Norfolk barn is focus for creative Christianity
A barn in rural South Norfolk is a thriving focus for the arts and creative Christian spirituality, as well as a recording studio and a craft centre, all run by an ordained couple. Kevin Gotts reports.
The Barn is a former old carriage house at Rockland St Mary Rectory seven miles south east of Norwich and is the home of the former Burning Bush project. The Barn is a ministry run by Rev Canon Nick Garrard and his wife Rev Helen Garrard.
At present the Barn fulfils several roles. It is a recording studio for services, an assembly line for children’s craft packs, and home to Art Café, which Nick explains, “The Art Café is a Wednesday morning online gathering where we contemplate a work of art or an artist and talk about all that intrigues and inspires us. We have conversations with artists, including the award-winning young Dutch artist Egbert Moddermann who recently joined us from Groeningen to share some of his paintings on Biblical themes.”
Nick’s role combines being Rector of six rural parishes (Rockland Benefice, part of the Bramerton Group) with Bishop’s Officer for Christian Spirituality through the Creative Arts. The arts ministry is based in The Barn, was developed and resourced by his predecessor, Rev Wendy Shaw and a committed core group, many of whom are still involved today.
“I have been a parish minister for 32 years and continue to feel privileged to share my faith, accompanying and supporting people through the whole cycle of life, with its hopes, its joys and sorrows,” says Nick. “My journey with the arts began as a teenager, around the same time as I first felt called by God to serve in ordained ministry. I enjoyed art and art history but gave them up to focus on more ‘serious’ subjects. My interest in art has never diminished and keeps coming back in different ways. It’s been thrilling to take up lino printing again in the Barn. I still can’t quite believe that we have a proper studio!”
“Over the past 20 years I became aware that God was calling me to explore combining pastoral work with education and the arts. Life is a constant learning experience. I enjoy supporting schools, teaching pastoral care and spirituality to students training for ordained and licensed ministries and studying art history with the Open University. Another great privilege of my role is to be alongside people exploring life, the world and spirituality through the arts, whether as viewers, listeners or creators.”
Helen, who shares this ministry is the full-time Lead Chaplain with the Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust and is very involved in the life of Rockland Benefice. Both are also training together as spiritual directors. A director is a companion, who meets regularly with those exploring their life journey.
“As the world emerges from its current restrictions, people may feel the need reflect on where they find themselves and move forward. We trust The Barn will offer a creative space to explore their big questions. We look forward to times when people can return to the Barn for art events, quiet days, worship, coffee and cake,” said Nick. “We are launching groups with different interests soon, seeking to encourage creativity in many ways.”
Art Café attendees are very positive about the project: “Art Café has been a window into and onto a world which I had always thought beyond my comprehension. I am now beginning to appreciate it more thoroughly,” said one.
“I have much enjoyed the Art Café, with its lively and informed group. I have learned a lot, too. Many thanks to Nick Garrard, for his inspired leadership,” said a second.
"Despite lockdown I feel free. Looking at a work of art; a chance for an exchange of views - those of the participants and those of the artist. We look at the same thing but see it differently," said a third.
Nick extends an invitation to join them or receive the monthly Barn Owl round up of arts and spirituality events. Contact him on 01508 538014, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.achurchnearyou.com/church/7440
Pictured above is Rev Nick Garrard in creative mode.