April 18, 2017

Vision for the Arts

Five years ago in a small city on the Ohio River, an Episcopal faith community began to explore the gifts of its people, and what God was calling them to do with those gifts. Several people had a passion for the arts – many were artists themselves. They began to envision the arts as central to their ministry.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Albany, Indiana, has taken ministry outreach through the arts to an exciting new level – even for us artsy Episcopalians.

With an eye “to build relationship with artists, patrons, and guests through the ministries of hospitality and the arts,” St. Paul’s started with something small and manageable: a reader’s theatre called “Parlor Stories.” Actors and others from the community were welcome to participate.

In year two, the vision advanced with “Art in the Parlor,” a series of month-long gallery shows featuring visual arts. St. Paul’s reached out to local artists, inviting them to have a first time show. Well-known artists, such as sculptor Ed Hamilton who lives across the river in Louisville, have also participated. With each show opening, St. Paul’s hosts a reception for the community. (Actually, there is a reception for the opening of each performance event as well - apparently, culinary arts are a passion for some at St. Paul’s!)

By year three, the Arts Council was born, adding a schedule of live musical performances to the Parlor Stories and Art in the Parlor series. It’s all in addition to the annual Art on the Parish Green, which St. Paul’s had been hosting on the second weekend in June. Now in its 11th year, this little festival is now up to 100 art vendors, four food trucks, and an outdoor service on Sunday featuring jazz or bluegrass (this year it’s “Bluegrass Mass on the Grass.”)

“It keeps growing!” explains Rev. Rick Kautz, Rector of St. Paul’s, referring to all of the art-related activities. “People keep coming to us with ideas and wanting to participate. We had identified that we wanted to be a welcoming center – a gathering place integral to the life of our community, and we are.”

Fr. Kautz says the people of St. Paul’s overall “feel great about it.” Has this translated to new members?

“We don’t push it, although there are two families here now who first came to attend an arts event,” says Fr. Kautz. He adds that in the past three years, average Sunday attendance has risen from 81 to 107, so people may be attracted to the overall vibrancy of the church.

“Vibrant” seems like a good word to describe St. Paul’s. Its non-art ministries include feeding the hungry. Eight teams of cooks and kitchen help prepare and serve meals to 80 to 100 people every Friday. The church also sponsors a Pet Food Pantry and hosts a monthly discussion group called “Uncorked Spirituality,” along with two services and Church School each Sunday.