Creative arts delegates give up life’s hurry and step into rhythm with God
Attendees to the 2023 Western Territorial Creative Arts Conference grow their skills to glorify God.
In a world of constant sensory input, the Western Territorial Creative Arts Conference 2023, themed “Rhythms”—inspired by Matthew 11:28-30—encouraged delegates to resynchronize themselves to God’s rhythms by moving beyond their everyday lives and taking time to express themselves creatively.
“It is our hope that the delegates are empowered to use their creativity and gifts for God’s kingdom,” said Joy Yi, who organized the conference with the Territorial Music Department.
Delegates ranging in age from 18 to 60-plus gathered March 10–12 from throughout the Western U.S. at The Salvation Army’s Camp Del Oro in Nevada City, California, braving an atmospheric river storm drenching the area in cold rain. They chose from workshops including dance, drama, visual arts, creative writing and praise and worship, looking to create from the soul to honor God.
“Consider the arts—drama, dance, visual arts…It doesn’t matter how old or young [someone is], they should be doing something, right? Everybody has their own little spot. And it’s important that we encourage them,” said Territorial Music Secretary Neil Smith.
Author, speaker and Executive Producer of Content for Wild at Heart ministry, guest Allen Arnold spoke at the Friday and Saturday night main sessions, in addition to leading the creative writing track. During the Friday session, “Rhythms of Rest,” Arnold reminded listeners of what life was like in the Garden of Eden—what he calls “Story One”—versus life in today’s world, “Story Two.” The goal for humans is to get from Story Two back to Story One. Part of the process involves rest, respecting rest and re-seeing it.
“Rest is a really good thing. It’s not just the recharge, to get busier and do more,” Arnold said. “We have to have our soul filled with living water from time with God.”
He suggested that “hurry” is the opposite of rest, and offered some practical ways to cultivate rest, including designating time you’re unavailable to the world, doing a screen detox, prioritizing being over doing and defining what true success means for your life right now.
“True success isn’t about popularity or accomplishments,” Allen said. “It’s about pursuing your life and gifting with God…God says, ‘Go into everything with me, and it’s a success while you do it.’ God’s validation is what restores us.”
Dr. Bonnie Robb spoke during an interactive Saturday morning session based on “Rhythms of Growth.” An educator and teacher leader who specializes in effective literacy strategies for all learners, Robb is a Salvationist from the Portland (Oregon) Tabernacle Corps and a member of the Territorial Creative Arts Ensemble. She focused on neuroscience, her specialty, and what it means for creators and storytellers. Neuroscience looks at how the brain works and how people learn.
“Ultimately it’s not about us; it’s about the people in front of us,” she said, adding that 95 percent of adults think in images—they see pictures in their brains. With that in mind, she got everyone drawing, sharing their stories through images. “You can draw,” she said frequently, encouraging those who were not so inclined.
Robb created a live powerpoint of every remark she made by using simple but evocative drawings and stick figures, noting that “words float away, but pictures stay.” She said using one’s hands is also helpful—sign language is a tool even for those who hear.
“The great thing about stories—and this is what Jesus does—is it provides us real world context for what we’re learning,” she said. “On the social, emotional, cultural side, we know that [stories] give us the opportunity to actually share our lived experiences and begin to have empathy toward other people and viewpoints…Storytelling gives everyone a voice.”
Arnold continued the Rhythms of Growth theme Saturday night. He said when Jesus told stories, he inspired change in his listeners, and as his followers, we can aspire to do the same through our stories, with the goal of moving from Story Two back to our true home, Story One, or Eden.
“All art tells a story,” he said. “What story does yours tell? Does it awaken people back to Story One or comfort them in Story Two? Are you at the epicenter of it all? Or is God?”
Throughout the weekend, delegates were encouraged to take a deep dive into the Psalms—reading them, praying them and finally, writing their own brief psalm expressing a life theme such as joy, sorrow, anger, praise or justice. During Sunday’s worship meeting, “Rhythms of Grace,” individuals could share a biblical psalm, reading it and explaining what it meant to them.
With the weekend coming to an end and delegates looking to return home, Yi considered the concept of work in her message, and what it means from a Story One point of view versus the Story Two perception.
“Work is not the opposite of rest. Work is not a result of the Fall,” she said. “We often mistake rest as doing nothing and work as doing something, but in the beginning, in Eden, there was work. Adam cultivated the garden. He worked. Sure, overwork and busy-ness is the opposite of rest, but the work in Eden was blessed. So our service to God—the work we do to serve—can be a part of worship.”
Connections and next steps
Throughout the weekend, delegates participated in workshops, developing their talents to glorify God and gaining skills and resources to share with others. Allen, who has a background in publishing, led the creative writing workshops. Delegate and Creative Arts Ensemble member Xiomara Craig said Allen covered both the practical and theoretical elements of the writing process.
“In the first workshop, he gave us 11 steps to follow in getting our book published…[and] in the next session he focused on creating with God,” she said. “No matter how creative or passionate you are about something, it will be even better with God.”
The Bill Booth Theater Company from the Central Territory led drama workshops and performed during the Saturday night main session. Summar Bussey, from the Western Territorial Youth Department, led the dance track. Returning visual arts instructor Major Ronda Gilger, Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Kroc Center Corps Officer, said visual arts “provide a sacred space where our calling and God’s power can be seen.” Eastern Territorial Director for Contemporary Music Doug Berry led praise and worship throughout the weekend, in the main sessions and the workshops, which were popular among attendees.
“I made a lot of good connections with not just young people who are new to giving worship in their corps, but even some older people who are trying it out—they’re nervous just as the kids are,” Berry said. “Everyone had a genuine spirit. They don’t want to just be a good guitar player or be a good singer. That was good—just that atmosphere of humility, and music making and worship.”
That atmosphere had some looking to make new commitments.
“It’s nice that the Army provides an outlet for people to use their creativity to serve the Lord,” said Captain Christina Arnold, Long Beach (California) Red Shield Corps Officer, who attended with a small group from the Red Shield. “One of my delegates found the conference to be incredibly encouraging and empowering. Halfway through the event she asked about soldiership. She [previously] had reservations…but after feeling cared for and invested in, she is willing to commit more to the ministry of the Army.”
Looking ahead, Smith said the Music Department is considering offering smaller intensive events to train more people to offer creative arts in their corps. “The point is, don’t just enjoy the conference and then forget about it until the next one,” he said. “Take what you’ve learned back to your corps and share it.”
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