Sometimes in applying for grants, the questions you are asked can lead to new avenues for reflection. When a committee at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (CFRUC) in Winnipeg applied for funding from Embracing the Spirit, the questions we were asked led us to  give real thought to two subjects: “What makes a successful partnership?” and “What is the connection between art and spirituality?”

Our congregation has been involved in the arts for decades. We are blessed with a 750-seat sanctuary that is an acoustical gem, which has hosted many choirs and some CBC musical events. We also have a second-floor stage and quasi-theatre, where theatre groups can rehearse.

There is also the modern reality facing all churches — demographic shifts resulting in fewer congregation members and less money all around. For the last five years at CFRUC, we have been working to re-imagine our ministry and the use of our wonderful facility. The congregation has chosen a mission which builds on its strengths, which includes interacting with the community outside our four walls.

Crescent Fort Rogue United's "Home Rob Ensemble" performs as part of Artfest.
“The Home Row Ensemble” during Artfest featured (clockwise from bottom left): poet David Streit on typewriter, Kevin Hillier on guitar, Michael Cutler on pipe organ, and Isaac Zee on electronic violin.
Sandi Howell

A key way we do that is through art. Three years ago, CFRUC began an arts festival, aptly named Artfest, to better connect us to community and to enliven the congregation. Both of these goals have been achieved.

But back to the enhancements that Embracing the Spirit unknowingly has gifted to us. We are beginning to attract external partners who want to be part of our mission. They not only trust us, but they know that our values and social justice agenda aligns with theirs.

Good partnerships, however, don’t just happen: they take time and careful thought. Transparency and communication is critical from day one. A time investment early on is absolutely essential to increasing quality and fostering enduring partnerships. Outcomes we have seen at CFRUC from these partnerships include: the lending of good names/logos to boost your image, access to membership lists, co-funding, and support for funding applications.

The most value-added aspect of partnerships, however, is the lending of expertise. In the last six months alone, the external expertise of partners has greatly enhanced our arts festival, resulting in a much better product for the public.

Let me close by touching on the relationship between spirituality and art. Thanks to our experience at CFRUC, we can present seven perspectives on this subject:

  • Art expresses a personal spirituality or concept (thoughts, feelings, experience).

  • Art is a spiritual process unto itself for the artist (an act of spirituality or a joining with the spiritual to produce art).

  • Art results in a spiritual experience for not only the artists, but the viewer/audience.

  • Art expresses a collective spirituality. Just look at Italy (and many other countries) and how art is an important part of their churches.

  • Art is a way for us to be hospitable, to be in relationship and to connect.

  • Art can be a form of healing.

  • Art helps us to see in new ways.

At CFRUC, we have decided that we need to be conversant on this connection from all these aspects. Stand by as we continue to develop our thoughts.

-Sandi Howell is the curator of Artfest.

New and diverse approaches to ministry are constantly cropping up across The United Church of Canada, and Embracing the Spirit wants to hear about them. If you are involved with a group that has found an innovative way to approach church, let us know, by filling in the Tell Us Your Story form, found at the bottom of the Spur Innovation page.