My Journey with an Arts Ministry

My Journey with an Arts Ministry

Church of All Nations

December 5, 2021

Rev. Young Tae Choi

Introduction

Good afternoon, it is my true pleasure and honor to be here and to share with you an arts ministry I found in 2019. I would like to say, “Thank you the church of all nations for having me and making this opportunity.” As I have only about 25 minutes to share my creative journey with the arts ministry, I would like to talk about it as concisely as possible. If you have any questions during my testimony, please do not hesitate to come to me after this service. I would be happy to respond to that. I am really hoping that my testimony will help you understand an arts ministry better and it will show you how God has been working in and through the arts ministry. Let me pray before I begin: Lord, thank you for allowing me to share with this beautiful community in Christ how you have been working within my life and Poieo Centre. I pray that you will be glorified through this sharing, and we all will see the reality of your kingdom in our midst. Amen.

Body

Today, what I am going to share with you is, especially three major roles of Poieo Centre, the arts ministry I’ve been developing with three board members and eight team members. You will be able to see later who Poieo community is as if the tree is known by its fruit. Basically, Poieo Centre focuses on three missional tasks: Artist care, liturgy care, and culture care. In other words, caring for individual artists, caring for worship arts in local church communities, and caring for our culture. Let me explain each role one by one.

First, Artist care. About seventeen years ago, I was leading a Christian art club for Christian students at Korea National University of Arts, the most avant-garde school in South Korea. Twenty students regularly gathered in an empty classroom or a school garden in the early morning. We prayed and mediated on the scriptures before class began. After school, we had special events such as reading and discussing books on faith and the arts or inviting guest speakers who could help us understand the arts in a biblical perspective. We had an annual group show expressing a Christian-worldview in campus galleries too. It was not long before the size of the group doubled. Forty students from different arts departments participated in our gathering, and the club went public via a popular Christian magazine Sena. I was so proud of our little club, seeing how we had come to play a valuable role in preserving the Christian identity from fading away in the most progressive school.

Some years later, however, I faced a big challenge in leading the club. It became clear that, being influenced by anti-Christian teaching in their university courses, group members were dividing into two extremes. One group ended up compromising their Christian faith with secular worldviews for success in the mainstream art world. They forsook the community life of the club and no longer wanted to be identified as confessing Christians in the university; the other group who were especially religious renounced their creative gifts and then took religious careers such as a missionary. I was not surprised to see their different reactions to their creative gifts and the faith because the Korean church tended to ignore the enormous capacity in creative callings, considering the art world as a harmful realm to the Christian life; religious colors or Christian themes were not welcome to the secular classroom saturated by postmodernism. That is to say, the Christian art students were looked as strangers in both worlds. They were, including myself, desperate to have a mentor who understands their struggles and guides them to follow the God-given creative calling faithfully. This experience led me to discover that there was need to build trust and understanding between the Korean church and the arts, which became one of the reasons why I initiated Poieo Centre of Arts Ministries.

Back in 2019, I officially started developing Poieo Centre with the hope that Poieo Centre would be a lighthouse to guide individual artists who are wandering around, their life and work, just as I used to be. Currently, I provide pastoral care for eight team members who are serious faithful artists in different backgrounds one hour per month or bi-monthly, online or in-person, depending on geographical proximity, and they too regularly provide sincere care for younger artists (we call them mentees). We nurture the younger artists by mentoring their creative journeys alongside their artistic skills. Let me show you one tangible example.

[Case 1] Look at the installation work on the screen. And the artist standing beside the work is Tiffany Soobotin whom I met at a local church I used to serve. Tiffany was a very quiet, amateur visual artist who enjoyed drawing and painting as a hobby. She was not a trained skillful artist. Yet she sensed that God was leading her life into a creative career. One day, she came to me and talked about her life journey, showing me her strong interest in making an installation work. Of course, she had no idea of how to start.

I connected her to Yong Pil Choi who is a New York based artist (also part of the Poieo team members). Tiffany was so excited to learn about it with him. Yong Pil generously committed to coaching the whole process of making it from concept to completion via Facebook Messenger. In the meantime, I checked in with the process in the church and responded to her questions on an artist career, a biblical view on the arts, and a theological theme in her work. This process entailed various aspects of discipleship making as Yong Pil and I were journeying with her together. It was truly relational, pastoral, theological, and vocational.

Finally, Tiffany completed the first installation work in her life in three months. Its title is “Connected” based on her mediation of John 14:27. She deeply immersed herself in the word of God during this time. The completed work was displayed in the church hall for a month so that church members were able to enjoy the piece, talk to her about it, and even to get to know about her better. We were so excited about the fact that she made it to complete her first installation work and her first exhibition. Personally, I was so glad to see how much she grew up in terms of her creative ability and a biblical understanding of the arts through help of Poieo members.

This is one of the examples of how Poieo Centre care for artists in need of pastoral, theological, and creative support. We serve them to be faithful to their covenant relationship with Christ and to their creative vocations.

Now, let’s move on the second role of Poieo Centre, which is liturgy care. Since I moved to Vancouver for studying theology at Regent College ten years ago, I have experienced of diverse Canadian ministries, from a traditional church setting to a Christian film festival. Especially, I spent most of my church leadership on working for Canadian Presbyterian ministries. For three years, I served as the youth pastor at a Korean immigrant church one block across from this building; traveled around local Canadian Presbyterian churches in need of pulpit supply in Greater Vancouver for two years; served as a chaplain for a Presbyterian seniors’ housing for two years; and served as assistant minister for a multi-ethnic Presbyterian church. During those years, I noticed that the way they worshiped was quite different from the way I used to worship in the Korean church even though both churches are presbyterian. The Koran presbyterian church prefers to make the best use of high-technology and the arts in their own worship context, which looks dynamic, emotional, relevant, engaging, and accessible, while, because of this strong tendency, they often lack appreciation of liturgies in church history. On the other hand, the Canadian presbyterian church prefers to appreciate a liturgy rooted in the reformed tradition and stay in the historical worship practices, which looks rational, formal, dry, or static, while hesitating to innovate the way they worship and to accept new technology. From that observation, I realized that they would need to learn from one another for a balanced worship service in today’s culture that is no longer a Christian soil.

Interestingly, in Scripture, there is an art director whose name is Bezalel, a member of the tribe of Judah (Ex. 31:2). God chose him to construct worship space and furniture such as the tabernacle, its furnishings (vv. 7-11), and the ark of the covenant (v. 1). These art projects were God’s idea, intended to equip Israelites to be a holy worship community amid pagan nations. God granted Bezalel what he needed to accomplish all his artistic tasks, filling him “with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge, and with all kinds of craftmanship” (v. 3). Due to these God-given capabilities, Bezalel was able to execute artistic designs and to work in diverse art media such as gold, silver, bronze, stones, wood and so forth (vv. 4-5). Moreover, his artwork spanned diverse genres of art such as architecture and interior design (the tabernacle) (v. 7), crafts (all the other furnishings of the tent and all its accessories) (v. 7), and fashion design (the woven garments) (v. 10). Look at the breastplate for the high priest inspired by the Holy Spirit. How exquisite and colourful it is! Indeed, God is aesthetic! He did not make the sacred tent haphazardly in a drab grey colour. The fact that Bezalel’s artistic talents are great enough to surprise us points to the fact that the God of creativity truly cares about art and beauty.

In my view, it is important to be aware of how art shapes our worship environment, how art forms our worship experience, and how art in worship transforms us into the image of God although church is a community of believers not a physical building itself according to the NT. This is because that “worship is itself a work of art” (Michael Bauer). Almost all communal worship services consist of diverse peices of art. We can hardly imagine corporate worship service without the arts and artists. For example, think about music. We have a piano, a choir, and hymns to sing. What about a sermon? It entails a form of literature, right? It requires a theme, a message, a structure, the flow of logic, and a storytelling. What about this church building? This is architecture. Look around this space for a moment: interior design, bulletin design, carpentry (a podium and pews), lighting design, videos, sound system, etc. What about a hybrid service? We use the zoom communication technology for the live streaming service, right? All those elements in Christian worship are directly connected to the arts and technology we use every Sunday unconsciously.

In this regard, Poieo Centre supports local church communities to grow their theological understanding of worship arts and its implementation in four ways. Let me show you four examples briefly. First, we design worship spaces and install new worship system. Mark Hunt designed stages for the 2020 Missions Fest Vancouver, one of the largest mission conferences in North America; installed acoustic panels for St. Andrew’s Hall chapel at UBC; and set up audio-visual equipment for Oasis Church, Duncan. Mark set up more than 15 live streaming systems & production designs for local churches and Christian conferences in need of his specialty during the pandemic.

Second, we teach worship arts. Mark taught one course about audio-visual engineering to secondary students at Regent Christian Academy in Surrey. I taught one visual arts in worship to college students at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford. We were so glad to help the next generation serve their church services in creative and theological ways.

Third, we produce videos for worship. Dae Hwang, one of our team members, is the senior videographer of Galilee Presbyterian Church in downtown Vancouver. He produces lots of decent videos with younger college students who are interested in videomaking so that the younger church members can grow in videomaking and understanding how media should work within a worship setting. His videos cover church events, short films featuring church members, memorial services, a visual art exhibition, etc. His videos have been playing a vital role in communicating the Galilee church ministries to the congregation.

Last, we design a worship service in creative ways. Yong Pil Choi, one of our team members, was serving as the director of art and culture in New Frontier Church that hundreds of young Korean New Yorkers attend. He designed and produced a Christmas Eve service with diverse creative groups in the church. The service consisted of a small orchestra, a worship dance, a cellphone film festival, a worship band, a choir, a message, etc. It was full of joy, fun, and anticipation towards Christmas.

Those are four examples of how Poieo Centre helps with local church worship in theological and innovative ways. I hope that the church will see and use worship art for its own enrichment thereby leading to the revitalization of Christian worship.

The last missional role of Poieo Centre is culture care. I grew up in a dualistic church environment until becoming a university student. In my first university year, one article struck me. According to the article, there is a city, where the largest Christian population lives and yet the city has the highest crime rate among all the cities in the US, which appeared to me ironic. I thought that the crime rate should be lower in the bible belt. The writer of the article strongly urged Christian readers to do public participation out of their spiritual ghetto, trying to correct a dualistic Sunday Christian lifestyle. It sounded to me like a prophetic voice: “Live out your living faith in a muddy world!” I found myself living in the same ghetto as the city. It was the time to step out of the comfortable zone.

In fact, we know that it is impossible to escape the world. We all consume our culture in one way or another. We are using a smartphone and emails to communicate with other people; purchasing goods from Amazon; shopping stories of brands; having a hybrid worship service via zoom; watching TV and movies on streaming platforms such as Netflix; looking something up on Google or YouTube; fighting for racism and global warming, etc. Our culture that we are surrounded, the one that we consume, shapes our views on the world – the way we talk, the way we wear, the way we think, or the way we dream of the future. We are breathing in that pattern of the world. No doubt that our culture is currently taking the lead while the church is spending lots of energy and time on criticizing the world in the negative language without taking more of constructive actions for a better world.

An American public theologian, Andy Crouch says, “Life is not about waiting for the market to offer you thrilling experiences, but to actually be someone who makes something beautiful and true and good for the world.” His point is right. The best way to make our culture better is not just to complain about it on the table, but to make a better piece of culture on site, which is, I believe, missional. Scripture also teaches us that, God created the world that was good; the world has been corrupted by sin since the first Adam; Christ Jesus came to the world to save it from sin; He preached the Gospel of His kingdom, showing us what it looks like through His life– new perspective, new value, new attitude, new lifestyle, and new vision; His apostles and disciples followed Christ’s teachings and life, anticipating for Christ’s second coming; God continues His mission for the salvation of the world with His churches; the people of God we taste part of the reality of His kingdom in our midst whenever the reign of the King is present; when we obey His life-giving guidance, we experience something good, something beautiful, something true, just, lovely, peaceful, encouraging, generous, and pure. These are characters of Christ’s kingdom we experience in Christ. In other words, we are called to live in the way that produces such characters of the kingdom where we are. Apostle Paul also encouraged his friends in Philippine, saying “now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8). We ought to cultivate a culture in which Christ’s kingdom is present, experienced, tasted, and smelled. I believe that this is one of the ways we participate in the mission of God.

Poieo Centre do this by creating life-giving art reflecting such characters of the new creation in mainstream art communities and the entertainment industry worldwide. Let me show you a few concrete examples of our culture care. [Case 1] First, look at the books on the screen. Yong Pil Choi, one of our team members, published three children’s sound books on Amazon US over the past year. He has two boys. As his first son grew up, he began to look for children’s books to read for his son before going to bed. He wanted a book that could shape the Christian faith for his son with fun. Soon after that, he found out that decent Christian children’s books were very rare, compared to the number of non-Christian readings. He then decided to make a book by himself, which was the genesis of Hello 2 Kids, a Christian children’s book company in New York. Each book consists of vivid illustrations, multi-ethnic characters, classic Bible songs, and a speaker, so that children can praise God along with their parents. These books became toddlers’ first praise books. I believe that Yong Pil not only created meaningful children’s books for hundreds of families in the US but also created a culture of joyful family praise time.

[Case 2] the second example I would like to show you is Korean pop music. Kang-il Park, one of our team members, produced about ten music single albums for the past two years, including pop music, Korean drama OSTs, and contemporary Christian music. Usually, he meditates on God’s love when he writes songs, and so Kang-il’s albums are a kind of translation of God’s love for the public in a form of music. His songs are full of hope, healing, and encouragements especially for broken people, as he used to be. A year ago, Kang-il saved one teenage girl who was about to commit suicide, and that event motivated him to make this song for people like her in depression and poverty. His albums created a culture of hope in the midst of other pessimistic, gloomy songs.

[Case 3] Mark created an eco-friendly lighting design for a Volvo car display at the 2020 Interior Design Show in Toronto. He used only recycling paper for this lighting structure, given the protection of the environment.

[Case 4] Three of the Poieo team members with other three Christians who care about movie entertainment coordinated a Vancouver Christian film festival, known as Missions Fest Vancouver Film Festival in 2020. We screened decent timely international Christian films regarding what it looks like authentic discipleship in today’s context, around social justice, suffering, racism, etc., encouraging local filmmakers and viewers to live out the discipleship in our society.

[Case 5] the last example is the Poieo Film Project. The Poieo Film Project is a documentary film series that connects faith to art. I began to create the vision of this film project about a year and half ago when I discovered that there was no reliable resource on theology and the arts in Asian and African Christianity, compared to UK and North America Christianity. I asked myself how I could help international Christian artists who were struggling to reconcile their creative vocation with their faith in their creative life journeys, in their church contexts, and in their real art world. This question was the origin of the film project. Finally, our Vancouver team went down to Los Angeles for filming the pilot with a LA team a few weeks ago. Now, we are working on editing. I believe that this film project will create a culture of caring for artists, caring for worship artists and leaders, and caring for our culture through the life-giving work of faithful creatives.

These are some of the examples of how we care for our culture. I hope that Poieo Centre will become a movement for the common good in our culture God has entrusted to us to cultivate.

Conclusion

Now, I’m hoping that you’ve got a sense of who we are, what an art ministry is about. I define the Poieo Centre as following: POIEO Centre is a Christ-centred community that provides pastoral care for artists and promotes their artistic gifts along with theological understanding of art, and produce life-giving art. We cultivate redemptive images, sounds, space, and stories which contribute to a lively transformation of the church and culture. Poieo Centre, as an innovative response to the mission of God, aims to bring shalom to the world.

Let me wrap my sharing up. As I have shown you earlier, Poieo Centre has done lots of good works for individual artists, local church communities, and our culture, which is, no doubt, God’s generous blessings and grace. I can’t deny how many of faithful people God has put together into this little arts community and how much widely this community has impacted on millions of people who have been cared by our team, who have benefited from our worship arts care, and who have enjoyed our life-giving projects over the years. Yet, no pain no gain. No death no resurrection. Behind all the scenes I’ve shown you, our staff and people who have joined our ministries took enormous risks and sacrifices for the vision of Poieo Centre, just like other infant Christian ministries. So, it would be really appreciated if you could pray for us, for our sustainability, for an ecosystem to thrive with our local creative communities together, and for our enduring good works for the kingdom of God.

Thank you.