How can creativity refresh your ministry?
Anne C. Holmes considers the role of creativity in replenishing spent resources in ministry.
You have just come back from a pastoral visit. One of your faithful parishioners is seriously ill and he and his family wanted to discuss the funeral. You are feeling the pain of the family’s grief. What is your next step? Do you come in and immediately start dealing with the backlog of e-mails? Does this resource you? Or do you make a drink and reflect on the visit, acknowledging how you feel and knowing that it has been important and demanding? How do you routinely resource yourself?
When I was a child, I used to go to sleep to the sound of my father playing the piano and this has imprinted a deep love of music into my soul. He was a hard-working priest who found respite and resource through playing the piano and organ and celebrating church music. I have called this creative repair. Creative repair is the regular practice of engaging in the creative arts as a way of replenishing the emotional, psychological, and spiritual resources expended in sensitive pastoral care. In addition to time spent in prayer and reflection, taking part in a theatre or dance group, or playing in a band, especially when not in a leadership role, offers respite from the demands of any of the helping professions.
When I am engaging with colleagues, whether in ministry, counselling, or nursing, I invite them to do an informal audit on what resources and what drains them. This can lead to surprising results: a meeting with one old friend can be experienced as draining, whereas an occasional meeting with a former colleague may lift the spirits. This audit is without prejudice. Expectations are worth noting, as are feelings afterwards. The aim is not to encourage people to desert those who are important to them but to aid their self-refection. For example, consider the situation of Steve, who had been in ministry for five years. Before being ordained he had played the tuba regularly in his local brass band, enjoying weekly practices and the occasional performances for local civic events. After his ordination he moved area and didn’t get round to finding a local brass band. It was only after he became an incumbent that he felt the loneliness of the new role and remembered his love of being in a brass band. Looking around outside his parish, he found a brass band which was short of a tuba player and he prioritised the evening of the weekly band practice. Later as he reflected with his spiritual director, he realised that he was no longer lonely with this new group of friends. He enjoyed being under the bandmaster’s leadership and being one of the players. Playing his tuba was also an emotional release and he returned home refreshed each week.
Music can be a resource for anyone whose way of life is demanding. During one of the programmes shown on the BBC around the time of the King’s Coronation, the then Prince of Wales was quoted as saying: ‘It’s very important to have, as it were, another world to go through a door into…otherwise, I promise you, it’s very easy to go mad’. On another occasion he said: ‘Music plays a very important part in my life. For me it’s a vital part of surviving the daily round…. We do not think music. We resonate with it and feel it. It somehow harmonises with our own human nature so that we feel something is meant by it.’
I have been told that even for some people who sit lightly to the idea or monarchy, the music of the coronation service was wonderful and moving. Many pieces were commissioned especially for it, and it could be argued that watching and listening to the service was an international experience of creative repair. We had permission to take time off from our other duties to engage both with the service and the extraordinary coronation concert on the next day. Having permission is important. When I lead a workshop on creative repair for clergy or counsellors, participants often thank me for giving them permission to enjoy their creative selves. Of course, it is not I who give them permission, but by offering the experience in a here and now session, they have the opportunity to redefine their priorities. It is as important to resource ourselves routinely as it is to eat or drink or take regular exercise or spend time in prayer and reflection.
We can practise creative repair on our own or in a group. One of the benefits of being with others, is the opportunity to have a break from being in a leadership role. Joining a book group or a choir outside of parish boundaries offers a break from being the minister and a chance to unwind without the need to be in charge. I believe that this is a spiritual task and can be built into a rule of life. I happen to be an Anglican Franciscan Tertiary and the discipline of living by a Rule helps me to balance work, prayer and recreation which promotes the full flourishing implied by Jesus when he said that ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10:10)
Anne C. Holmes is a group analytic psychotherapist conducting reflective practice groups and offering supervision in a variety of settings. An Anglican priest and Franciscan Tertiary, she leads retreats and workshops with a focus on well-being, resilience and creative repair.