I believe that there are two ways in particular that the arts can aid ecumenism, writes Stephen Callaghan, creative director of the Archdiocese of Glasgow Arts Project (AGAP).
The first is through art which takes a catechetical role in unravelling faith issues within a public forum that engages a broad audience. The second is through art which draws together Christians to meet on common ground through collaboration and has a unifying effect in its execution and delivery.
Art must … substantially deal with faith issues to educate and dispel some of the myths that ignorance perpetuates.
One way in which AGAP has tried to do this is by holding visual art exhibitions that have invited artists from various denominations to interpret a particular religious theme. Past subjects have included directly Biblical topics like The Beatitudes (2008) and Saint Paul in Pictures (2009), an exhibition which marked the bi-millennium of the Birth of St Paul of Tarsus and featured, for the first time, religious art by celebrated artist and Reader in the Church of Scotland, Jolomo (John Lowrie Morrison). However, we have also encouraged artists to consider ideas to do with Christian living: Called to Serve (2010) allowed artists to explore ideas of vocation during the Year for Priests, and One Family (2011) was a direct response to the words of unity spoken by Pope Benedict XVI during his UK Papal Visit, when he said that ‘religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.’ However, more popular than any of these previous themes was the exhibition topic for Lentfest 2012: Stations of the Cross and Resurrection, which took place in the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel.
The exhibition was, in itself, a great example of ecumenism. The number of artists who wanted to take part persuaded us to expand the topic to include the seldom-practised but authentic Catholic tradition of the Stations of the Resurrection. This meant that the topic offered something new and exciting to Christians of different denominations—Catholic artists were less familiar with the Stations of the Resurrection and non-Catholic artists discovered the tradition of the Stations of the Cross during Lent.
It would not be possible for me to end this article without mentioning the work of bodies committed to ecumenism. Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS), the Iona Community, and regional bodies such as Glasgow Churches Together, make great use of the arts in worship and events that encourage Christians to work and pray together. As Catholics and artists, we need to be committed to the unity for which Christ Himself so ardently prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
• Read the full 1,500-word feature at the Scottish Catholic Observer.