from a non-believing family. He turned to the Christian faith in September 1943, when he heard a choir of monks sing the Salve Regina in the Trappist monastery of Soligny.’  

Cottin notes that Manessier ‘belongs to the rare group of artists who were well-known internationally as well as sincere believers.’ 

Interestingly, Kathleen Soriano writes, in the catalogue for Anselm Keifer’s RA retrospective, that Keifer also had a revelation whilst at a monastery: ‘During a trip in 1966 to La Tourette, the Dominican monastery designed by Le Corbusier near Eveux, in eastern France, Keifer spent three weeks in a cell meditating on the fundamental questions of life. It was at La Tourette that he ‘discovered the spirituality of concrete’.

In contrast to Cottin, Soriano notes that ‘The search for transcendence, the connection between heaven and earth, God and man, lies at the heart of Keifer’s oeuvre, despite the fact that he would not consider himself a religious man.’

While both are, no doubt, factually correct in articulating the personal stances on faith of these two artists, it is interesting to consider why it is important to both writers to mention these specifically.

Tyler Green has written of ‘the art world’s indifference toward religion’, James Elkins of the strange place of religion in contemporary art and Dan Fox has stated that religious art ‘when it’s not kept safely confined within gilt frames in the medieval departments of major museums, is taboo.’  

Rob Colvin writes that:

‘The close relationship that art and religion maintained for several millennia has in recent decades eroded so drastically that it’s difficult to imagine fine arts and contemporary religion having anything in common. Art is, on the whole, a secular enterprise, and religion is frequently more anesthetic than aesthetic in character. The two worlds happily foster vulgar understandings of each other almost to a point of pride. Some might even suggest that adherence to one entails a rejection of, or at least critical distance from, the other.'

Benedict Read in his 1998 lecture to the Royal Society of British Sculptors noted that following the Second World War: “Churches were being repaired. New work was being installed in them. There was an expansion of church buildings with works of art in them … There is an alternative world there of the commissioning of art for specific purposes that, with no disrespect to established art historians, simply doesn't feature in our notion of cultural history in the post-war period.”

 Fox suggests that art about religion is totally kosher however; as are: “modernist dalliances with spiritualism;” the “obsessive cosmologies and prophecies” of ‘visionary’ or ‘outsider’ artists; and “a little dusting of Buddhism or Eastern philosophy.” But, “contemporary artists who openly declare affiliation to Judaeo-Christian or Islamic religions are usually regarded with the kind of suspicion reserved for Mormon polygamists and celebrity Scientologists.” David Morgan has explained this phenomonen by suggesting that, "Moving through the discourse of Modernism in art was a dominant conception of the sacred, one which distanced art from institutional religion, most importantly Christianity, in order to secure the freedom of art as an autonomous cultural force that was sacralized in its own right."

Why is the art world wary of religion? Fox gives five reasons:

1. “For most of the 20th century, art aligned itself with progressive rationalist secularity and radical subjectivity; the ideas that have fed into art come from modern philosophy, liberal or radical politics, sociology and pop culture rather than theology.”

2. “It’s also a question of finance: the money that funds art doesn’t come from churches or religious orders like it did hundreds of years ago.”

3. “Religion is broadly seen by many progressive thinkers to be a cause of intolerance and war.”

4. “The early 21st century has been characterised by a dangerous return to faith-based political conviction, be it radical Islam or neo-conservative fundamentalist Christianity, neither of which has much sympathy for cutting-edge art or ideas.”

5. “Also, religious organisations aren’t, of course, exactly known for their forward thinking attitudes to women or sexuality: the moral teachings of many religious denominations can be at odds with the ways artists want to live their lives.”

Keifer fits this thesis well and Soriano is also thinking within it when she writes that he ‘would not consider himself a religious man.’ In his 2011 Guardian article A Life in Art: Anselm Keifer Nicholas Wroe wrote:

‘Although his move to France coincided with an intensified investigation of myth and religion in his work, Kiefer is no longer a practising Catholic, but acknowledges that "even people who seem not to be spiritual still long for something; I'm sure this is the reason we have art and poetry. I think without spirituality we cannot live, and in this respect the best religion is Hinduism, which teaches that each religion can contain some little truth. Art is an attempt to get to the very centre of truth. It never can, but it can get quite close. It is the dogmatism of the church, the idea that words can express a single truth over hundreds of years, that is complete nonsense. The world changes. Language changes, everything changes. Paintings certainly change.’

Cottin, however, has studied the relationship of modern art to Christianity in the French-speaking world, writes regularly about Christianity and art, edits the website, and is ‘a Calvinist who is at pains to justify the importance of visual theology to the Protestant world.’ As a result, his focus is on those who either belong ‘to the rare group of artists who were well-known internationally as well as sincere believers’ or have produced significant examples of modern religious art. His book La mystique de l’art: Art et christianisme de 1900 à nos jours accordingly features in-depth studies of the work of individual artists such as Gauguin, Ensor, Arnulf Rainer, Picasso, Schmidt-Rottluff, Rouault, Chagall, Bacon, Jawlensky, Manessier, Nolde, Richier.

Both are correct but from different perspectives. Soriano writes of religious affiliation from within the viewpoint of the mainstream art world, while Cottin, from his perspective outside that world, focuses attention on those artists who have expressed religious affiliation within the mainstream art world. The story of religious art in the twentieth century is but one story among many in modernism. However the historical accuracy of the history of modernism can be enhanced through the telling of that tale in a way that refuses to see the predominant separation between art and institutional religion (Christianity, in particular) as being the only game in town.


Van Morrison - In The Garden.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A measure of peace will come

The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you.

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am leaving, but I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father; for he is greater than I. I have told you this now before it all happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe. (John 14. 26 – 29)

The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me. And you, too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning. (John 15. 26 – 27)

I did not tell you these things at the beginning, for I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me where I am going. And now that I have told you, your hearts are full of sadness. But I am telling you the truth: it is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you. But if I do go away, then I will send him to you. (John 16. 4b – 6)

I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear. When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own authority, but he will speak of what he hears and will tell you of things to come. He will give me glory, because he will take what I say and tell it to you. All that my Father has is mine; that is why I said that the Spirit will take what I give him and tell it to you. (John 16. 12 – 15)

Jesus knew that they wanted to question him, so he said to them, “I said, ‘In a little while you will not see me, and then a little while later you will see me.’ Is this what you are asking about among yourselves? I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into gladness. When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world. That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you. (John 16. 19 – 22)

My younger brother, Nick Evens, died on 11th November 1999 in a plane crash in Kosovo. He was on a UN commissioned plane taking relief workers into Kosovo to work on reconstructing the country following the conflict there. Nick was part of Tearfund’s Disaster Response Team. He had been in Kosovo working with Kosovan villagers to rebuild homes, had returned home for a short break, and was returning to continue work on the rebuilding programme.

The plane went off course as it neared Pristina Airport and crashed in nearby mountains. I remember taking a phone call from my parents who had been notified that contact had been lost with the plane and feeling absolutely unable to accept or comprehend the news. This was something that simply could not be happening.

My father and I were flown to Rome by Tearfund to wait for news together with the families of the other 23 people who died in the crash. After a few days we were flown to Kosovo to see the crash site for ourselves. On arrival at Pristina Airport we were loaded into helicopters and flown the short distance into the mountains and over the site of the wreckage. This was the worst moment for each one of us. As we saw the small pieces of the plane strewn over the mountainside we knew exactly what had happened to our loved ones and were faced full-on with the reality of their death.

When we returned to Pristina Airport, some refreshments had been organised for us in a tent and members of Tearfund who had worked with Nick had travelled to the Airport to be with us. We sat and listened as they told us about the effect that Nick had had on the Kosovan people with whom he had worked and also on other members of the team as they had valued his friendship, support and advice. As they talked, the tears flowed; theirs and ours and, I believe, God’s as he was with us at the time enabling us to express our grief. But, as they talked, I also had a growing sense that Nick had gone into God’s presence and had been welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In that moment I glimpsed something of the glory into which Nick had entered and that glimpse continues to sustain and strengthen me in my loss.

Over subsequent days, I heard many more stories of the way in which Nick’s life had influenced others and over the years since I had seen the way in which the inspiration he provided has led others to continue the work that he began. Young people whose lives were turned around through the youth project that Nick worked for have continued his youth work and his charitable work in Uganda while Nick’s involvement with Tearfund inspired another member of our family to join their Disaster Response Team. In these ways, the stories about Nick that begun to be told at Pristina Airport have continued to be told and in the telling my sense that Nick has been welcomed into glory has grown.

It was in the telling of tales about Nick that I found a measure of peace and acceptance for what had happened to him. This also seems to be a part of what Jesus is telling his disciples in our reading this afternoon.

Jesus tells his disciples that in a little while he is going away and they will not see him anymore. We know that he was preparing them for both his crucifixion and his ascension. He says also that when he goes away, the Helper will not come to them. The Helper is his Spirit, the spirit of the one that they have lost. When the Helper comes to them, he will speak about Jesus, the one that they have lost, and make them remember all he told them. Then they, too, will speak about Jesus. And, of course, this is exactly what then happened in the meetings of the Early Church; the disciples told each other stories of Jesus – stories that were eventually written down to form the Gospels as we have them today.

So, the spirit of the one that they have lost comes to them to help them talk about the one that they have lost. As they talk about the one that they have lost, with the help of the Spirit, Jesus predicts that they will cry and weep but that their sadness will then turn into gladness. In this way they will know peace. As Jesus said, “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am leaving, but I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father; for he is greater than I. I have told you this now before it all happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe.”

This was also my experience in my own grief. The telling of tales about my brother confirmed our love of him and God’s love of him. As a result, I experienced a measure of peace about what had happened to him and where he now was. This suggests that we should not be afraid of tears, of memories, of stories, as they are an expression of the love we feel. It is as we cry out in our grief that God meets with us. Jesus is alongside us through his Helper, his Spirit, and can speak to us and for us in groans that words cannot express. It is as we speak of those we have lost that a measure of peace will come.


U2 - MLK.

Windows on the world (313)



An affirmative approach to life

‘Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ (Philippians 4. 8)

I want to suggest that these words are a key to answering the question, where is God in our world and how do I see and hear from him?

What Paul commends in Philippians 4. 8 is an affirmative approach to life; an attitude of mind by which we go through life looking for those things which are excellent and praiseworthy. Jesus said, seek and you will find (Matthew 7. 7). Paul is working with a similar premise; he is saying look and you will see. In other words, if you look for excellent and praiseworthy things as you go through life, you will see them.

Why should this be so? This view (which has been called ‘The Way of Affirmation’) is based on God’s creation and Jesus’ incarnation. The Way of Affirmation holds that ‘God is manifest in many things and can be known through these things,’ as in Psalm 19. 1: ' The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork ' or, in Paul’s words from Romans 1. 20, ‘ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.’ For this reason, David Adam is able to write, ‘our God is in all the world and waits to be discovered there – or, to be more exact, the world is in Him, all is in the heart of God.’

More than this, our humanity has been embraced by God through the incarnation. In Jesus, God becomes human; affirming our humanity and taking it into the Godhead. God affirmed his creation as good (Genesis 1) and he affirmed his incarnate Son, saying of him, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3. 22). The world reflects God and God has actively embraced humanity therefore we have a basis on which we can build an affirmative approach to life; looking for those things that are excellent and praiseworthy and expecting to find them.

What difference does this make? I want to talk about its impact in three areas of life; prayer, actions and conversation.

Simone Weil said that, ‘absolute unmixed attention is prayer.’ Similarly, Simon Small has written that, ‘To pay profound attention to reality is prayer, because to enter the depths of this moment is to encounter God ... Contemplative prayer is the art of paying attention to what is’ (Simon Small, 'From the Bottom of the Pond', O Books, 2007).

Jean Pierre de Caussade called this, 'The Sacrament of the Present Moment,' which ‘refers to God's coming to us at each moment, as really and truly as God is present in the Sacraments of the Church ... In other words, in each moment of our lives God is present under the signs of what is ordinary and mundane ... God is equally present in the small things of life as in the great. God is there in life's daily routine, in dull moments, in dry prayers ... There is nothing that happens to us in which God cannot be found. What we need are the eyes of faith to discern God as God comes at each moment - truly present, truly living, truly attentive to the needs of each one’ (Elizabeth Ruth Obbard, Life in God's NOW, New City, 2012).

Brother Lawrence was a member of the Carmelite Order in France during the 17th Century. He spent most of his life in the kitchen or mending shoes, but became a great spiritual guide. He saw God in the mundane tasks he carried out in the priory kitchen. Daily life for him was an ongoing conversation with God. He wrote: 'we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment.'

As a result, 'The time of action does not differ from that of prayer. I possess God as peacefully in the bustle of my kitchen, where sometimes several people are asking me for different things at the same time, as I do upon my knees before the Holy Sacrament.'

'It is not needful to have great things to do. I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God. When it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and worship my God, who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise happier than a king. When I can do nothing else, it is enough to have picked up a straw for the love of God.'

'We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.'

This sort of spirituality - the sense of the presence of God in all things, and the possibility of honouring God in every action is also found in our hymn books. We sing:

‘Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
To do it as for thee:’

George Herbert’s hymn, originally a poem called ‘The Elixir,’ ends with these words:

‘A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.’

This affirmative approach to life always impacts on our conversation. In James 3 we read that ‘no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing’ (James 3. 8 – 10).

As a result, the conversations which go on around us and of which we are part are often negative rather than affirmative. Gossip, back-biting, criticising or running others down; these are standard parts of many everyday conservations. Those attending the ‘Lyfe’ course which we are currently running in the Cluster were encouraged this week to try to bring a breath of fresh air to their workplace or home. It was suggested that they make it their aim to speak well of everyone, try and turn gossiping conversations around and if they do find fault in someone, find a way to flip it round so they can come alongside them and help them to grow. This is about pursuing a compassionate life which includes breathing new life into our relationships and interactions by representing Jesus and his love to the people around us.

Ultimately, what we do and say derives from those things that we focus on as we go through life. If we focus on negatives then we are likely to say and do negative things, if we focus on affirmation, as we have been thinking about this more, then we are more likely to say and do affirmative things.

‘Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ (Philippians 4. 8)


Gungor - You Have Me.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Report - Part 2

Commissions can be categorized as follows:

·         single commissions;
·         series of commissions over a different time-frame;
·         series of commissions in the same time-frame; and
·         programme of temporary commissions.

Issues to be addressed within such commissions include:

(i)                  Harmonisation versus dialogue/dissonance

This relates to commissions in settings where there is existing artwork/architecture and concerns the extent to which the new commission is integrated with whatever is already there or by being dissonant raises questions about what is already there. Artworks integrated within the life and architecture of a church are not viewed in the same way as works within the white cube of a gallery space and this needs to be understood and handled with sensitivity during the commissioning process. The result can be a sense of overall integrity and harmony within a space which holds great variety and diversity. Where this occurs the whole and its constituent parts image something of the Trinitarian belief – the one and the many - which is at the heart of Christianity.

Harmonisation is used most frequently with single commissions or a series of commissions over a different time-frame. At St Alban Romford Fr. Roderick Hingley has created links of colour, shape, texture and symbol that have led to the integration of commissions into a re-ordered space which enhances worship and is also aesthetically pleasing. At Chelmsford Cathedral former Dean, Peter Judd, used this approach when he commissioned Cazalet’s engraved St Cedd window in St Cedd’s Chapel as a counter-balance to John Hutton’s engraved St Peter window in St Peter’s Chapel. St Paul’s Goodmayes provides another example of this approach.

In other situations churches such as Metz Cathedral or Sint Aldegondis Deurle seem to have commissioned work without an overall scheme or plan for harmonization, yet do not appear to have become incoherent spaces. In many Belgian churches contemporary art is integrated with the artwork of the past in a melange of different styles which, while not specifically harmonised, nevertheless possesses integrity. It must be a great encouragement to contemporary artists to see churches, already rich in heritage, wishing to continue to develop and add to that tradition from the work of their own day and time.

Expressionist images of the crucifixion introduced a sense of dialogue or dissonance by challenging sentimental images of Christ and deliberately introducing ugliness into beautiful buildings. Dissonance most often occurs in relation to temporary commissions, such as that at St Paul’s Cathedral. The interventions there fulfil the key requirement of installation art; “a friction with its context that resists organisational pressure and instead exerts its own terms of engagement.”

(ii)                Curatorial vision versus artistic vision

Artworks commissioned for churches by necessity function as an element within a broader architectural, aesthetic and liturgical scheme and, for some artists, this sense that the art and the artist's vision is subordinate to a bigger, broader vision can be a part of the reason why church commissions are unattractive and unpursued.

At St Mary & All Angels Little Walsingham a note from the Director of Art in Churches says that the artworks commissioned there have been carefully placed to distinguish them from liturgical artefacts also in the church. He wants them to be seen as ‘works of art’ in a way that differs from the liturgical artefacts and enriches the areas of our spiritual being which extend beyond 'the confines of the spiritual liturgical.' This note illustrates a strand of thinking which sees art and artists as independent of though complementary to the Church, as opposed to the thinking in the Liturgical Movement, where art is the handmaid of the liturgy. Both have value, while both also raise issues for debate and discussion. Justine Grace, in The Spirit of Collaboration, writes of church commissions being perceived in modernism as being ‘ruled by the dogmatic prescriptions of the church rather than the artistic imagination’. At the same time, the example provided at Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce du Plateau d'Assy, where contemporary ‘masters’ were explicitly commissioned by Pére Marie-Alain Couturier, is, as noted by William S. Rubin, in some instances, of artists unfamiliar with the liturgy translating the subjects chosen into ‘purely personal philosophies’ (Modern Sacred Art and the Church of Assy, Columbia University Press, New York & London, 1961).

Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce on the Plateau d’Assy was planned as showcase for the value of contemporary church commissions. Couturier took on the primary role of curator but, as most of the commissions included were on the basis of his friendships with the artists involved, his decisions he made or did not make illustrate the tricky balance required to succeed in commissioning.

Too much work was commissioned for Assy from too many artists making the resulting iconographic scheme muddled and esoteric. There are inappropriate clashes of style (e.g. the Jacques Lipchitz sculpture dominating the Rouault windows or different styles in each of the nave windows), inappropriate positioning of some works (e.g. stained glass by Bazaine and reliefs by Chagall which can barely be seen), commissions which do not work in the space (e.g. the intimiste style of Bonnard is not suited to being viewed from a distance) and central commissions with esoteric symbolism (e.g. the Lurçat tapestry).

Couturier, presumably to sustain his friendships with the artists involved, seems not to have exercised sufficient control regarding the overall scheme which therefore means that the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. By contrast, Sutherland had to fight for aspects of his vision for the tapestry at Coventry Cathedral and needed the support of Spence in order to do so in the face of requests for change from Cathedral staff.

The architecture and artworks at a church like the Church of the Annunciation Little Walsingham illustrates what can be achieved when using artists who are either involved with the ‘alternative’ world of church decoration or who are not generally reckoned to be contemporary ‘masters’

(iii)              Treasure casket versus integrated design

Spence described Coventry Cathedral as a plain jewel casket filled with many jewels. In other words the building is architecturally plain - essentially a white rectangle - with the aim that this simplicity and minimalism will show off the artworks to best effect and that the significance and impact of these works will bring the building to life as a place of worship.

Spence was “the co-ordinator of the whole operation of commissioning artists and craftsmen with the skills to create a variety of elements, including glass, congenially juxtaposed and working together as a whole.” “Spence believed that the architect, as leader of the team, should collaborate at the earliest possible stage with his engineers and artists. With the art in progress there was also a reduced risk of it being lost in any subsequent budget cut. He was therefore careful to commission work from the outset. Artists were sought to suit each project and the artist’s freedom was maintained.”

The desire to preserve is at its strongest, however, when a church is built as a complete, integrated artistic and architectural unit in a particular style, whether Neo-Gothic/Pre-Raphaelite, as at St Michael & All Angels Waterford, or Modernist, as with Le Corbusier’s churches at Ronchamp and La Tourette. With such churches the desire to preserve is at its greatest, meaning, in the most extreme circumstances, that no development or new commissions are permissible because to do so would detract from the original designs. For many of the art sacré Churches which I visited in France this also means that they are designated as historic monuments. This guarantees their preservation while, possibly, denying their development.

The need for input/oversight from some kind of wider preservation body (e.g. the Diocesan Advisory Committee in Anglican settings) is demonstrated by the issues raised at St Peter’s Gorleston-on-Sea where for some time individuals were able to make significant changes to Gill’s original design based primarily on personal taste or preference.

The rejection of Harry Clarke’s design for St Michael and All Angels, on the grounds that the design was out of keeping with the Pre-Raphaelite windows already in the church, provides an interesting example of the complexity of issues and pressures found in such settings which has the potential for turning down work that could add considerably to the setting. The debate which preceded the work by Renzo Piano on the site of Ronchamp may well be another example of this syndrome; one which had a positive resolution. One possible solution to these dilemmas, which has been used at La Tourette, is that of commissioning temporary works that then relate in some way to the original design of the church or its artworks.

(iv)               Team versus individual stars

Couturier criticized the Ateliers d'Art Sacre as a 'world closed in on itself, where reciprocal indulgence, or else mutual admiration, quickly becomes the ransom paid to work as a team and maintain friendship.' Yet Couturier's scheme of work at Assy suffers from the opposite problem, as work by individual masters produced in isolation from each other, with work assigned on the basis of what they could with integrity contribute, results in a decorative scheme with no cohesiveness or focus.

Couturier, here, fails to be sufficiently decisive as a curator. As William S. Rubin states, 'the subject was almost as often picked for the man as the man for the subject.' It is the difference between a cohesive team of mediocre talents versus a team of individual stars. It is anyone's guess as to which will win. The ideal is usually part-way between the two and a mixed economy (of artists with significant mainstream reputations receiving occasional commissions plus artists with less significant mainstream reputations receiving commissions which form a significant part of their practice) is what we find throughout this period and into the present day.

Artists in the latter group have often worked together on commissions or to obtain commissions i.e. using broker/support organisations such as: ASP, Ateliers d'Arte Sacré, Christian Artists, commission4mission, Guild of Catholic Artists and Craftsmen, Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic, Societie de Saint Luc et St Maurice, and Society of Catholic Artists.

Commissioning several works from the same artists and positioning these at different locations within a church indicates an awareness of the differing ways in which visitors and worshippers use and respond to the space. Artworks integrated within the life and architecture of a church are not viewed in the same way as works within the white cube of a gallery space and this needs to be understood and handled with sensitivity during the commissioning process. The number and variety of commissions which feature within Chelmsford Cathedral, for example, mean that even in a packed service when each worshipper will only see from their specific place within the space a very small proportion of the artworks within the building, they will, nevertheless, be able to view something of significance and depth to enhance their experience of worship.

(v)                 Current masters versus national, regional or local artists

Couturier and Pie-Raymond Régamey argued that "each generation must appeal to the masters of living art, and today those masters come first from secular art." Hussey wrote that it had been the great enthusiasm of his life and work” to commission the very best artist’s he could.

In Contemporary Art in British Churches Paul Bayley sets up a dichotomy (as did Couturier and Régamey) between the significant contemporary artists participating in the upsurge of commissioning from the church (initiated by Hussey) and "self-styled 'Christian art' that though sincere and well-intentioned" is "often formulaic or decorative" and (tellingly) has "little or no standing within the art world." Alan Green gives a theological underpinning to this approach by pointing out that "Jesus was not afraid to associate with, and be looked after by, those who were not seen as good Jews ... Those who approached Jesus and seem to have got the best responses from him were not the religious elite, but those with no particular religious standing who nevertheless recognised something special in him and presented themselves honestly."

However the mainstream art movements of the day will not necessarily share a natural affinity with the Church (particularly when the Church is seen as a part of what is to be subverted) and, if the focus of the Church is on engaging key mainstream artists, then less attention may be paid to supporting emerging artists with a Christian faith able to engage effectively with the mainstream art world.

In addition, fashions and reputations in the art world (as elsewhere) change considerably with time. In their own day and time Pablo Picasso and Matisse were considered unassailable as the giants of twentieth century art while now, in terms of continuing influence on contemporary artists, Marcel Duchamp is generally considered to be the most influential twentieth century artist. Lurçat’s tapestry provides the central focus for the Church at Assy, where those artists commissioned were considered current masters, but his reputation has not been sustained into the current day.

The reputations of many of those who were commissioned by the Church in the twentieth century (e.g. Bazaine, Denis, Albert Gleizes, Lurcat, Manessier, Sutherland, Piper, Rouault, Severini) have declined following their deaths. The same is likely to be so for those receiving contemporary commissions (i.e. Clarke, Cox, Emin, Le Brun, Wisniewski). The pace with which modern art moved from one movement to next in the twentieth century quickly and, often unfairly, condemned as passé what had previously been avant garde.

The Church cannot, and probably should not, seek to keep up with the fickle nature of fashion and instead should value both artists with significant mainstream reputations wishing to receive occasional commissions plus artists with less significant mainstream reputations who receive commissions which form a more significant part of their practice. In my view, therefore, debates about artists with significant mainstream reputations versus those without and between secular artists and artists who are Christians represent false division and unnecessary debate. The reality is that both have happened simultaneously in the story of modern church commissions and both have resulted in successes and failures. As I shall attempt to outline in discussing the quality of commissions, the key is to pay sustained and prayerful attention to each and every artwork in order to discern what is good and of God in and through it. 

(vi)               Permanent vs temporary

Artists may, consciously or unconsciously, value permanent commissions (with churches providing one significant public context for such commissions) once they have established their reputation with a view to sustaining that reputation into an uncertain future. Permanent church commissions offer a means to escape the vagaries of the art market. However as Christianity is not currently viewed as trendy or fashionable in the West, it is seen as rarely benefitting an emerging artist to secure a church commission.

Permanent commissions raise issues of maintenance such the effect on its stained glass of building subsidence at Canterbury Cathedral or the ongoing maintenance programme for Kossowski’s ceramics at Aylesford Priory. Their cost can therefore be more than the purchase price.

The development of the idea and practice of installation art from the 1960s onwards has meant that it is no longer necessary to think of church commissions solely in terms of permanent commissions. This change in thinking has meant that St Paul’s Cathedral, rather than attempting the tricky negotiations which would be entailed by seeking to add to its existing permanent array of art (from the delicate carvings of Grinling Gibbons in the quire to Sir James Thornhill's dome murals, as well as the Victorian mosaics and Henry Moore's Mother and Child: Hood), can instead explore the encounter between art and faith through a series of temporary interventions by artists, which have included Rebecca Horn, Yoko OnoAntony Gormley and Bill Viola.

These interventions enrich both the daily pattern of worship in the Cathedral and the experience of the thousands who visit daily. Their temporary nature offers something new even for those that are regular worshippers at St Pauls, while the contrast that they provide with the existing art and permanent architecture of the Cathedral means that they also fulfil the key requirement of installation art; “a friction with its context that resists organisational pressure and instead exerts its own terms of engagement.”