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A parish’s life through the Vicar’s lens

14 August 2015

Rupert Martin has been capturing church events for the past 20 years

rupert martin

In costume: rainbow over St Helen’s, Sandal Magna, Wakefield

In costume: rainbow over St Helen’s, Sandal Magna, Wakefield

I WAS given a Kodak Instamatic camera on my eighth birthday, and it has inspired a lifelong interest in photography.

In the 1980s, I worked at the Photographers’ Gallery, in London, curating exhibitions of the history of aerial photography and flash photography, and working with such photographers as Bill Brandt, Robert Doisneau, David Bailey, Fay Godwin, and the railway photographer O. Winston Link.

I have been documenting parish life since 1995, as a way of communicating the often unseen life of the church in the community. To begin with, this was simply to bring encouragement and a sense of excitement and common purpose to our two churches.

More recently it has also become a good way of communicating with the wider community through social media. A recent post on our Facebook page about the opening of a new building at our church school was seen by 7500 people, and shows the potential for engaging with people beyond the church in our increasingly visual culture.

Photography can show only the surface of what goes on in parish life. The important work of prayer, healing, ministry among the bereaved, discipleship, pastoral care, and ministry in the workplace can only be hinted at, and lies too deep to be captured in mega-pixels.

Images can, however, have a significant impact: the Bible is full of visual symbolism and prophetic imagery. Jesus used images drawn from the everyday life of agriculture and commerce in his parables; and art has always been part of the culture of the Church down the centuries.

Modern technology now enables photographs to be taken by anyone in any situation. With that new freedom comes a responsibility not to let photography dominate our lives to the exclusion of the experience itself. How often do you see people wanting to record an event rather than simply enjoy it, something I also have to beware of?

Having said that, an important event, whether it is the Tour de Yorkshire or the baptism of twins, can be shared with a wider family or community in ways that don’t detract or distract from the experience of the actual event.

I hope that, with these images before them, people will no longer be able to say that church is boring, exclusive, or narrowly parochial, but joyful, varied, creative, inclusive, and outward-looking. The gospel of Jesus Christ can touch the lives of everyone in our community through the loving service of many gifted people, inspired by the Holy Spirit.


A Book of Parish Life can be bought for £20 (including p. & p.) from The Vicarage, 333 Barnsley Road, Sandal, Wakefield WF2 6EJ.

Phone 01924 255441 or email sandalmagna@gmail.com. Cheques to be made out to Sandal Magna PCC.

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