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Church needs creative outlet to fail and learn



Is success overrated?

By Shawna Bowman | Presbyterians Today

Two years ago, I collaborated with colleagues and friends to develop an experimental, art-making, spirit-stirring, imagination space called Creation Lab. We believed that the church needed spaces set aside for creativity and trying new things — a research and design space, if you will.

We knew, as creative church pastors and leaders, that we were hungry for such spaces. Deep in our bodies and spirits, we were being depleted. Our creativity needed an outlet and a place for renewal and expansion, and we believed we weren’t alone. Our idea was this: Create a working art studio space where we could collaborate and experiment at the intersections of art, spirituality and faith leadership and invite other folks to join us.

We found a space in a larger artist and musician collective building on Chicago’s Northwest Side and we built a studio. And while Creation Lab hosts open studio time and workshops on-site, we also find ourselves out and about both online and on the road, curating creative conversations, maker-spaces and spirituality studios at churches, conferences and gatherings.

When we started Creation Lab I believed that all the church needed to become more imaginative was practice. I believed that if we created spaces that invited folks to get their hands dirty, to try new things, to make art and to be creative forces in the world, they would jump in. I believed that we, as the church, had the capacity to follow the Holy Spirit with energy and imagination into the unknown future — we just needed a bit of practice stretching our own imaginations. I also believed that if we provided materials and the space to create, folks would jump at the chance. And some do.

There are artists, creative types, and makers and builders in all of our congregations. Many of them are hiding in the back or they’re doodling and knitting quietly in the corner of our meetings. They say things like, “I’ve been an artist/writer/builder/maker my whole life and I’ve never imagined this work as a prayerful or spiritual practice.” These folks are just waiting to collaborate with us or to be unleashed in our communities.

But most often art supplies, whether paints and brushes, or glue guns and a pile of twigs, are met with fear and trembling. At some point, many of us were told (usually somewhere in the second or third grade) that we weren’t very creative or talented and our art wasn’t “good,” so we gave it up. We stopped mixing all the colors together to see what would happen and we put down the crayons or the pencil or Play-Doh, believing it was only for children and artists.

But here’s the thing — we don’t need to make things to be “good.” We need to make things to stay alive, curious and resilient. We need to be creators because we were made in the image of the first creator. The one whose breath is life. The one who painted the world into being, teeming with strange beauty and infinite color. The one who meets us again and again with curiosity and whose love never fails.

How often does the fear of failure keep you from trying something new? How often does the fear of failure keep your community from taking a risk? When is the last time you got your hands dirty and created something?

We are a death and resurrection people. We are a start over, start again, turn around and find a new path people. We are a being formed and re-formed by God again and again people. The world (and the church) doesn’t hinge on everything being “good” all the time. In fact, there’s grace and discovery to be found in failure.

Give it a try.

Shawna Bowman, co-founder of Creation Lab, is an artist and pastor doing ministry with the creative and quirky folks at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Bowman is also associate director of field and experiential education at McCormick Theological Seminary.

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