Originally envisioned by New Song Church member Bev Foster, the David Festival launched in Port Perry, Ontario in 2008, with a vision to encourage, enable, and equip churches in the Scugog area of southern Ontario to glorify God through music and the arts. The David Festival continues to present a variety of workshops and other programs designed for participating individuals and churches to foster excellence n the arts.
How did you come to be part of the New Song Church community?
We are one of the founding families of the New Song church plant in Port Perry.
How did you become interested in the arts?
I come from a musical family. Mom says I began playing the piano at age two. I also love to write and dabble in visual arts. I’m not a dancer, but love and appreciate artistic movement. I love to use the arts to express my thoughts and emotions. I appreciate detail and discipline and different points of view. Currently my interest is in the therapeutic applications and impact of the arts, in particular, music care.
New Song’s rector Brent Stiller said that you pioneered the David Festival, an annual conference on worship and the arts which brings together a number of churches with guest speakers and practical workshops. What led you to start this conference?
A group of music teacher colleagues in our community used to gather every five or six months to exchange ideas, new resources, etc. Through a conversation about music festivals, we imagined a Christian arts festival in the spirit of celebration rather than evaluation and began to wonder and pray.
What is your hope that this conference will do for the church and local community?
Several things. Develop collegiality amongst local worship leaders and pastors:
• Equip and skillfully train persons who are involved in worship ministry in various capacities i.e. technical, worship bands, choirs, poets, decorators etc;
• Encourage those who often give much and need to receive;
• Enjoy fellowship, and shared experience in our common love and desire to worship Jesus; and
• Expand our understanding and knowledge of the various media through which God-Father, Son and Spirit—is worshipped.
Why do you believe Christians should care about the arts?
God has demonstrated His love of beauty through skillful design and creative process. Color, vibration, thought, matter, are created by Him. I believe these things are meant to be used to co-create with God, expressing divine revelation, listening for life and breath in the universe, in our individual human experience, and in community.
It is possible to care too much about the arts, idolizing them, placing them as something to be worshipped rather than a means for worship. Artistic medium is a cultural means of telling our stories, a collective opportunity for shared values and beliefs, a personal way to contain sentiment.
In this way, the church needs to see the arts as a direct way to engage one another and the culture around us, in artistic dialogue. The arts, music in particular, has tremendous therapeutic capacity which can rehabilitate and bring healing to body, mind and spirit.
Worship appears to be integral in the David Festival. How do you put together worship for a diverse community from difference Christian traditions?
Isn’t this the same question we face each week—Relevancy? Meaning? Preferences? Possibility for new? Comfort/discomfort? We have identified several art forms to date that are relevant to the artists from different traditions in our community i.e. music, writing, choir, visual arts, audio visual. Each medium creates its own space, framework and content generally around a theme verse in the Psalms i.e. lament, new life, joy. We bring a variety of expert speakers and try not to duplicate them to keep things fresh and relevant. We have a post-festival online evaluation which provides valuable feedback so that in the next year, things like diversity and preferences can be taken into account.
Many times, we have had a culminating worship gathering inviting all the churches in the area. Sometimes it is done in a liturgical tradition, with djembes or with drum kit, with pipe organ, with cloth and canvas or as a concert. As a planning team, we pray and aim to discern the Holy Spirit’s leading each year.
What are the challenges and joys of preparing the David Festival?
All of us are volunteers and although we each work enthusiastically from our skill set, there is still some expertise we’re missing, for example, around website and technology. Because people have a tendency to sign on to things like the David Festival last minute, this poses a challenge. The joy of seeing teens come to be trained is a thrill for me, as they learn that leading worship is about both skills, and attitudes of the heart—what an impacting formation. I love the planning team—we have a great time and eat a lot of chocolate at our meetings.
How has working on the David Festival enriched your own walk with Christ?
I love community and I love the intricate tapestry of Christ’s church. Coming together in our common love, affection, and desire to worship the Lord with our own unique traditions, for me, is a foretaste of what’s coming. In this way, the David Festival is a preparation for my final destination with Christ. Certainly, the prayer and discernment, the trust in God’s agenda to be done is a faith strengthener for me. The faithful teaching from the clinicians we bring in has deepened my biblical knowledge of, for example, the work and impact of Old Testament worship leaders.
Why do you think engaging in creative activities enriches the Church?
Recently, we had an art therapist who is a Christian believer help us at New Song do a community painting. It felt like she was pulling on a drawstring: we collectively imagined lines, colors, and shapes and she painted them “on command” upon the canvas. It soon became clear that we held a plethora of perspectives and meanings on the finished piece as well as elements that were within it. I think creative activities like this one help us share our stories, and promote understanding different points of view, listening and acceptance. The story of God working in each of us is all about new creation. Creative activities in the church can demonstrate this in a holistic, engaging and open sort of way.
What has surprised you most about working on the David Festival?
Many of the churches that come do not have any regular training for their volunteer worship ministry folks. David Festival has become that training for them. In some cases this is because they have not valued training in their financial plans and budgets. In other cases churches don’t realize that volunteers need a baseline training and ongoing support in order to stay supple, motivated, and equipped.
To learn more about the David Festival, visit their website Register here
-By Mary Ailes, Director of Communications for the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.