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Couple’s dreams for arts community have been ‘percolating’ 25 years

MONTREAL (BP)–Imagine a church where an original oil painting, a musical lament or a basket of colorful fruit can help launch a spiritual discussion and facilitate a meaningful worship experience in which artists are valued as communicators whose messages can sometimes penetrate the human soul on a level deeper than words.

That is part of the vision David and Sanan Brazzeal have for a church aimed at the arts community in Montreal, Canada’s second-largest city and the largest city in Canada’s predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec.

“The arts community is … a group that evangelical Christians haven’t understood and which all too often has had trouble fitting into the average church,” said Brazzeal, who is working under the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s auspices as strategy coordinator for the Montreal urban arts community.

Earlier this year, the Brazzeals changed gears in their ministry. They moved from the quiet suburb of Laval to downtown Montreal and traded their suburban home for a downtown townhouse within a few blocks from both the Bell Centre (where the fabled Montreal Canadiens play hockey) and a Salvation Army homeless shelter.

“The Montreal arts community is concentrated in and around downtown,” Brazzeal said. “We felt we needed to be close to the people we’re trying to reach.”

Still without a name and a permanent home, the infant group in its first few months of existence has attracted 15 to 20 people connected by a passion for the arts and a desire to know God better through artistic expression. Participants include various artists, musicians, a film editor, a choreographer, a sculptor and others who find that the arts help them connect to God.

“We want to create a venue where artists can express themselves,” Brazzeal said. “Worship is very self-expressive, and we want to allow artists to communicate what God is teaching them through their experiences. There normally isn’t such a venue in a church for a painter, poet or songwriter to express themselves.”

Meetings tend to emphasize the visual, experiential and participatory instead of lectures or sermons.

Discussions at several of the early meetings have grown out of such activities as observing an artist’s painting, listening to an instrumental musical presentation, seeing a movie or contemplating a certain aspect of nature. One evening, each person brought a piece of fruit to add to a basket that soon overflowed with an amazing diversity of colors, textures and tastes. Another evening, the theme was “the Kingdom of God,” and people brought various expressions of different aspects of the kingdom.

One participant noted that starting with a visible image and pulling in scriptural truths it connotes is an interesting switch from hearing a passage read and then trying to imagine or describe a corresponding image. Besides coming together as a large group for worship, a climate is being established for smaller groupings to meet on a spontaneous basis. In the reality of everyday life, participants are encouraged to engage the culture and become ministers in their own sphere of influence.

This summer, a number of the artists entered works and volunteered at an art exhibit sponsored by Christian Direction, a Montreal-based interdenominational organization that also recently began an arts ministry. The Brazzeals and their summer missions team further cooperated with Christian Direction to produce a research document called an exegesis (or cultural “snapshot”) of the downtown core.

Some potential future projects for the church could include painting murals or providing concerts for homeless shelters, serving as volunteers at festivals or other community events or offering certain helpful seminars or services for the arts community. Each of these projects would be designed to maximize opportunities for dialoging with non-Christians. In addition, special performances or interdisciplinary art installations that raise issues touching on spirituality could be presented for the public in appropriate venues.

For the Brazzeals, organizing the arts church has been a natural outgrowth of their own longtime love for the arts. A composer, David served for 10 years on the music faculty at a Brazilian Baptist seminary and in music publishing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“It’s a ministry that has been percolating in our lives for 25 years,” Sanan said. “We’re wired that way ourselves as creative people. When we saw the need for a community of faith among Quebec artists and when we observed the powerful way the arts communicate in Quebec culture, the idea for starting a church to reach out to and through the arts community was a no-brainer.”

In addition, the Brazzeals see the arts as a way to reach postmoderns in general since they typically are more responsive to images, dialogue and relationships than to mere presentations of facts or principles.

“We aren’t going to come forward with a fancy name and an extensive vision statement,” David said, referring to his seemingly relaxed, wait-and-see-what-happens method of church planting. “Postmoderns are looking for authenticity, and they see right through prepackaged ideas.”

Instead, the Brazzeals intend to allow the Holy Spirit to shape the church’s identity and vision as he works through the creative people who participate together in its formation.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: 25-YEAR DREAM.

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  • Harold Campbell