Artist-pastor, a vision
October 2005 – The congregation of Exchange Community Church issues an invitation to artists:
“Speak to us, challenge us towards new vision, illuminate the cracks and fissures of our social constructs, call to us from the margins, and, perhaps, bring us to our knees.” Do not use your gifts to speak for the church, use your gifts to speak to the church.
As a practicing inter-disciplinary artist and Christian, I accepted the invitation. This was a dream job.
Eschewing fear of judgment, ostracism, or loss of employment, I started presenting work. I, with the artwork, had one intention: to lead people to Christ. The art asked for deep personal reflection, engagement with the radical nature of Christianity and courageous action. In return, it offered discipleship and inspiration.
But conflict began early and continued throughout my two-and-a-half year tenure. In October of 2007, I was asked to resign.
That this vision failed is sad, but not surprising. It seems translating an inspired invitation to artists from theory into practice is thorny work.
Jesse Wood lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Editors’ note: After this article was published, leaders at Exchange Community Church contacted us at Geez to say they felt unfairly represented and wished they would have had an opportunity to respond. They do not consider their vision a failure and continue to pursue art in ministry as much as ever. The resignation of Jesse Wood coincided with a resignation of the founding pastor, Phil Wright, to facilitate their move to more community-led leadership. Furthermore, if the article above insinuates that the church did not appreciate Wood’s leadership and contribution as an artist, that impression needs correction. “The termination of Jesse’s employment was in no way related to her art,” said Wright in a letter of correction on their website. He added, “Jesse’s art and Jesse herself are profound and provocative.” After meeting the some of the leaders, I was very impressed at their dedication to the inner city and their openness to different expressions of art. — Aiden Enns, publisher, Geez magazine