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A painting series invites you to come to God on your own terms

CHRISTIAN LIVING  |  Kaley Payne

Tuesday 1 March 2016

A Baptist minister will spend the most part of 2016 creating 16 enormous paintings of biblical scenes, in an attempt to bring those far from Christ into his presence and get them reflecting on the human experience.

Michael Henderson, senior pastor at Frenchs Forest Baptist Church in Sydney’s northern suburbs says he wants to give people space to explore God on their own terms, and he believes art offers a chance for them to do just that.

View some of Michael’s initial sketches for his 16-painting series called ‘Untitled’.

“A lot of the time in contemporary culture, people are quick to say what others should think about something. They dump their views on others really quickly. In Christianity, I wonder if that holds a lot of people back in discovering Christ, because there’s nowhere for them to go and bring their issues and their own contexts and thoughts. We’re too quick to talk theology and what you can and can’t think and do. There’s a lot of mess and baggage,” Henderson told Eternity.

“In some respects, I’m trying to strip all that out and get them to first engage with God. Not with human arguments, or the church and its interests, just with God through these paintings. I hope the paintings can say enough that people can have a conversation with God away from the clutter and noise of life and contemporary Christian thought.”

Michael is an artist, filmmaker and poet, and has exhibited in Sydney’s popular Sculpture by the Sea exhibition and was an Arteles artist in residence in Finland in November 2014. During his time in Finland, Michael says he was particularly interested in exploring how art could be ‘missional’. He was struck by how difficult it was to talk to people about anything to do with God.

“The Nordic countries are some of the most secular western countries in the world,” he says. “They’re still familiar with some of the biblical stories and events, but getting them to engage in anyway is tough.”

That’s when Michael started considering a painting exhibition that covered biblical stories from Genesis through Revelation. He first considered a giant mural in a church building, but to be ‘missional’ Michael thought it should be transportable and therefore accessible to people unlikely to show up in church.

While the 16-painting series, called ‘Untitled’ will depict biblical scenes, Michael has chosen those scenes based on the messages that come through about the human experience. For example, the second painting in the series is of Adam and Eve and “the moment they know they’ve messed up and God makes them clothes for their naked bodies.

“I’m trying to describe part hope and part regret: looking forward to a future where things will be better, but also understanding that things are going to get much, much worse before then. But where does that hope come from? Where does our security come from? I’m asking these things in this painting.”

Michael says his first aim is to engage people in their own experiences of life: struggle, pain, joy, beauty.

“There are thousands of stories in the Bible that touch on those themes, so I want to use biblical events to help explore them in the hope that I’m able to show human experience and things of God at the same time.”

It’s an ambitious project, but Michael is used to big things. In the lead up to Easter, he’s preparing a large art installation for Edwardstown Baptist Church in Adelaide comprising six large works, some as big as 6 x 8 metres.

Michael has been working on life-sized sketches of the series, showcasing the preparatory work in his own church. He’s also launched a crowd-funding Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 to create the paintings and a supporting art book, and to support a not-for-profit organisation to take the paintings and showcase them in an environment that “gives people space to explore the things of God for themselves.”

Michael’s kickstarter project started today. Find out more here.

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