Capturing the story of unity, inclusion, justice, and creativity through the arts
Following a year where, as a church and broader community we have slowly regained momentum and found old rhythms, Uniting Creative have been gathering and collaborating: using the gifts of creativity across our community to express our hope, passion, diversity, and heart for justice.
Uniting Creative is gearing up for a busy year across 2023, with a full album release of original songs for ‘Courageous, Contemporary and Growing Churches’ to be launched in September 2023. The Creative Cohort will have the opportunity to write, record, produce and develop their craft as we collaborate to strengthen our faith and relationships. Our aim is to cultivate a vibrant community that nurtures spiritual depth and creative excellence.
In preparation, writers, composers, musicians, and vocalists from across our Presbyteries will be invited together on 25 February to collaborate with other artists as we explore emerging themes. Creatives will have the opportunity to spend time with gifted and seasoned writers and composers who can offer guidance and advice around lyrics, arrangements and musicianship.
‘We use music to tell the story of God, with artistry, to inspire the Christian imagination. We use music to help tell, receive, and join in the story of the Trinity’ – David Gungor (The Brilliance / Creative Cohort Mentor).
It has been so exciting to see the rich diversity of creatives engaging in this space. When we gather, we glimpse the beauty our collective church holds – that we have so much to learn from each other and that music can weave together our personal stories, to tell an even greater story of divine hope. In some ways, the arts can offer a soft-focus lens that shifts our gaze from miniscule details up to the Divine. Paradoxically this can sharpen our focus on what really matters so that God becomes salient in our craft and representation.
According to AJ Hayton who has been involved with Uniting Creative since 2020, “We are a community united by creativity. Music breaks down the barriers of church communities, culture, traditions, and beliefs.”
Likewise, band member and bass player, Samsiu Uhi said, “Being able to meet and connect with other fellow musicians with the same faith has inspired me about the journey both musically and spiritually.”
Sound of the Spirit
Following a series of song-writing gatherings across 2021 and 2022, we have explored not only what people see when they look at the Uniting Church, but what our churches ‘sound’ like. We questioned if people glean the passion and spirit in our sound regardless of genre and style, and if our lyrics and cadence capture the heart and vision of the Uniting Church.
“As I have gathered music teams to lead across various events, I am always listening for what thoughts, themes and stories are emerging. I believe this is one of the gifts our creative leaders offer: postured to be present; connecting to the emotion, heart and passion that dwells in and amongst the words and expressions we use. Music has the ability to move us spiritually and physically – it can be such a wonderous invitation into relationship, healing, peace and joy. As we continue to imagine together what our churches could be in the future, we are asking: do our songs align with our theology? How are our songs moving us towards the church we envisage? How do we translate what is emerging and create new language that defines us? Perhaps our music can help awaken our spirit on this journey and prompt us to walk ‘in-spirit’ with our mind, body and soul.”
German author, Nina George writes, “Often it’s not we who shape words, but the words we use that shape us.” In our context, it is pertinent to consider how our chosen language within the Uniting Church may limit or breathe life into our identity, reflecting the depth and spectrum of our theology. Perhaps the arts can broaden our often restrictive language, to capture the tones and shades of our spiritual complexity across our church.
Gabi Cadenhead is a Mission Worker for Christian Students Uniting at the University of Sydney. They spoke about the importance of developing original songs that reflect the heart of the Uniting Church.
“I have grown up in the Uniting Church hearing stories about the good old days of NCYCs, where so much new music was created, sung and distributed – a body of worship music that was able to evolve with the church and its young people,” they said.
“It is vital that we continue this legacy, to create and fund the creation of worship music as an ongoing expression of our faith. Music created in community is often the most powerful; at Leichhardt Uniting Church, we regularly sing songs by the wonderful Mikali Anagnostis, and because these songs emerge from community, they speak directly into the experiences and theology of that community, which often resonate far beyond our congregation.”
According to American thinker, poet, writer, and philosopher, Suzy Kassem, “We cannot control the way people interpret our ideas or thoughts, but we can control the words and tones we choose to convey them…”. This concept is not new. 20th century poet and literary critic, T.S. Elliott once wrote, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.”
‘Spirited Worship’ is a pathway for new voices – it is a new expression that offers linguistic freedom while nurturing the sacred and beloved traditions. By shifting the constraints of the term ‘contemporary’, we create room to redefine a genre of music and approach to formation that breaks down the barriers of style, and returns to the heart of the worship.
Rev. Dr Peter Walker is the Principal of UTC.
“As United Theological College (UTC) forms and shapes new ministers, it has been enlivening to explore how creative formation could partner across new programs to support candidates,” he said.
“As students are nurtured and stretched academically, how can we collaborate through the gift of creativity to invigorate the body and soul to form adaptive church leaders?”
“Spirited worship energises people for discipleship, and can be a converting experience for newcomers,” he said.
“Yet most importantly, spirited worship brings joy to God. UTC is thrilled to be involved in developing programs and experiences focusing on how to prepare for and lead spirited worship, and we are so fortunate to have people like Tash Holmes, Ockert Meyer, and Glen Spencer collaborating in this project.”
Creativity in our Schools
A great way for our students to learn about the story of the UCA is through music and creativity. As our new cohort comes together to write and produce new music, we are excited to include our Uniting schools. Our hope is that new music can fill their chapel services, as well as our churches. As we know, school environments are frenetic, so if we can provide our chaplains with easily accessible resources and music that connects with young people, we can convey the beauty of our faith in meaningful ways that appeal to the next generation, and support this important ministry.
Rev. Viniana Rokomasi Ravetali is the Senior Chaplaina at MLC School, Burwood.
“Creative Music as put together under the leadership of Tash Holmes have contributed significantly to the devotional and chapel services of MLC School,” she said.
“To have it readily accessible is a sense of comfort for school chaplains such as myself especially during challengers of the pandemic when no singing was allowed. The songs are well versed as it spiritually nurtures the young – in happy times, sad times, lonely times and all times.”
We are always looking forward to partnering with creatives within our community. For more information about Uniting Creative or to be part of the next cohort in February, contact Tash Holmes at firstname.lastname@example.org.