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Church works creatively

The church's neighborhood is filled with galleries and artists. Its "sanctuary" is a 1,600-square-foot artist's loft. Worship might involve a book discussion, contemplative prayer or expressive painting on big pieces of brown paper taped to the floor.

InterPlay teacher Lila Morisee (center) leads participant Rebecca Briley (left), Sheila Collins, director of InterPlay Texas, and others in spontaneous full-body movement for creative and spiritual development during an InterPlay class Monday at ArtSpirit Spirituality Center, in Southside on Lamar's artist lofts in Dallas.

ArtSpirit Fellowship, a United Methodist-sponsored urban mission to the artist community, recently relocated to Southside on Lamar (the old Sears warehouse east of downtown) to be closer to the community it serves.

The Rev. Linda McLemore, the fellowship's pastor, says the new space is open and versatile, just right for ArtSpirit's hands-on, experiential worship.

"Instead of sitting and listening to somebody preach, our worship is through all types of arts," she said. "That is the language that artists speak." About 20 dancers, musicians, writers, actors and visual artists attend the program regularly; Ms. McLemore says many more "come and go" depending on their interests.

"A lot of artists have felt excluded from the more traditional church settings," she said. "If someone has a tattoo, or a lip that's pierced, an eyebrow raises and people say, 'Oh, you're one of those bohemian, weird types.' "

Artist Rebecca Briley had drifted away from the conservative Christian church in which she grew up. When she considered joining a church a few years ago, she said, "I felt reluctant to make the standard kind of commitments to one denomination."

"I liked the fact that [ArtSpirit] was coming at faith through the angle of exploration," Ms. Briley said. "We explore different established spiritual paths and some not-so-established paths." Recent programs have included a labyrinth walk, Zen meditation and Sufi dancing.

Ms. McLemore says that ArtSpirit aims to nurture artists and to use their gifts in social justice and outreach efforts. Recent projects include a women's prison ministry, collecting clothes for refugees and volunteering for Genesis Women's Shelter.

Before becoming pastor in 2004, Ms. McLemore, a visual artist, was one of ArtSpirit's original members when the group began meeting at Grace United Methodist in 2000.

"I really got hooked," she said. "There have been so many deep spiritual connections that have happened through art that haven't happened anywhere else."

ArtSpirit Fellowship meets for worship on Sunday evenings from 5 to 7 p.m. Visit

Source: MARY A. JACOBS, Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News, November 12, 2005

Mystery writers fill a spiritual gap left by churches

It's not easy these days to get a decent discussion going about God, love, death and the ultimate nature of the cosmos. As sad as it may be to admit, Wilfrid Laurier University professor Peter Erb makes a strong case that many detective genre writers have been filling the gap left by often-timid academics and religious officials.

Take a read of the mysteries of P.D. James. And John Grisham. Kate Charles. Peter Dexter. Umberto Eco. Ian Pears. Tony Hillerman. James Lee Burke. Look even at Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, though he's somewhat irresponsible about his historical and ecclesiastical facts. [Certainly, Pope Benedict has filed his objection !]

These mystery writers have been seizing on serious spiritual topics -- delving into everything from the nature of evil to the possibility of life after death, from women in the clergy to the value of confession, from the morality of homosexuality to the possibly feminine nature of God.

Source: Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun, November 19, 2005

Pies warm holiday for needy

Charlene Floyd would love to say what inspired members of the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, on the upper West Side, to bake Thanksgiving pies for needy neighbors at the nearby Goddard-Riverside Community Center. Trouble is, she doesn't remember how it started. "I think we just heard someone mention that the people at the center might like some nice homemade pies, and just like that, we were doing pies," she said Tuesday night, as members of the United Methodist congregation began making and baking.

In the church's recently renovated basement social hall, the pie makers were peeling apples and pears, mixing crumbly toppings, flattening crusts, opening cans of pumpkin, and washing cranberries. In an adjoining kitchen, Jeanne Voltz, a freelance food stylist in real life, and Hilary Horrell, a freelance graphic designer, were making cookies. "For people to take home," Voltz said. At one worktable, the senior minister, the Rev. K ("no initial") Karpen, was coring apples with the help of some kids and Shirley Brevard, who is not a member of the church but loves to make pies. "I made some for the church a few years ago," said Brevard, a onetime client of the church's food pantry and now a volunteer there. "Sweet potato, apple, you just name it, honey, and I made it. So when this started, there I was."

It only started four years ago, Karpen said, but already it's a tradition. "The idea is so simple," he said. "Anybody who wants to help make a pie drops in and goes to work. There is no signup, no assignments, no minimum times. But somehow, it all works out." This year, the goal was 60 pies - apple, pear, pumpkin, apple-cranberry and apple-pear - all made from scratch. During the three or four hours that it took, between 40 and 50 adults and youngsters drifted in and out. Floyd more or less supervised things. She also is the lead pie crust maker, flattening, shaping and fitting lumps of dough into turning aluminum pans with the help of rolling pins that Voltz brings to church. "That's something people kind of forget," she said. Floyd, who teaches at the interdenominational New York Theological Seminary, on the upper West Side, also is married to the minister. She and Karpen - his first name is James, but everyone calls him by his childhood nickname, K - met at a Methodist camp and married 19 years ago.

For all the warm satisfaction it brings people who are involved, the Thanksgiving project is a very thin slice of the social service pie available at St. Paul & St. Andrew, which has about 400 members. The church runs one of the largest food pantries in the city, provides nightly sanctuary for 10 homeless women, serves as a Meals on Wheels center, and houses a social service operation that deals with a wide range of medical, legal, financial and other issues. Its facilities include three large, modern kitchens - one is kosher, for members of nearby Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, which for several years has held many services and celebrations at the larger St. Paul & St. Andrew. Another kitchen is used by students enrolled in a food preparation program sponsored by the West Side Campaign Against Hunger. "There is a lot of need in New York, and we do what we can to help," said Karpen.

He was working as a writer for a New York public interest agency when, at age 26, he decided to become a minister. He enrolled at the Union Theological Seminary, an upper West Side independent Christian training school, and was assigned as an intern to St. Paul & St. Andrew. When he was ordained in 1987, he joined the church staff, and seven years ago, he became senior minister. For him and his wife, cooking pies at Thanksgiving is nothing compared with what they do at Christmas. It is an open house at their residence, next to the church, with a hot holiday meal for everybody who shows up. They cook every bite for everybody. "Last year, more than 100 people joined us," Karpen said. "That's fine with us. The more, the merrier."

Source: Charles W. (Bill) Bell, New York Daily News, originally published on November 25, 2005 [Bell writes about religion and the spiritual side of New York every Saturday.]

Praise Jesus and pass the popcorn
Paramount hosts church

The crowd of urbanites, most of them in their 20s and 30s, files in to the theatre and takes their seats among the rows of chairs with headrests and cup holders.

A movie megaplex may not be the typical place for preaching the teachings of Jesus Christ, but The Meeting House is not your typical religious organization. Billed as "church for people who aren't into church," The Meeting House launched in 1986 in Oakville, and it now has sites in Hamilton, Brampton and, as of this fall, Toronto. Congregants at each site -- all spaces rented from Famous Players and Silver City movie theatres -- are witness to the same sermon each Sunday, recorded onto DVD a week earlier in Oakville, where pastor Bruxy Cavey preaches to a live audience.

"It's totally weird," admits Cavey of going to church at the movies. "It's very kind of 1984 sci-fi-ish."

Source: National Post, November 19, 2005

Jesus saves - lends, too
This Christian banker says the Lord is watching his bottom line

Two years ago, the born-again Christian co-founded Riverview Community Bank in Ostego, a small town about 50 kilometres northwest of Minneapolis. It provides loans, mortgages and savings accounts -- the usual banking services -- but also offers customers more: Many come seeking spiritual as well as financial guidance.

Source: National Post, November 18, 2005

Gideons blitz Toronto with Bibles

By Patricia Paddey

More than 200 members of the Gideons International in Canada descended on Toronto recently to hand out free Bibles and New Testaments during a three-day "Bible Blitz."

Gideons' director of strategic planning and training, Neil Bramble says that volunteers travelled to Ontario from across Canada to participate in the March 31-April 2 event. Throughout the blitz, they shared their faith with strangers, handed out more than 100,000 pocket size New Testaments at train stations, public squares, universities and high schools, and placed new Bibles in some 17,000 hotel rooms.

Scriptures were also placed in medical waiting rooms, doctors' offices, police stations and fire halls.

The event was held as part of a new outreach strategy adopted by the organization "to reach our communities for Christ," Bramble says, adding, "we see the Bible Blitzes as one way of helping to do that." The outreach strategy is part of a strategic plan for the Gideons in Canada that includes a new mission and vision statement.

"The motivation [for the outreach strategy] is to breathe new life into the association and then focus the mission more sharply and make a stronger effort, particularly on the personal evangelism side of it," Bramble explains.

"In a sense, we're going back to our roots. We've always had personal witnessing as one of the ways we reach others, but we're really focussing on it now, and more and more giving our members some training."

During the handout, a number of people reportedly decided to become Christians. "I was really impressed with the cross-cultural receptivity to the Testaments," says Bramble. "People from all ethnic backgrounds took Testaments quite readily. It was surprising and really a blessing to see who took them."

This was the third such blitz for the organization. The first took place in Montreal in the fall of 2003, and the second in Halifax in the spring of 2004. The Gideons hope to hold a similar event in Vancouver next year.