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Miami Beach church spreads healing through arts

Miami Beach church spreads healing through arts

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Miami Beach church spreads healing through arts

Sept. 9, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0736}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

More than 14,000 people have attended events provided through Arts at St. John’s since the program began eight years ago at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Miami Beach. Photo by Steven Skelley. Photo #07-0667.

MIAMI BEACH — St. John’s United Methodist Church is just 10 blocks from the mansion of megastar Jennifer Lopez, and nearby residents range from the mega-rich to the disillusioned, homeless and abused of all ethnicities.

Amidst this diversity St. John’s has found a common thread: the arts.

“St. John’s is a reconciling church,” said Dr. Carol Hoffman-Guzman, director of Arts at St. John’s. “We are diverse ethnically. We welcome the gay community and those people who were disillusioned by churches in the past. Now, they have a safe way to peek inside a church again because of these arts programs.”

Arts at St. John’s is a nonprofit corporation begun at St. John’s United Methodist Church eight years ago. It was developed to increase the visibility of the church, attract new visitors and members, and build community. Its goal is to use the arts as a medium for bringing social, spiritual and personal transformation and a means of encouraging intercultural understanding, sharing and dialogue.

Arts at St. John’s events include concerts, shows, workshops, panel discussions and a variety of innovative arts programs. In addition to support from the church, the program also receives funding from such community and state groups as the Miami Beach Cultural Arts Council, Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

Hoffman-Guzman says more than 14,000 people have attended Arts at St. John’s events since the program began, and each year the program receives between $50,000 and $60,000 in corporate donations and city, county and state grants.

“What started as a neighborhood outreach program expanded,” she says. “Attendees started coming from all over south Florida and then internationally. People said they made trips to the U.S. just to attend our events. One couple came all the way from England.”

Hoffman-Guzman says she believes the church should be part of the community and promoting and presenting arts and artists as a way to be agents of social, personal and spiritual transformation.

“We want to expose people to different cultures,” she said. “Many people in society separate for different reasons. We try to bring them together. We want to build relationships within our community and make connections with artists in this community.”

The Rev. Melissa Pisco, senior pastor of the church, agrees and says the arts can often say more than what language can convey.

“We do something together and we break through barricades,” she said. “It is a ministry of bridge-building with people and with God. Art breaks down those backgrounds that separate us. Everyone is welcome here.”

Bringing healing to people

Charm Walters says there were two things that carried her through the difficult times in her life: dance and God.

Dr. Carol Hoffman-Guzman (left), director of Arts at St. John’s, and Charm Walters, who developed the Rhythmic Rapture outreach dance program, believe the arts can transform both individuals and a community — spiritually, socially and personally — and that the church should be part of that, a main tenet behind the arts program. Photo by Thomas Routzong. Photo #07-0668.

“Spirituality can be expressed through the arts,” she said. “Having arts in a sacred place is just natural. What brought me back to the church were the artistic, inclusive activities here.”

Through Arts At St. John’s Walters has launched the nonprofit Rhythmic Rapture outreach program as a way to “use dance and rhythm to heal people.”

Rhythmic Rapture recently received a $7,000 grant from the county, and a psychotherapist has partnered with Walters to help her bring healing to abused, oppressed and homeless women.

The pair recently led a Flamenco dance therapy class at a local homeless shelter, particularly appropriate because Flamenco was created as an artistic release by people who were oppressed, according to Walters

Walters said one of the women in the class refused to participate in the dance therapy.

“She just sat with her arms crossed,” Walters said. “I offered to dance for her. As I danced, her face lit up. The next time, she opened up and participated herself.

Walter says the women are very strong in their faith, even though they’ve been “abused and beaten down.”

“This ministry empowers them,” she said. “You see women working things out through their movements and finding healing in what they’re doing. The arts can do something special that other avenues can’t. It reaches people in special ways.”

Tiffany Madeira teaches Sunday school at the church and Middle Eastern dance. She’s also reaching out to women at the shelter through a dance program she developed called Dance Empowerment. Its goal is to help women feel better about themselves.

Hoffman-Guzman assists both women in applying for grants to support their programs, which operate under the St. John’s umbrella.

“The United Methodist Church is a diverse church,” Hoffman-Guzman said. “We have music and dance from different cultures. We want to expose people to different cultures.”

Making connections

In addition to the church’s ministries and arts outreach, St. John’s also provides space for a Montessori school for moderate- and low-income children.

Participants attending the Afroroots Sacred Music concert Feb. 29, 2004, enjoy sacred music from countries and cultures with African roots. Photo courtesy of Arts at St. John’s. Photo #07-0669. Web photo only.

The Montessori Academy offers three learning environments: one for infants, one for toddlers and one for preschoolers and kindergartners. Lead teachers who hold bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and Montessori certifications manage the levels.

“We recently did an outreach event that linked the church, the arts program and the Montessori school,” Pisco said. “Both children and adults created and decorated masks and talked about how we live with masks on in different areas of our lives.”

The academy is the first school to host a new cultural program called World of Art, featuring a different talent each week, according to the church’s Web site. One week the children were shown how to belly dance. Another week they were introduced to sign language. The program often features music and dance that is typical of a certain culture or region.

“Everything we do has some message,” Hoffman-Guzman said. “Some are fun. Some are inspirational. Some are confrontational. We want people to begin to look at the stereotypes that they have of others. Our arts program transforms the community and artists, but it also transforms us. It renews a sense of spirituality in us all.”


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla. His columns appear in the Naples Sun Times newspaper and Faith & Tennis magazine.