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For Art’s Sake: Pioneer Conversations Day – Oxford

3 March 2020


A day of creative conversations on art, theology and mission

CMS Conversation Days are an opportunity for those involved or interested in mission to connect around a given theme. A space for theorists and practitioners to share knowledge, insights and passion through presentations, workshops and panel discussions.

Our theme for our next conversations day is art, theology and mission – through which we’ll be exploring three specific areas:

Affirming Art

With a particular focus on visual and performance art we will be exploring the intrinsic value of art in keeping with God’s creative nature and expression in creation.

Mission and Art

What is art’s unique ability to communicate the gospel? In what ways is it being used and in what ways could it be? An opportunity to discover the role, significance and power of art to build community, provide healing, and communicate the gospel, and how this is especially relevant to our current age.

Prophecy and Art

A tactic in prophetic dialogue is to listen and discern those activists, dreamers, vagabonds, poets and unpopular popular artists who are already prophets in their own culture and to join in with what they are doing in liberation, in service to the healing of creation. An opportunity to meet those who dig out the treasure of popular cultural resources that are apocalyptic, the unpopular popular, and use them as dialogue partners, or as the building blocks of liturgy and spirituality in the new emerging missional communities.

The day includes:

  • performance by David Benjamin Blower
  • workshops on art and mission by Martin Poole
  • Chris Duffett introducing the work of the Light Project
  • Ian Adams helping us see how art and imagination are gift
  • a poetry workshop
  • Rachel Griffiths getting us involved in drama and its ability to connect with people
  • workshop with artist Iain Cotton
  • workshop with installation artist Lou Baker
  • a workshop on photography engaging with spiritual practice



Artiness is next to Godliness:

with Martin Poole

‘God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature.’ Being creative is a divine act, bringing us closer to God and helping us to experience something heavenly. This principle underlies all the work of Beyond as the team seeks to create opportunities for epiphany, environments and activities where God can break in and reveal Godself in unexpected and surprising ways. This is about spiritual exploration, worship, prayer, reflection, meditation and artistic practice. Come and hear some of the stories that have arisen from this work and explore ways to put this into practice in other contexts and environments.

Martin Poole is a Church of England priest, creative worship practitioner, broadcaster, former communications consultant and actor who had a successful career as a communications strategist specialising in branding, marketing and promotion for media with expertise in the UK and international TV market before becoming a full time parish priest in 2010. Since his training as a priest in the early 1980’s and throughout his professional working life he has consistently explored new ways to express Christian faith and has been involved in a variety of fresh expressions of church as an initiator and advocate. He is the founder and leader of Beyond, a fresh expression dedicated to creating innovative arts and spirituality events and conferences. He ran the worship programme at the Greenbelt art, faith and justice festival for a number of years, showcasing the breadth of experimentation taking place across the UK in a wide variety of forms of worship and new forms of church. Beyond continues to organise monthly events in Brighton alongside the parish work that makes up Martin’s day job as vicar of St. Luke’s Prestonville.


Opening Up The Spaces In Between: Pioneers as Artists and Curators:

with Ian Adams

In Opening Up The Spaces In Between Ian Adams will reflect on the vital place for the arts in our life and mission; guide you in curating art projects and exhibitions in your context; and encourage you to nurture your own sense of being an artist.

Ian Adams is a poet, writer, photographer and priest. He is Spirituality Adviser at Church Mission Society, chaplain at Ridley Hall Cambridge, and partner in the Beloved Life project. ‘These beautiful poems know us. We are invited into that expansive knowing, welcomed into breathing with kind shafts of insight.’ – Pádraig Ó Tuama poet and theologian.


Prophetic Art Down the Pub:

with Chris Duffett 

This session is all about stories and unexpected miracles, God speaking through scrappy watercolor pictures and an adventure of Holy Spirit encounters through art. Join artist and evangelist Chris Duffett to engage with and have a go at bringing pictures and words of encouragement, strength and comfort. This is a hands on session, so come prepared to create and make something for someone.

Chris Duffett, from the Light House Project College, is an artist with a desire to bring words, comfort and scenes from God’s heart to those he paints for. Chris’ fine art seeks to bring the colours and mystery of other realms. His work is playful and joy filled with an overemphasis of light. Chris studied Art with Theology at Chester College and has exhibited in Chester and Cambridge and worked as an artist in residence with Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church. His work is often used for publications and magazines. As well as painting and creating he is the founding evangelist of The Light Project, an author, tutor, poet and Baptist minister.


Art as a Language: Lessons From Our Work

with Space to Breathe

Andy Freeman & Steve Leach from Space to Breathe explore how art is a language which can communicate depth, meaning and connect in spiritual ways with people. Space to Breathe have used visual art, poetry and music to explore wellbeing and start conversations on mental health in organisations, communities and individuals. Expect practical ideas, reflective thinking and ideas for art in a missional context.  

Andy Freeman and Steve Leach are two of the Directors of Space to Breathe, a Sheffield-based Community Interest Company that seeks to start conversations on wellbeing & mental health using art, non-religious spirituality and positive psychology. Both Andy and Steve have studied as part of the CMS Pioneer Course. Andy lives in Sheffield and Steve in Bournemouth.


Forming Community Through Theatre Practice

with Rachel Griffiths

Neither an interest in, or experience of theatre-making is needed for this session! This is an invitation to anyone who is looking for new ways to bring disparate groups of people together, to strengthen relationships and build community. The content will offer tools and techniques which can be taken away and used by anyone who wants to try them. Using participatory theatre-making and community organising processes, we will use the session to test the theory: is this a productive, authentic way to begin to build relationships? How will the group of participants feel at the end compared to who they were at the start? The session will be experiential, discursive and practical.

Rachel Griffiths is a freelance theatre practitioner with extensive experience of making theatre workshops and projects with diverse communities. Much of her work takes place in London schools, often working with at-risk young people on issues of youth violence, consequences, choices, relationships. She is also a trainer in the corporate sector, using theatre skills to equip business executives in how to have more impact, improve their presentations, and use storytelling in their work. While living in Chennai, South India between 2012 and 2014, Rachel made theatre projects with girls rescued from sex-trafficking and women in a pavement dwelling community. She has also worked with refugees and girls in Bolivia on a project aimed at preventing them from a life of prostitution. In 2017 Rachel co-founded and chaired Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees, a local community sponsorship group, which led to the resettlement of a refugee family into the local neighbourhood in 2018. The group is a member of London Citizens, active in community organising to bring social transformation through the power of civic society. She studied at University of London, then with Jacques Lecoq in Paris and holds an MA in Participatory and Community Arts from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is on the Strategy Team for the Citizens UK London Mayoral Election in April 2020 and in 2019, completed Citizens UK’s National Leadership Training.


Art and the Prophetic Imagination

with David Benjamin Blower

In this workshop we’ll be making space to explore the biblical modes of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, and what they have to do with the arts. Were those who practiced these modes artists? Do these modes carry energy for artists throughout history? What does it mean for artists to engage with the apocalyptic and the prophetic today?


David Benjamin Blower is a musician, poet, theologian, writer, podcaster, and pamphleteer.


Curiosity, creativity, conversation and community

with Lou Baker

Participatory art can be a people magnet; it acts as a curiosity hook and stimulates thought and conversation. Being invited to touch, to play with materials, to work with colour, brings pleasure and meets a fundamental need for creativity. The passive viewer becomes an active participant. Working side by side with others, with a permissible lack of eye contact, can bring freedom and enable participants to have a voice. Aspects of ritual and space for reflection are important parts of the experience too.  However, social engagement through art can also be a provocation. Many of Lou’s interactive installations deliberately provoke conflicting responses. Examining Nicolas Bourriaud’s theory of ‘relational aesthetics’ alongside Claire Bishop’s ‘relational antagonism’, Lou will discuss the tensions involved in working with the public. It can be a complicated balance, but there’s always a sense of ‘knitting together’ – of people, actions, thoughts, conversations and concept. She is the connector. Come and be part of one of Lou’s installations. Find out how connections can be made and communities built through art and how being part of a collective whole brings a sense of belonging.


Lou Baker makes public things that are normally private. She is both a maker and a facilitator. Her work provokes a range of conflicting responses; attraction, repulsion, horror and hilarity. Some aspects of her practice investigate the transformation of materials and some focus on social engagement. Making intellectual connections between material, process and concept, her work has a confessional element, as personal memories resonate with universal themes. Stimulating conversations with her audience through performative actions, she facilitates opportunities for the viewer to become an active participant, to find a voice. Her works are provocations – often interactive, collaborative and participatory. Lou is based in Bristol, UK. She graduated with First class honours in Drawing and Applied Arts at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, in 2015. She’s just started an MA Fine art, part time, at Bath Spa University. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook @loubakerartist


The Path is Made by Drawing

with Iain Cotton

In this workshop we will be exploring the idea of a journey in a landscape through drawing. (Don’t worry – no skill necessary!) We will be exploring themes of pilgrimage, borders, mapping and navigation, through the materials and processes of making. We will be using paper and a range of drawing media. We will be exploring the connections between pioneering and contemporary art, and you will be hearing a little about my creative practice.


Iain Cotton is a designer-maker and artist, mostly working with lettering and stone, in the studio letter-carving tradition. I studied sculpture at Bath Academy of Art graduating in 1987, and then apprenticed as a stone carver and conservator with Nimbus Conservation. I worked as a journeyman in stone carving and conservation until 2010. Since then I have focussed on designing and carving letters, and sculpture. I work to commission making memorials, house signs, inscriptional sculptures and art for the public realm. I design and carve my own letters by hand so that they might be soulful and full of humanity. I work in British and Irish limestones, sandstones and slates. I have made work for the National Trust, Bath Abbey, Bath City Council, Sovereign Housing and Memorials by Artists and I have work in the Art and Memory National Lettering Collection at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, and in private collections in America, Japan, and the UK. I make sculptures that explores connections with the natural world through stone, text, carving and other interventions, with a deep concern for the environment. Roads, paths, journeys, and human marks in the landscape are common motifs, questioning the traces we are leaving in the age of the Anthropocene.


Creative Writing/Poetry

with Sarah Flashman & Ali Mathew

An opportunity to explore the medium of creative writing (focusing particularly upon poetry) by using simple but structured exercises which stimulate and uncover untapped gifts! We will together see how creative writing workshops can act as missional opportunities with a prophetic edge! Be prepared to be stretched and surprised!


Sarah Flashman is ordained in the Church of England and currently enjoys ministry as Chaplain of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and Associate Interim Minister at Wolvercote & Wytham. She loves to bring creativity to worship and mission. Before ordination and pioneer church ministry, Sarah together with her husband Steve, shared the vision for the overseas mission they led (Emmanuel International, Chichester) with a creative roadshow ‘Closing the Gap’. Travelling the UK they used Steve’s music, video clips, Sarah’s poetry and contemporary dance to inspire others to support and ‘go!’ to the mission field. Over the years, Sarah has attended numerous workshops by published poets and fiction writers which has helped develop her own writing. She spent 3 years as a radio presenter, writing scripts, presenting and producing live local radio shows across Surrey & Hampshire covering religious affairs and arts. From time to time her poetry was read ‘on air’. She claims no great expertise but has plenty of experience running creative writing workshops and courses, offering buckets of encouragement and inspiration!

Ali Mathew was brought up on the west coast of Scotland, I have a background in community nursing and public health. On leaving the NHS I worked for Tearfund for 8 years in a whole variety of roles from admin to working alongside their HIV/AIDS advisor. During this time I completed a BA in English and Creative Writing and re-discovered a love of poetry …. Following a couple of years working in my local parish church in London I was ordained in the Church of England and am currently working as an associate priest, just south of Oxford. I am in the final year of the MA programme at CMS. I have, along the way, been involved in two poetry projects with Proost. I love both reading and writing poetry and am keen to explore how the ‘different sort of speech’ that poetry is can help us in our complex world.


Photography as Spiritual Practice

with Morna Simpson & Sarah Clarke

Contemplative photography incorporates prayerful practices from the Monastic tradition with methods of photography and ways of looking and really seeing into aspects of photographs. It moves the artistic essence of photography into a creative process which we enter into with God; rather than taking photographs, we receive them through a process of prayer and meditation where God guides us to see through the lens of the Divine. This session will involve learning to look and look again, so that we might see through God’s lens. There will be time to put this to practice as we prayerfully contemplate the surroundings and distractions prayerfully, and to consider ways in which to practice contemplative photography in the midst of a regular day.

Morna Simpson is an assistant curate in the Holy Spirit Parish, Leicester and would describe herself as a poet, picture maker and monk in the world. She trained for ministry at Ripon College, Cuddesdon and is currently completing her MA Dissertation with the Church Mission Society. Her dissertation focuses on using contemplative photography as a tool for missional prayer, through which she hopes to encourage a focus for mission as being present in the moment, looking to see glimmers of God in action and drawing attention to these divine actions in ways which help those who are searching to connect with God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Contemplative photography is a prayerful practice that Morna has discovered and developed throughout her ministerial training. It is through with a photographer’s stance that she looks and sees the world.

Sarah Clarke is an artist, craft maker, and celllist, and lectures on and leads the CMS pioneer undergraduate programme. She has masters in theology, and philosophy from Regent College, Vancouver, and is currently pursuing a PhD in art, theology and community formation.


Creative, Spiritual, Compassionate: arts ministry amidst the cranes

with Betsy Blatchley

In this workshop we will hear the story of the emerging arts-based ministry in Nine Elms, on London’s South Bank – across one of the largest ongoing redevelopment areas in Europe. You are invited to join in the conversation about the powerful role of the arts to cross divides; explore what worship and liturgy curated by creatives might look like; consider what partnerships we need to make to transform commercial placemaking into community flourishing; and join in our dream to create an arts church to reach out to those for whom the arts may nurture their soul and be the door to encountering the living God.


Betsy Blatchley is currently Pioneer Minister in the Arts in Nine Elms, the first post of its kind in the Church of England, working in Nine Elms on London’s South Bank one of the largest redevelopment areas in Europe with a potential population increase of 25,000 over the next ten years. She has ministered in several urban parishes across London and Southwark Diocese, with an emphasis on establishing fresh expressions within the parish context , including seven years as a Parish Priest in Hackney. Before ordination Betsy had a long career in professional theatre, initially as an actor/ singer and then as a producer, culminating in several years working at the National Theatre. Much of her work in theatre was aimed at creating accessible work for new audiences from classics to new works and from serious drama to musical theatre. As well as mainstream theatres Betsy produced work in community centres, residential homes, schools, open-air venues and, most memorably in a 700 seat Big Top. Her current role, establishing a new community in Nine Elms around arts spirituality and social justice, brings together her two vocations. Most recently Nine Elms Arts Ministry, the emerging community she leads, presented the Nine Elms Advent Calendar which brought together nearly 50 organisations to create 24 events in 24 days and a trail of 25 Christmas Carol themed windows. Over 2,000 people attended the events, predominantly non-churchgoers.


3 March 2020
Event Categories:


Church Mission Society
Watlington Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX4 6BZ United Kingdom
+ Google Map


Helen Harwood
01865 787439

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