Artist in Residence Creates Space for God’s Community

June 12, 2024 / Family & Youth Ministry
First Six Months of Artist in Residence Initiative at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Reaches Deep into the Community

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Melle, Mo. recently received a $50,000 Congregation Community Engagement grant from Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis to support the mission of using art as a tool to connect and engage with 100 to 150 people in their community. Both Pastor Maxx Fisher and Artist in Resident Nick Bennett could not be more pleased with the success of already reaching more than expected in the first six months.

Pastor Fisher explains the funding for the Artist in Residence has brought art into both community festivals and events as well as church happenings and worship services – all connecting the arts to faith – reaching anyone who has questions about faith, wants to connect more to God, or is seeking a place where they can connect with others.

Activities have included:

  • “Pumpkins and Brews” in October for dads and kids with pumpkin carving/painting and refreshments.
  • “Community Color-by-Number” at St. Paul’s Octoberfest, featuring an eight-foot-tall piece with 1,200 numbered squares for participants to paint the corresponding color – resulting in a picture of Christ.
  • Two “Sip and Sketch” art workshops hosted in the church hall in January and March, drawing to the first one more than 60 individuals (50 of which were not members) for an art lesson with free painting materials and beer/wine for creative fellowship.
  • A booth at the New Melle Country Christmas for kids to make mason-jar snow globes and the contribution of set backdrops for the annual Jingle Jam at Messiah Lutheran, Weldon Spring, Mo. – a production reaching hundreds of area families.
  • Artwork to supplement St. Paul’s worship services, corresponding to the sermons, as well as creating small handmade take-home tokens, bulletin covers, t-shirts, and a church office painting.
  • New Melle Easter Egg Hunt sponsorship thank-you sign and emceeing.

Besides already having reached more than the initial target population, success has been measured in other ways. Everyone loves the weatherproofed picture of Christ, positioned to be visible from the road, and accompanied with a “Thank You New Melle” sign.

“Building community and relationship both at St. Paul’s and in the community has garnered trust and buy-in. The number of lives touched speak to this,” says Pastor Fisher, who emphasizes they hope doing what the community wants and meeting their perceived needs first will help St. Paul’s strive for sustainability with the Artist in Residence program.

Additional activities being considered for the future are:

  • A “Whatever is Lovely” high school art exhibition/competition, inviting young local artists to create original works inspired by the scripture Philippians 4:8.
  • Participation during the area’s annual Plein Air Art Festival with St. Paul’s as an historical point of interest for the participating artists.

When Bennett and Pastor Fisher first started discussing his residency, they both held the same important belief that building relationships is at the crux of their community engagement efforts and activities. They talked a lot about relationships, and how “Jesus was and is an artist and one of his favorite mediums was people, and his best masterpieces were relationships,” says Pastor Fisher.

“Art is a beautiful gift and a wonderful tool to express God’s love and beauty of his work and the work of his son Jesus Christ,” continues Pastor Fisher. “It is a means to the end of loving our neighbors and sharing with them the greatest relationship we have, the most beautiful thing we possess, namely a relationship with Jesus.”

Bennett is a graduate of the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, emphasis in drawing. He grew up in O’Fallon, Mo. and found himself “clueless as to what I wanted to do for work. Although I did not know what to do, I had no doubt in my mind about where to do it,” he recalls upon returning home to his “amazing family.”

“I had been praying each day that God would point me in the right direction, and that he would equip me to use my creative gifts to do something cool for the Kingdom,” says Bennett, who upon starting the residency remembers having “no doubt” that the Lord would use the opportunity in ways “not even the most creative mind could imagine.”

For example, Bennett says the Sip and Sketch workshops, on the surface, are about creating paintings and everyone leaving with a finished product in their hands. However, he says it was the process that was beautiful to see.

“In the process, we created relationships, memories, and future opportunities for fellowship,” says Bennett. “And at the end of the day, we created a space where people could come do what God made us to do: to love one another while ultimately growing closer to him.”

Both Bennett and Pastor Fisher feel the Artist in Residence program has confirmed their theory that the arts are a legitimate pathway for conversation and community relationship building, and they now need only “go deeper.”

Pastor Fisher concludes, “To rally around such a novel, missional, and untraditional approach to ministry is a huge step for the congregation itself on its journey to join Jesus on mission in New Melle and beyond.”