The beautiful and amazing city of Paris, the world’s number one tourist destination, has been my home for 30 years. My wife Miki and I arrived in 1988 at the invitation of a French church to join a multicultural team to plant a new church. We were with a mission whose strength was cross-cultural training before sending people to work with local teams. We came with open minds cautious about traditional North American approaches to evangelism and church planting. With a lot of hard work, the little church slowly took shape in spite of a culture full of mistrust and fear of religious zeal. During this time, we were blessed to have visits from Ray Bakke, Glenn Smith, Robert Calvert and others who took time to explore principles of urban ministry with us. I had a sense of hope as new horizons opened my understanding of the history, the interaction between different people groups and the makeup of neighbourhoods. Their visits and our conversations proved vital for our small church in a big multicultural city.
We noticed that though there was little interest in the practice and expression of Christian faith the French were proud of their secular heritage. They deeply prized artistic expression and artists were admired and held in high esteem. However, Christian artists seemed consigned to the fringes of Church life, cut off from any ministry participation that employed their artistic gifts. I began to ask myself regularly why busy Parisians would virtually ignore the Church yet would make time for a quality artistic event of any kind.
During my study at BGU I had the opportunity to explore this question about France’s distrust of religion in general and its love affair with art along with other related questions concerning the French culture. I focused on the connection between the French culture, the arts and the mission of the Church, with the desire to uncover contextual approaches to mission in a culture that seemed almost completely disconnected with its Christian history. I actively participated in a group that launched La Fonderie, a Christian artists’ association in Paris. I learned that art could tell stories and capture the imagination in powerful ways. After completing my DMin in 2005, we took a much needed sabbatical break. Within a year of our return to Paris I was handed the leadership of a new arts center launched by artist friends from La Fonderie.
Our arts center, Le Pavé d’Orsay, is on the ground floor of an old church building located in a neighborhood full of art galleries and antique shops just across the river from the Louvre, down the street from the Musee D’Orsay and the Beaux Arts de Paris. It was begun by a collective of Christian artists who understood the need for a space to work, practice and perform for artists in Paris. The approach we take at the Le Pavé d’Orsay is different from most ministry projects as it is not a ministry of one local church, nor is the intent to start a church full of artists. Our center has been much appreciated by artists from different creative disciplines, including, theater, music, photography, painting, fashion, film, etc. We have seen the work develop only through word of mouth from one artist to another, the majority of whom are not Christians. People are pleased with our sense of service and express that have never experienced anything quite like Le Pavé d’Orsay. We are often able to discuss our faith with many people who have never read the Bible or even thought about going to a church service. By caring for artists in Jesus’ name we live out the Gospel and conversations open up naturally with our new friends as we hang their shows or prepare for their concerts or plays.
For more than 15 years Miki and I and have nurtured a desire to open an artists’ residence. We have enjoyed helping with expositions and performances and are eager to begin helping artists in their phase of creating. By God’s grace we have grown in our understanding of artists as sensitive people who feel deeply. We are aware of their need to spend time away from the city and have imagined a place of rest and reflection, of creative work and deep thought; a place where artists can complete a project—write a book or a play, compose music, paint a new series of paintings for an upcoming show, etc. We imagined a beautiful place that could inspire artists.
In September Miki and I moved to Normandy to begin to make this vision a reality. La Pommeraie (The Apple Orchard), the property we found, is composed of three small houses on 2.5 acres of land surrounded by small farms. The oldest of the three houses is a 300-year old, two-bedroom, thatched roof cottage that has become our home. One of the other two homes is a newer, smaller two-bedroom thatched house, and the third is a small converted barn that has two dorm type rooms and a multi-purpose room. All are fully furnished, each with equipped kitchens. La Pommeraie offers a charming, quiet context where artists can stay from a weekend up to four weeks in order to focus on their creative work. We want to invite artists of all disciplines, both Christians and non-Christians, to come to find a listening ear, a place to rest and space to work. We want our home to be warm and welcoming where we can encourage creative people spiritually and emotionally in Jesus’ name.
In his book entitled Culture Care, author by Makoto Fujimura (2017) quotes T.S. Elliot as saying “Culture may even be described simply as that which makes life worth living” (p. 42). In his book Fujimura describes his vision of cultural estuaries that nurture artists who will make significant contributions to culture making it healthy and generative, producing new cultural vitality. A cultural estuary aptly describes the type of place that Miki and I and want to create where we can actively support those striving for excellence, producing work with enduring qualities. We believe that ministry will happen in relationship; evangelism, discipleship and encouragement will naturally flow in the context of caring for artists and sharing life together. We hope that creative French people will experience and connect with the Kingdom of God. As a result, their art will begin to reflect what they experience and influence the broader culture, bringing new life and new ways of thinking.
The next important step in the development of the artist’s residence is to purchase the property. It comes fully furnished and all recently renovated within the last five years by a Christian couple as a small retreat center for church leaders. The owners are generously allowing us to lease La Pommeraie on a rent-to-buy basis applying 100% of the rent toward the fixed purchase price of 370,000 euros. This allows time for us to find the investors and partners necessary to complete the purchase. We have created a French legal structure (called an SCI) for the purchase and management of property with the help of a Christian lawyer who is just as excited about the project as we are.
We have received encouragement for this project from the Paris artist community and from the churches in Normandy. French law limits some of our activities until the purchase is complete, but we have already begun to receive guests at La Pommeraie, both artists and potential investors in this project. We will be creating an advisory board made up of artists and business people as we develop the project. Some of our ideas for the future include building a painting-sculpting studio and a recording studio. Please pray with us as we move forward step by step to see the vision become a fully functioning reality.
Engaging in Art with Missional Intent in Paris – article by Steve Thrall
www.artway.eu – European website full of deep Christian reflections on art