Last week, I quoted from the Rev. Tim Keller’s essay in It Was Good. This week, I’m talking to the director of the Arts Ministry at the church he founded, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.
Luann Purcell Jennings is an arts administrator, theater director, and acting teacher. Originally from Atlanta, GA, she worked with several theater companies there, and founded a theater company for children and families, before moving to New York City in 2002 to pursue additional studies in theater and to work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. She now heads Redeemer's Arts Ministry and has recently resumed directing and teaching. For more information on the Arts Ministry, check out the website.
LeAnne: Why does Redeemer Presbyterian Church feel it's important to reach out to artists?
Luann: Largely it grew up practically. Of our weekly attendance of 5,000, some have estimated that up to 1/4 of those folks are involved in the arts, entertainment, media, fashion, etc., full-time or in addition to other paying work. NYC can be a tough place to live -- it's very competitive in these fields, and most of them don't pay well (except at the top tier, which everyone is scrambling to get to, and that’s why they came to NYC in the first place). Add in questions and confusion about how our Christian faith should intersect with our creative work within this context and you have a ministry area that's ripe to be developed.
Also, Redeemer has a strong commitment to cultural renewal through the arts. Our greatest asset and resource is our senior pastor, Tim Keller, who really gets how much influence the arts and artists have on the thinking and choices of the culture around us. Tim stays very current on the arts and talks (from the pulpit and otherwise) about artists as important members of our community and the culture at large. This makes the artists in our congregation feel valued and understood, an experience they may not have had before in church. Besides just the nature of being located in NYC, that's the biggest reason we have so many artists at Redeemer.
LM: How did the Arts Ministry come to be? How did you get involved in it?
LJ: The seeds have been there since the beginning of Redeemer nearly 20 years ago, through Tim and the philosophy and ministry of the Worship & Music department. But it was in 2004 that the Arts Ministry was officially created as a unit within Redeemer's Center for Faith & Work(CFW), a department that was started in 2003 to help people in all industries to integrate their faith with their work and their work with their faith
I was working in the Worship & Music department at the time. My background is in theater, and I had begun a project through the department with other theater professionals, which has since developed into an independent non-profit theater company, Threads Productions. Worship & Music was also hosting a worship dance project, and CFW was interested in hosting programs for artists, too, and had started a Writer's Group. So between Worship & Music and CFW there were several programs available for artists, but we (the directors of Worship & Music and CFW, and I) felt that there was still a great need that was going unmet. So the Arts Ministry was created in the CFW and I stepped into the leadership role in September 2004. Worship & Music still hosts programs for musicians, and the Arts Ministry houses programs for artists working in visual arts & design, theater/film/TV/media, dance, and writing. We also host several inter-disciplinary programs.
LM: How many artists does the ministry serve? Are most of them professional artists?
LJ: Between Redeemer’s artists and artists from other churches (who we welcome) I'd guess that we have around 500 folks who are actively involved on some level with our ministry.
The term "professional" is a bit fuzzy in NYC. Most of the folks who come to our programs came to NYC to pursue creative careers. However, fewer than half are making 100% of their income through those careers. It's a necessity for most artists here to have a part- or full-time "survival job" that pays the bills, while they pursue their creative work as well. But these artists are still very serious, talented people who have the same education and passion as those who are making a living at it. The reality is that the pie is just not big enough here for everyone to get a large piece, but that’s not a reflection on them. I consider them all "professionals." I haven't met anyone through the Arts Ministry that is an "amateur" in the sense that they view their creative work primarily as a hobby for personal enjoyment. There’s always more to it than that, or they wouldn’t be here.
More from Luann Jennings on Thursday.
Coming soon: interviews with more artists along with a culture expert