FIND 24 beach-hut owners willing to open their hut for one December night, to display a seasonal scene that they have created; promote this widely; and wait for the people to come. Hove’s Beach Hut Advent Calendar proved so popular that it ran for 11 years and inspired many other creative activities around Advent and Christmas in the UK and worldwide.
These events were run by Beyond Church, a Brighton and Hove collective who create public art installations designed to engage people with spiritual themes. In Church Beyond Walls, their founder, Martin Poole, describes many of their projects. These include Lent Through The Lanes, an audio-visual trail in Brighton’s independent shopping area, and the city-centre perspex Lent Cross, with a slot into which people would drop slips with their responses to the questions “What could you live without?” and “What couldn’t you live without?”
Beyond Church have arranged theology nights in pubs, spirituality events in theatres, led morning beach-side blessings at surfers’ festivals, and at Hallowe’en ran the Hot Choc Stop, which provided partygoers on the move with warming drinks and collectable cards, each explaining All Hallows’ Eve and featuring a story of an unusual saint.
These activities are underpinned by the belief that liturgy is “the work FOR the people”, “the ones on the margins who are not part of our club”. Poole explains that the goal is to create “opportunities for epiphany”, environments where “God can show up” and transformations can occur.
Public art carries risks: the Lent Cross was vandalised, and some outdoor events were rained off. Giving others the freedom to interpret Christian themes in their own way may feel uncomfortable. In this short book, which bulges with ideas, Poole shows how a willingness to accept these risks and to work with the discomfort can be energising.
A comedy event prompts the observation that “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” God may also be a Creator whose people are too afraid to create. This book encourages the reader to take “church” outside and overcome such fears.
The Revd John Davies is Vicar of the parishes of Clapham with Keasden and Austwick with Eldroth in the diocese of Leeds.
Church Beyond Walls: Creative church in public spaces
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.59
Read an extract here