By Keith Griffin
Around twenty years ago, someone in our small, rural Yorkshire parish suggested staging a Christmas Tree Festival. It was a modest success and so it was repeated. Then came the idea of holding a different sort of Christmas event. What if the theme was The Twelve Days of Christmas? Instead of trees, we’ll see what kind of displays and exhibits everyone comes up with! Two decades later and these Christmas exhibitions are still going.....
Titles have included: Sounds Like Christmas, Countdown to Christmas, Light of The World, Christmas Around the World, Peace at Christmas, Follow the Star, and last year, Coming Home For Christmas. The formula has hardly changed at all. Every September letters of invitation are sent out around the parish: to the Junior School, the Football Club, the Art Group, the Mothers’ Union, the Pre-school, the Badminton Club, the Bell Ringers, and the Methodist Church. A few local artists are included: a ceramicist, a calligrapher, and someone who sculpts in metal.
But the vast majority would consider themselves absolute amateurs, and this is where the magic is to be found. Come the second weekend of December every window sill, corner, altar, and flat surface in the church is full. You might spot a model which someone has clearly spent many hours working on. There’s probably something knitted. An exhibit from the school may well have photos of the children included. Someone might offer a piece of abstract art, or a poem. Coming Home For Christmas saw a couple of cosy, domestic scenes, but also two exhibits which picked up on the theme of homelessness. Apart from a couple of local artists most of the exhibitors would simply laugh at the idea of showing anything they have made anywhere else. And for the vast majority this will be the only time they visit church all year.
What am I describing here? A successful church fundraiser, which other parishes might like to emulate? No. There’s something more going on here. Of course, the conversations among the visitors over coffee, mince pies and mulled wine make for a very special atmosphere. But as I’ve watched this event develop year by year it’s spoken to me at a deeper level. I think that’s because it’s this glorious coming together of participants who first manage to find that little spark of courage to get involved. They then rise to the challenge of each successive theme, take the risk of trying something out, and share with everyone something… new.
Where others might make polite comments and not really see anything special, I can’t help but sense that we are standing on holy ground. Why is that? Is it because at the heart of this enterprise is a revelation of creativity? Increasingly, the former categories and language for God seem to be failing us, but wherever you see the joy and delight of people making stuff, taking risks, working together or alone, then surprising themselves by being able to sit back and declare, “I did that!” – well, this for me is divine life. As others have said, God is Creativity.
Like some of the best things in life, no one designed this event to be like this. Like other good things we know, words can only do a second-rate job in their attempt to describe something so precious and quirky, and yet which also draws and touches upon something quite profound within the human spirit. There is love here, this is life here, there is fullness of life here. So for me this is God. And Christmas… Incarnation… of course! God with us, God alive in us, God stretching us. As Ilia Delio says, “Where there is God, there is the invitation to create.”
Comments about the site
Just wanting to say “yes” to this. You will be speaking for, and to, many. I will certainly be passing this on to others, and will contribute some thoughts myself later.
So, I was delighted to see Feral Spirituality make an appearance. I'd think you could find many wanting to join in