Restoring the Ruins

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A recent StoneWorks Arts Leadership Training (SALT) conference mobilized artists for mission.

By Pat Butler

“Pass through, pass through the gates…”
In an Italian heat wave, a line of cars headed for the beaches where the Allies landed during World War II, along with a line of travelers from eleven countries journeying by air, bus, car, and train to the Hotel Selene in Pomezia, Italy, just south of Rome.

“Prepare the way for the people…”
StoneWorks director Colin Harbinson, in partnership with Operation Mobilization’s OM Arts leadership team, prepared for 22 artists and leaders to gather for a SALT Conference in July 2010. As arts ministry develops worldwide throughout OM, OM Arts desires to expand the number of fields who understand the role of arts in mission and who are prepared to receive artists (whether for short- or long-term service). Isolated artists in OM contexts want to be part of the OM Arts movement; they are searching for fellowship and training. Leaders are seeking ways to understand artists and arts ministry. The conference was designed to lay a groundwork for these fields: to understand the issues involved in arts ministry, to articulate participants’ visions and identify roadblocks, and then to equip them with resources to move forward. Eleven OM fields were represented, along with several other guests.

“Build up, build up the highway…”
Participants were equipped with Colin’s foundational teachings on a biblical theology of the arts: the imagination and the Christian story, artistic calling, community and the church, distortions in the arts, restoration and reconciliation, and the language of the arts. OM Arts leaders told their stories and presented case studies of successful models of arts ministry. Each person was sent home with a Stone by Stone DVD set and a 2-GB flash drive that captured all the teachings and resources of the SALT, as well as artwork used, an annotated book list, and an email list of attendees to further connection and networking.

“Remove the stones…”
Most were starving artists: starved for resources, affirmation, and confidence; starved by fears and doubts; or starved of desire and vision. Some struggled even to believe they could have a vision. Was it realistic to dream? What was the use? (Others had more vision than they could carry alone, or find resources for; the conference helped forge many important links.) All were striving to fulfill the call of God on their lives, and wondering how.

Small groups provided the safe setting for confession: removing stones of unbelief, doubt, pride, and perfectionism from our hearts. There were tears—tears of frustration or grief from artists feeling “robbed” of their artistic calling; tears of joy from others at finding their “tribe” and receiving words of affirmation, validation, and empowerment.

“Raise a banner for the nations…”
One morning, one of the worship leaders found a Steinway piano in the hotel lobby. After receiving permission from the hotel staff, he conscripted the piano into service, and praise was lifted in the lobby that morning to the astonishment of staff and guests (and presumably the Buddha statue, sitting in a corner to our left).

Andrew Garvey-Williams (OM Ireland) painted what became our signature piece: “Restoring the Ruins.” It took an honored place next to our communion table, a mosaic created during the conference to symbolize the “stepping stones” into the future we were taking, individually and corporately. Stepping stones ranged from an individual desiring to join staff, to others recruiting a small group to watch the StoneWorks DVD series, to a decision to host a second StoneWorks/OM Arts SALT. Almost every field expressed a desire to have an arts team come and demonstrate the arts in action.

Our theme verse was read: “ . . . in whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”(Ephesians 4:16 NKJV) Artists served one another communion.

After a final commissioning prayer by Colin, we were dismissed for lunch—wilted artists now revived, and leaders now more informed. We then resumed our journeys, joining the line of cars and buses, boarding trains and planes, travelers again on a highway with fewer stones, strengthened in the knowledge that so many advocates and comrades were embedded in a movement larger than themselves. Back to the heat of the Italian sun, wearing flash drives around our necks, we said our goodbyes. Endings . . . or beginnings?

Pat Butler works with Operation Mobilization’s Artslink (, a visual arts ministry integrating art, faith, and mission, based in Tyrone, GA.

Subheadings are quotations from Isaiah 62:10.

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