By Bruce Cooke

Community Arts Evening

Do you want to see staff acting with great courage? Experience intimacy in community? Watch colleagues and friends express gifts that surprise and delight you? Allow staff to continue receiving from Jesus on the second night of a three day Formation Retreat? Enjoy the Holy Spirit at work in powerful, beautiful and surprising ways? If so, then the Community Arts Evenings are for you!

In New England we have wondered how to keep staff engaged on the second night of our Staff Spiritual Formation Retreat so they don’t ‘check out’ and escape God’s invitations. But we also wanted the evenings to be a change of pace, more relaxing, relational and fun.

So a few years ago we tried something different on a retreat for Campus Staff Members. On the first day we told them that we would have a Community Arts Evening on the second night where they would have an opportunity to express in a creative and artistic form the work of God in their hearts and souls on the retreat. It would be a space where they could share through poetry or painting, story-telling or sculpture, song or dance. We had no idea what would happen!

Here are some details to provide a fuller picture of what happens during these evenings. The retreats have between 25-35 people present. InterVarsity staff are told at the start of the retreat that there will be an Arts Evening on the second night. We encouraged them to use times of silence and the free afternoon to respond to what God is doing in a creative fashion. We provide the art supplies (clay, paper, paint, crayons etc.) and set them out on a table. Over the course of the retreat staff will approach me and let me know they have something to share. I create an order for the evening that flows well between music, poetry, art and story-telling.  The session lasts around an hour and as a general rule I ask each individual to share for no longer than 5 minutes. I begin the evening by reminding staff that the sharing time is not meant to be a talent show but the continuation of the Spiritual Formation Retreat. I invite the group to be attentive to what God is saying to us as individuals and as a community. I stress that those listening are also participants as they receive what their friends share, weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who are rejoice and respond to the work of the Spirit in their own souls as they journey with others. There are times after someone has shared that I will transition by praying for the person, or share a few words that reflect on what we have heard and how we all can respond. The evenings have been very well received by staff, and it is something they look forward to. There are times when a person is hesitant about sharing something deeply personal in front of their peers. I remind them that the sharing is optional. I also let them know that if they do share their art, they can expect a very supportive audience.

A Risk Worth Taking

I am glad to write that The Community Arts Evening is now an established part of our CSM retreats, and the Area Directors and Regional Leadership recently had their debut! These evenings are a risk, but a risk well worth taking. Here is why:

As you can imagine it takes great courage for staff to stand in front of peers and supervisors and share in such a vulnerable way. This combination of courage and vulnerability is then received, applauded and affirmed by colleagues which in turn deepens trust and intimacy in the whole community.  It is a sacred space, with shared sacred moments. What is more, staff use artistic gifts to express their journey with Jesus that they rarely, if ever, get the opportunity to use – and this is often deeply affirming and encouraging. And because staff share about the Spirit’s work on that retreat, the evenings become a space where all staff continue to engage with God and receive from Him as He invites, speaks and shapes.

Finally, as a leader these evenings are personally a great risk! I invite, but don’t know who will show up. I cast vision, but don’t know if anyone will catch it. I pray, but don’t know if my prayers will be answered. It is an unplanned evening, but then I get to watch and experience the Spirit’s plan. These evenings are good for the leader’s soul!

If you have wondered what to do on that second night then I invite you to take the risk, host a Community Arts Evening on a Spiritual Formation Retreat. It is well worth it!

(Note from the artist who painted the watercolor at the top of the page:)
This was painted as a result of experiencing joy from our scripture study on the Temptation of Jesus after what was a really emotionally difficult year for me.