The early days

A personal reflection by early member, Peter Anthony Monk (musician and composer)

Origins

I have only just learned that Seeds began, tentatively, as a result of an African Anglican delegation that came to the UK. On attending Anglican services in the country, the visitors  felt strongly that church congregations were little more than spectators.

The delegation wrote a paper expressing their views, which so impressed a coterie of certain people that they decided to address this situation by forming a new charity, Seeds, to encourage and nurture creativity in the Church.  

First workshops

The very first Seeds’ workshop event, just before my time, was run in 1982 by Nigel Perrin, a contemporary member of The King’s Singers: it concentrated on teaching choral skills.

The Healing Arts

The second workshop was held in a cold St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate church in central London. It comprised Paul Alexander (drama), Angela Hardcastle (dance), my wife, Diana, and me (music, of course). The event was entitled ‘The Healing Arts’.

I am not sure if any of the four of us understood at all the implications of the title – or from where it had emanated. Di and I teased people into making vocal ‘soundscapes’. We passed one of these over to Angela and she used it as the soundtrack for a dance with her group.

All the participants benefited from the day in that they allowed themselves to be creative, even as they were unaware they were engaging in creativity. Everyone at the event was amazed by the high of the individual contributions and their synthesis into group compositions and performances.

The workshop gave the the participants a new confidence, which could spill over into other aspects of their lives: one definition of the beginning of ‘healing’ via the arts. One lady, Sheila Pollack, who was a high-powered office administrator at the time of the event, developed her new-found creativity and became a very successful professional photographer

Other artists were soon recruited to the Seeds banner, all leading inspiring bring-the-creativity-out-of-you workshops.

Horley, Surrey

A one-day workshop was organised for the East Surrey Baptist Association in a church in Horley, not far from Gatwick Airport. There were a number of different arts disciplines involved at the event, including flower arranging. Di and I encouraged people to make up songs for a biblical musical. We had all ages in our group, ranging from children to senior citizens and disabled people; a couple of guitarists helped us to run the session.  The participants made up seven songs lasting in total 25 minutes: we had no time to create any dialogue.

The participants in our group, all with no so-called ‘musical background’, were astonished by their own contributions and their nerve in performing their work in front of the rest of the workshop attendees. Many said that they felt on fire to make up songs for their own churches. Di and I were equally astonished at the success of our session, guided by God’s plan for it. The minister in charge of the day then waxed lyrical about the musical we created on local radio the following day.

Weekend away

Another big early highlight was an all-weekend workshop held at High Leigh, a conference centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, and led by Paul Alexander together with Marie Laken (dance), Yvonne Davis (art), Di and me (music).

At the start of the weekend an Afro-Caribbean lady came up to us in our music session and said she didn’t want to take part but would simply sit and watch. We coaxed her to join one of our groups. After a short time of being with her group, she came to me and said, ‘Now Peter, I’ve written some verses for a song – nobody helped me – and I hope you’re going to write a good tune for them.’ I told her that as her verses were so good, I was sure she would be able to come up with one herself. She went back to her group and within a few minutes she came back to me and said, ‘I’ve got the tune!’ Her melody became the ‘hit’ of the weekend: people could be heard whistling and singing it everywhere throughout in the building.

This is where we met John Robinson (a current Seeds’ director) and his daughter Lizzie (now a professional actress, living and working in the USA). This was altogether a very powerful weekend. John’s wife, Judy (another current Seeds’ director) – who sadly could not attend the High Leigh weekend – has since recounted to me that Lizzie started to read the Bible after her experience of the event.

Something else comes to mind, which I think is worth mentioning. Once we had all arrived at High Leigh and were setting up for the weekend, Yvonne said she thought we should get the building ‘prayed in’. We all agreed: Yvonne started praying, Marie danced and I played music. With no rehearsal we all stopped together at exactly the same time.

What we learnt 

Pooling our experiences with the other artists, we all came to the consensus that Seeds’ workshops should not be limited to creativity in the cause of religious education. For example, it didn’t make sense to ask people to sing in choirs if they were not able to carry on practising in groups unaided once they got back home. We decided that Seeds’ events would always be designed to encourage creativity in people that they could expand on and transpose into their own lives by themselves.

Although it was not mandatory, these early workshops were usually based around a biblical theme, to enable participants to be creative in their own churches as well as in their personal devotions. God and his people were working together; workshop leaders were simply facilitators and encouragers  Once I’d outlined the ‘game plan’ in a workshop, I sometimes felt that sessions would run very nicely outside my direct control.

The Gospel of creativity

Man (in the generic sense) is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), Therefore humans, like their Creator, are creative beings. God has given humankind the wherewithal to create ’patterns’ in every aspect of life.

So, jumping straight to the arts, we are allowed to order words in highly complex and subtle ways in order to communicate and to create literary works, building relationships with our fellow humans and with God; we are also able to harness the properties of sound to make melody and harmony. The list of creative possibilities is endless. God has even given us the gift of appreciating, reviewing and evaluating our own creations, in the same way he did himself at the beginning of the Bible: ‘And God saw everything that He made, and behold, it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31).

Since humans have been ordained by God to subdue the earth, we have a direct responsibility to God for what he creates. We must learn to love God and to work in partnership with his perfect will. When we ‘go it alone’, a version of a Tower of Babel situation is bound to ensue.

The essential preparation for beginning an act of creativity is prayer, of course. We need to sit and talk quietly with God, working in partnership with Him – collaborating to shape, clarify and overcome challenges in order to realise an end product. This is the basis of everything: it also applies to the creative process of setting up and delivering programmes for artists and the people they seek to encourage and nurture.

Creativity is therefore the stuff of life: it is not a once-a-week, middle-class pursuit or a hobby designed to blossom nicely for showing off to the friends and family; it is also not aimed at cooking up something delightful to spice up a church service. Creativity should pervade the sacrosanct traditional church service, including the sermon and the order of service. Maybe something more creative could replace the formal delivery of a sermon? The words ‘cat’, ‘among’ and ‘pigeons’ come to mind.

Creativity is a vast, essential and normal part of our response to God and in communicating with each other in every possible way. Let’s sharpen and use our creative reflexes to glorify and honour God and to love our neighbours.

A Christian basis for Seeds

‘Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord.’ 

It’s as simple as that!  Otherwise, what’s the point?