In the quiet, they listen for the voice of love. They breathe deeply, and they ponder and paint.
They gather every Tuesday at 9 a.m. in a lovely park next to a pretty lake with ducks.
Who are these people? They are the lucky folks who come to Art in the Park, a Fresh Expressions outreach of St. Mark’s Ocala United Methodist Church.
|"We had the idea that if we just sat down and offered a space for people to slow down and contemplate and pray, we could reach them. We kind of use art as a spiritual discipline."|
“We’ve been meeting since June in this really nice spot at Tuscawilla Park a couple of blocks from the church,” said Pastor Sue Corley, who sets up paints and paper and water on picnic tables where even in the Florida summer, there is a bit of cool shade.
Laura Baber, who is a spiritual director at the church, is there, too. Corley sets up a large, hand-painted sign that welcomes anyone who sees it to “come paint with us!”
“The people who come are not church members, but people who pass by, like dog walkers and workers on their morning coffee breaks,” Corley said. “We had the idea that if we just sat down and offered a space for people to slow down and contemplate and pray, we could reach them. We kind of use art as a spiritual discipline.”
The people have been from all walks of life. For example, a young woman with her dog in a shark costume joined in the fun. It turned out she was a manager at a local art supply store and helped spread the word to people who might want to come.
A group of special needs individuals on a Goodwill outing to the park were welcomed to sit down and paint.
“That was really awesome,” Corley said.
She explained that while she and Baber organize and set up the sessions, “We’re not there to teach them necessarily, just to offer this opportunity. It’s not about the technique; it’s about giving the Spirit a chance to move.”
Baber is a deacon in the UMC and has a secondary appointment at St. Mark’s. She moved to Florida from Kentucky in 2016 and has been acting as the spiritual direction leader at the church since early 2018.
“I have a heart for women in ministry, and Sue and I were just meeting once a week and walking and praying and found out that we both loved to paint,” Baber said. “We were pondering Fresh Expressions and the idea that you go where people are, so the idea of painting in the park just opened us up.”
|A hand-painted sign invites passers-by to join "Art in the Park."|
The park is also near a half-way house and a homeless shelter, which opens additional possibilities.
“We have had women searching for wholeness who have joined us in our practice, and it’s been lovely to have women in recovery with us,” Baber said.
The only guideline at Art in the Park comes gently, in the form of small cards that are available.
These hand-lettered cards help people get centered so they can invite some calm and peace into their lives.
“The cards have a scripture (verse) on them that people can reflect on, or they can create their art based on something they see in nature around us. It’s a contemplative practice, and then at some point everyone shares something, and we have a closing prayer of gratitude,” Baber said.
The group has numbered anywhere from four to 12, and Corley and Baber are brainstorming about ways they can expand the ministry. As the weather cools, more people will likely stop by.
Baber recalled one Tuesday when an emergency room doctor found a place to take a break with the painters.
“He said he was a Muslim, but he said his mother prays five times a day and he found it relaxing to be there with us. He said, ‘I already feel calm….a beautiful calm.”
The cards offer a way to get started, saying:
Today we will:
Settle: Meet each other and gather supplies.
Breathe: Take some deep, slow breaths.
Ponder: Reflect on the (scripture) on the other side of this card or something you see around you.
Pray: In the quiet, can you listen for the voice of love?
Create: Write, paint, draw … be free from perfectionism. Enjoy!
Share: When ready, share what you have experienced or created
Thank: As we close, can you join us in a prayer of gratitude? What are you thankful for today?
At the bottom of the card, there is information about St. Mark’s and an invitation to come to worship.
“It’s about making people comfortable,” Baber said.
It’s also about making art and finding calm at a church where people (and the ducks) gather by a pretty lake in a lovely park.
—Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Decatur, Ga.