Columns, Community Voice

The art of the start

Chapter 2

Q. What do you do?

It’s a standard introductory question, and since I’ve been meeting a steady stream of new people the past few months, I’ve developed a ready response: I’m a community organizer with The Project F-M, a vision to create a 21st century faith community through young adult leadership. After I answer, there’s often a pause coupled with an expression of interest or confusion or appreciation, and then, more questions.

Karis Thompson

Karis Thompson

Does that mean you’re starting a church? A ministry? Will you eventually have a building? What will this become? What’s your goal? What will this look like? Is this a “postmodern” thing?

These are all questions I’ve come to anticipate but still can’t answer. I explain that The Project F-M has been designed to empower a still-evolving community to eventually shape and articulate their own identity and vision, and to engage questions about who they are and how they hope to be in relationship with each other, and with God, and within a broader community. I don’t yet know where this process will lead or how the community’s vision will unfold, but I do sense that any vision will require time and space to emerge.

The Project F-M … begins with people, inspires new connections and interactions, and then actively, patiently waits for whatever vision and form will emerge.

In the meantime, I try to mitigate the frustration that tends to accompany this lack of definition, often by answering the one question I can answer with certainty … and with a metaphor.

How did this all start?

If you wander through the halls of an art museum, you might be able to intuit what inspired a particular work of art. A painting may have been undertaken as a commissioned portrait or as a fulfillment of a conceptual vision or as an exploration of light or form or color or as an emotional response to an experience. The artist began with some impulse or inspiration or incentive to create and then employed materials — paints or pastels or ink, a canvas or clay — to realize that artistic objective. Motivation > materials > creation.

But artist Jay Pfeifer — a native of North Dakota with whom I had the opportunity to speak about his artistic process — adheres to a different process of creation. He begins not with an artistic objective or vision or concept, but with materials. As he interacts with diversely found materials, a painting emerges. “The art of Jay Pfeifer is defined more by his materials and his long familiarity with them than by any preconceived themes or designs. From the building sites and construction zones of his everyday work life, he gathers the raw components — lath, sand, joint compound, roofing paper, even coffee grounds and motor oil — which are melded and transformed into the rich forms and vistas of his ‘paintings,’ the term he prefers.” (From Jay Pfeifer’s artist biography at www.ecce216.com/pfeifer_bio.php) Materials > interaction > creation.

Often, when forming a church or founding an organization or developing a new enterprise, we begin with a vision and mission, and then recruit members or participants or clients or investors to realize that vision and mission.

But The Project F-M finds more of a parallel and resonance with Jay Pfeifer’s process — begin with people, inspire new connections and interactions, and then actively, patiently wait for whatever vision and form will emerge from this melding and transforming of individual stories, questions, and imaginations into a common identity and vision.

A good story rarely begins with a declaration of where it will end, but most often starts with an introduction of the people whose narrative we’ll be following. And that’s where this story of this creation of a 21st century faith community begins — with people and their relationships with God and each other. It’s a story we’re writing in real time with an ending we can only imagine but with a trust that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

We’re trusting that “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come — what will come — into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:1-4)

To learn more about The Project F-M, find The Project F-M page on Facebook or visit http://theprojectfm.org. To see Jay Pfeifer’s work, visit www.ecce216.com/pfeifer.php.

Karis Thompson began working as a community organizer with The Project F-M, a vision + venture to cultivate a 21st century faith community in the Fargo-Moorhead context, in September 2009. In alternating months, she will share stories and questions of the emerging faith community connected through The Project F-M. Previously, Thompson worked with Redeemer Center for Life, a holistic community-based nonprofit founded by Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis.

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