St Margaret's, Barking


A year in the arts (for a Parish Church)

St Margaret's Barking has had a year in the Arts which illustrates some of the opportunities and possibilities that engaging with the Arts can bring. Their curate, Jonathan Evens, explains.

Our year in the Arts began with a Christmas gift from a local artist, George Emmerson. For some years George had been painting the church, churchyard and the ruins of Barking Abbey and, as he left the borough, presented the church with a book of these paintings. The book is filled with watercolours set in intricately painted borders and complemented by historical information and personal reflections. It is a beautiful reminder of the history of the Abbey Green site in which St Margaret's is located and a record of one person's response to that history. These two strands of the site's history and individual responses to that history run throughout our year in the Arts.

During the year we have worked together with the Arts services department of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Led by Tracey McNulty and Catherine Miller, this team has been responsible for the A13 Artscape project, one of the most ambitious public arts projects in the UK. Our first collaboration with them was Love & Light in which VJs and digital artists from plugfish filmed and digitally animated both members of the congregation and the surrounding flora and wildlife, setting them within delicate moving imagery before projecting them onto the windows, walls, roof and tower of the church.

Projected onto the clear windows of the church, were moving images of the local body of Christ at St Margaret's - dancing mums, waving ladies, an eight piece dance group, the verger and curate racing each other up the Church Tower, an imaginary teenage rock band, and a number of other spinning, walking, waving, smiling members of the congregation. This piece, rightly entitled Abbey Happy, was the church at play.

Studding this celebration of the congregation were reminders of Barking's past which drew on memorials contained within the church. Captain Cook's ship, The Endeavour, sailed again next to the stained glass window commemorating Barking's fishing heritage. This window then provided motifs of sea horses, shells and water that featured in several other projections. The whole was a joyful celebration, not just of St Margaret's special history, but also of its lively and diverse present. In it the church was truly seen as a place of love, light and laughter.

Over the course of the year we have also collaborated with Arts Services on two concerts for Refugee Week and the Molten Festival featuring concert pianist Manuel Villet, world music star Jide Chord and the children's choirs from St Margaret's School and Watoto Childcare. Music alsoed feature in a taster workshop at the St Margaret's Centre for the Sonic Spin course which provides training in Music Technology. Through a printmaking and design workshop we arranged for young people from local churches to contribute designs to the Making Barking Brilliant project which will see these and other designs turned by the artist Dale Devereux Barker into enamel panels and etched slabs located on walls and streets in Barking.

Finally, in January 2006 we provided a venue for Re:Generation, a film and photographic project by Michael Cousin which explored local people's memories of Barking's past, their feelings about its present and their hopes and fears for the future. People from St Margaret's feature in the film and contributed their photographs and memories to the project. Community involvement has therefore been a major feature of these projects which attempt to contribute to the regeneration of the Town Centre and the well-being of its people.

Anthony Shapland has said of Michael Cousin that, "He successfully combines the naivety of a child, seeing the world afresh with a grown-up, stubborn belief that things could be different. He … [creates] a space for contemplation … He is … willing the viewer to look at something with new eyes, to experience reality refreshed." This could well be a manifesto for our year in the Arts and for the Lent course we ran during this year which explored images of salvation from conceptual art, figurative paintings, and feature films. Discovering spirituality in works such as Tracy Emin's Bed, Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant and uncovering models of salvation in paintings from different periods of Art history was certainly eye-opening for many.

Our Lent course culminated with the unveiling of an original painting commissioned for our Youth Chapel. Early in the morning was unveiled by the artist Alan Stewart and dedicated by the Bishop of Barking. The painting depicts Christ cooking breakfast for his disciples by Lake Galilee after his resurrection, as told in John's Gospel chapter 21. Stewart has painted a black Christ surrounded by disciples of every ethnic origin to reflect the diverse congregation that currently worships at St Margaret's. Through its lakeside setting the pastel painting also links to the stained glass window in the Youth Chapel commemorating the fishing industry in Barking.

Early in the morning has been joined in our Youth Chapel by the second artistic gift we have received this year. During a study visit to our link parish of Kristinehamn in Sweden we were presented with an icon of Jesus blessing the children by the Norwegian painter Kjellaug Nordsjö, who is widely considered the best contemporary icon painter in Scandinavia. This icon is a window into Christ's inclusivity and gentleness and a sign of the welcome that we seek to give to all at St Margaret's.

Our year in the Arts has refreshed our memory of our history, celebrated the present diversity of our congregation and community, contributed towards the future regeneration of our town centre, and created spaces for seeing the world, reality and our faith afresh. The value of the Arts for us and our community therefore speak for themselves.

Michael Cousin' Re:Generation exhibition was at St Margaret's from 14th to 21st January 2006. More information can be found by clicking here.

Early in the morning

Paintings - George Emmerson

Love & Light


Regeneration & Memento