Divine creativity burns brightly in Norfolk barn
2011: A Norfolk barn has become the only centre of its kind in the UK to explore and extend the boundaries of divine creativity. Sandie Shirley reports.
Rev Wendy Shaw, co-founder, co-ordinator and sojourner with God, has tapped into the mysteries of spiritual art to help launch the Burning Bush Barn at Rockland St Mary in South Norfolk from a restored stable.
With its lofty white minimal space, the sanctuary of quiet, unhindered expression and contemplation is both healing and affirming, explains Wendy, who believes God wants to be actively creative through his people.
"I hope the barn is a ready place to respond, rediscover and uncover the gospel through creative experience," says Wendy. "We have a sacred space for the Holy Spirit to dwell where there is nothing to distract, or anything of ourselves, so we can encounter God. Here is an unspoken honesty - a place to be vulnerable on Holy ground where art-making is a way to experience closeness with God and when God is our creator so we are creative," adds Wendy.
The Church of England priest, a painter who sews and sculpts, is seeing the spiritual freedom that comes with making and creating. She also believes in seeking God's provision for the projects and programmes that flow out of the Barn which, in itself, enlarges the creative process.
The result has been revolutionary as the Holy Spirit inspires definitive and figurative art for visitors, explorers and partakers to touch the heart of our creator, remarks Wendy, who has seen a fresh unleashing of paint and prose through those who never saw themselves as artists.
Praying and painting
Sally-Anne Lomas, a former Norwich Art School pupil, drifted away from her Christian faith, unable to find a congregation where she felt comfortable. The Burning Bush Barn opened when she moved to Rockland St Mary and she was invited to a prayer painting workshop.
“Now I pray and paint every day. I feel the love of God working through my life. I have found a new, creative, imaginative, private, contemplative form of Christian worship and a community I feel part of which has awoken the flame of love inside me," said Sally-Anne.
"Finding a place and a way that leads me to God, I pray that many more people sense the fire burning so brightly here in this tiny parish and walk as I did towards the light."
This pioneering ministry maintains a passion for creative use of liturgy and the Sacraments liturgy within art meditations yet the off-beat agenda somehow provides an open door for every genre and age. It includes prayer painting, breakfast meetings and contemplative sculpture and interactive installations.
There are also meditative exhibitions (or 'shewings'), various workshops and a library of 500 art books and DVDs that can be lent to those unable to visit.
The regular Thursday breakfast meetings have swelled since their inception in the lounge of her house three years ago. Some are Christians, others are not and some are unsure but it doesn't matter. All have a deep need to live a creative life, with a creative spirituality, explains Wendy, who hosts the early morning sessions for weavers, sewers, painters, doodlers and sculptors to kick-start their day with fresh insight and shared support.
"It is spirituality and creativity with a capital 'S' and 'C' where art-making is about making sense of our lives and not about making a great picture," insists Wendy, who opened the centre with co-partner, Kate Litchfield, who is also a counsellor.
Wendy and Kate shared a similar vision when they met in 2003. Both were artistic and hungry to meet God through the joint harness of creativity and spirituality. They experimented with art - making marks, smudges and lines as well as a riot of primary and metallic colour - as they learnt and understood the developing process of non-verbal prayer through God's releasing. They believe they have uncovered a more natural way of praying, when God sometimes seems beyond words for many people.
They began hosting workshops in South Walsham but demand out-stripped availability. As the partnership continued, the ensuing vision for the Burning Bush Barn came when Wendy's husband, Revd John Shaw - Priest of the Rockland Benefice - was moved to his present location. The run-down stable alongside their home provided a potential base. With a major financial contribution from the Diocese of Norwich, together with trust funds and personal donations, the vision became reality 21 months ago.
Wendy's creative ability was encouraged and released at secondary school. Today she works with diverse materials - machined fabrics, silken threads, clay, vibrant acrylics and even black soot and ashes - at the Barn and her own purpose-adapted studio next-door, as her passion for art and faith has placed her on new spiritual ground.
Wendy once engaged with profoundly deaf children and has a passion for non-verbal visual communication. "As a priest I now help make faith visible and tangible for people who for, whatever reason, are unable to hear the word of God and are deaf to his love because sometimes we need to see His word as well as hear it," she said.