In the bushy surrounds of Perth’s hills, a Uniting Church congregation is bringing life to the community through art and creativity. Kalamunda Uniting Church’s Creative Endeavour program is reaching people in ways the congregation could not have initially expected.
“It’s all about the journey,” Elizabeth Bishop, founder and leader of Creative Endeavour, tells me. And what a journey it is.
There are many ways to appreciate art; but for those who are using artistic creativity for personal enjoyment, it’s the process – the journey – that often leads us to new places.
Creative Endeavour meets weekly at Kalamunda Uniting Church and invites guests to pursue their own creative interests in a Christian environment. Each session begins with the lighting of a Christ candle and acknowledging that God entrusts us with God’s love to create, and to bless those around us. Guests then each take turns pulling small pieces of paper from a box. Each one is inscripted with a quote about creativity, God’s creation or encouragement. This leads to a time of discussion and prayer before taking up their art works.
Elizabeth leads the group, but is not in charge; Creative Endeavour is a community.
“We’re connecting with our art, we’re connecting with our spiritual energy, and we connect with other,” Elizabeth said. “It’s vibrant; it’s got vitality. Even though it’s random, it all kind of fits. And that’s what community is about. It’s thriving, it’s pumping.
“Creativity is a discovering process. You go on a journey with your art, whatever form of art it is.
“You refine and so on, and that’s what this is about. There are no mistakes.”
Participants range from university students to retirees, from job seekers to people who’ve recently lost a partner. Everyone is welcome at Creative Endeavour, and everyone’s creativity is celebrated.
Elizabeth has always had a flair for art, having a background in interior design in both commercial and residential environments. Her career involved a high level of creativity and complex construction, which she loved.
She then took up work in creative development with people living with disabilities. For over six years, Elizabeth worked with people who had quite restricted movement and communication.
“They were probably my biggest teachers,” she said. “I supported them and taught them and a lot of them sold work. It was amazing.
“They taught me what our forests are teaching me, that randomness is okay. Randomness has a beauty about it.
“When you go to the beach and look around, God hasn’t placed ‘that’ there and ‘that’ there. It’s random and it’s just so beautiful.
“It allows your spirit to have a freedom about it. Your spirit soars with this wonderful freedom within God’s creation.
“Because these people had so many limitations they were only able to produce art from within.
“Most of their work was sold and people love it. Some of the works are in boardrooms in Sydney.”
Now as an Elder and volunteer at Kalamunda Uniting Church, Elizabeth is passionate about encouraging people – especially those who feel they are not creative – to find their creativity from within and their own ways to share it. Part of this expression was showcased in the worship space at the church during Sustainable September. The artists of Creative Endeavour had each worked on large paintings on paper, creating patterns and random beauty in bright, spring colours. One of the members then cut a square from each of them to create banners for the church. As she was doing so, she noticed a story emerging.
“She got into it and the art started to speak the story,” Elizabeth said. “The banners at the very back of the church have a lot of black and burns and it tells the story of the environment hurting.
“It’s burnt and destruction and it’s really hurting. And then life starts to spring forth. There’s a gradual progression of life emerging, and then it comes through to all these flowers and it’s in full bloom. And then after that it comes into a place of peace.
“We’ve put the green to the front, so that it leads our eyes to the altar and to the cross.
“This is what happens; it’s a spiritual journey for each of us. God has entrusted us with love to create and bless those around us – that’s exactly what’s happening here.”
The banners were hung in the church along with a beach installation of sand, shells and flowers at the altar.
Rev David Tressler, Minister at Kalamunda Uniting Church, led Sunday worship during September with a focus on the wilderness, God’s Creation and our call to protect it.
During another energetic ‘painta- thon’, participants of Creative Endeavour had a fantastic day getting messy in the sun. Elizabeth laid out paper in the car park of the church, and the artists went to town with paint, rakes, brooms, and even their own bodies, to create a masterpiece.
Dr Michelle Bunn attends Creative Endeavour, and said it was a great process.
“I remember standing there, my body language was all closed off, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this’,” she said.
Reminding herself that as a leader in the church she wanted to show a good example, Michelle decided to go all in.
“So I took my shoes off and put paint on the paper and tried walking through the paint. And then another woman came along and she ended up on her hands and knees, using her whole arms, her whole body! It was really cathartic!”
Elizabeth feels that this kind of freedom of expression is good for the soul, and is connected to a larger source.
“One thing that’s so beautiful about our forest is that it is very natural,” she said. “When things fall or grow, seeds fall however it evolves and happens, you think, ‘that is amazing. That is so beautiful, why can’t I do that?’
“And I think, ‘well hold on, we can. We can allow the freedom of our movement.’
“With this artwork, that’s what it’s about. It’s allowing the freedom of our movement and the things that we’re using to create whatever form comes. And it’s actually okay.
“That’s what I want them to experience in all our paint-a-thons.”
The final artwork was cut into smaller pieces and used for cards, wrapping, bookmarks and all sorts of items.
Artistic creativity is more than just fun; it often invites people to open up and be vulnerable. And these are the moments that often lead people into new paths – creating change, and building strength and resilience.
“It touches people in ways one would never think,” Elizabeth said. “There’s a tenderness about this.
“You see our trees and they’re huge and also very vulnerable. In our vulnerability everybody’s got a story, everybody’s going through struggles.
“So every little stroke on the page, every little stitch on a cross-stitch, embroidery or knitting, or a mark in a piece of pottery is a valuable asset to that person’s soul. And that communicates something very beautiful to us as well.
“This little hub springs exactly what happens with creation: seeds grow; things move out; and fruit grows and blossoms into something quite unbelievable.
“It has its own heartbeat and it takes these people, each one, on a journey that stems from the creative base of love and enrichment.”
As a committed Christian, Elizabeth sees a direct link between art and creativity with her spiritual self and God’s purpose on her life.
“In our spiritual life, it is about God’s word in our lives, but it’s actually about living and breathing day-to-day experiences,” Elizabeth said. “Within a vibrant Christian community there’s opportunity for us to discover our potential – and creativity is part of that journey.
“In that, you learn and it inspires you. It creates questions. As [Rev David Tressler] often prays, we are to embrace our questions, as well as our answers; our fears, as well as our journey to overcome them.
“Within a Christian community there is an opportunity for us to accept those questions and fears and take people onto a journey of discovery. That is a tender process and there’s a beauty in that – like there is a beauty in this randomness before us.
“We don’t know where we’re going to go, and we don’t know where this is going to take us, but somehow God works it out.
“When we can align ourselves with that freedom then I feel we’re open to God’s purposes in our life.”
Creative Endeavour meets on Thursdays from 1.00 to 4.00pm at Kalamunda Uniting Church. All are welcome to come along with either a new project or a project they’ve already been working on.
They recently held their annual Art and Craft Exhibition in October. The exhibition showcased some of the work participants of Creative Endeavour had been working on over the year, and everything was for sale.
For more information visit unitingchurchwa.org.au/kalamunda/creative-endeavour or contact the church on 9257 1154 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.