Glasgow welcomes new pioneer minister for the visual arts

A new minister dedicated to the visual arts community has been welcomed into his post with a ceremony that showcased a stunning installation in Renfield St Stephens Church of Scotland in Glasgow.

Rev Peter Gardner
Rev Peter Gardner

Rev Peter Gardner marked the start of his pioneering ministry by creating Lightlines, a kinetic installation made from 153 recycled glass jars suspended from the church ceiling on nylon cords and partially filled with water, making each one a vessel to catch the light.

Peter said his work explores the place where art and spirituality meet. He said:

“I always try to create art that is meaningful and challenging and that makes us question where we are and how we view the mysteries of life.

“One of the things art can do is help us question and reflect on our spirituality. Often the Christian message is delivered in words, which are definitive. Art is a different language that is visual and engages people through imagination. Art is far more open and gives people the freedom to think in new and very different ways.”

It is a new departure for Peter, who is taking up his new pioneer ministry following 14 years as parish minister at Renfield St Stephens. During that time he built many different types of installations with his longtime artistic collaborator, his wife Heidi.

The work just flows

Much of the Gardners’ work invites viewers to reflect, dream and— often—to contribute.

Their two-year project Peacemakers, for example, included opportunties for passers-by to enter the church and take a turn on a circular loom.

“Heidi and I have always worked as a team,” Peter says. “It is great to work with someone who shares the same vision for art and the same passion for making. It is this passion, and the faith which drives it, which we believe will make this arts ministry with Glasgow’s artistic community a success over the next 5 years.”

Heidi Gardner, who is originally from Edinburgh, studied Art History at St Andrews. The couple met there and have been together ever since. While Heidi has no formal job, she collaborates with Peter in both the pastoral and artistic aspects of his ministry.

“We are able to complement one another in what we do,” Heidi says. “Often we don’t even have to speak because we have planned it together from the start and we share the same idea. The work just flows because we just know what the other thinks.”

Originally from Milngavie, Peter attended the University of St Andrews and Edinburgh University as well as Leith School of Art. After serving as a minister at what is now Tyne Valley Parish in Midlothian for 13 years he moved to Renfield St Stephens. He will be based at the church until the new ministry finds a permanent home.

'Lightlines'
'Lightlines' Gardner & Gardner A kinetic installation, made for Peter Gardner’s Service of Introduction as Pioneer Minister to the Visual Arts Communities of Glasgow, on 26th October 2016

Artists need spiritual support

The new role was created following a Church of Scotland commitment to spend £1 million on 5 pioneer arts posts to develop new faith communities across Scotland. Other posts will serve students in Stirling, the Ayrshire farming community, a new housing development in Midlothian and a deprived area in Paisley.

The Presbytery of Glasgow was successful in its bid for one of the posts to offer spiritual support to the city’s vibrant and diverse fine arts community.

Iain Campbell, who is the artist in residence at St Georges Tron Parish Church in Buchanan Street, welcomed the new pioneer ministry saying:

“When I was a student at Glasgow School of Art in the 90s, I went to a church with a bare brick interior. People thought it was nice that I was an artist, but couldn’t understand what it had to do with God. There was a real disconnect between my art-life and church-life.

“Artists are people asking deep questions about life and church hasn’t always been a place we can easily connect when the focus has always been on the verbal. I’m really glad that the Church of Scotland is trying hard to break down those barriers. Artists have a real need for spiritual support and have a lot to offer in the way of spiritual reflection.

“Because there has been a lack of fluency with visual art in the church, people have often wanted art to be an add-on, rather than an integral part of church. Art has a language of its own, and is very good at engaging people by making them curious and wanting to engage themselves, just as Jesus made people curious with his parables.

“It’s exciting to see the Church of Scotland supporting what artists are doing in Glasgow. Peter and Heidi are a gifted team, compelling and insightful as artists and pastors. We’ve collaborated on a project a few years ago for the West-End Festival in Glasgow, and we’re hoping to do some more work together in the future.”

God created us to be creative

Peter said that while he is just at the beginning of planning for the new ministry, he is looking forward to working with Glasgow’s arts practitioners. He said:

“I have a deep concern for artists and my primary commitment is to listen to them, to accompany them and to offer pastoral care. I see my new ministry as being part of a dialogue between art and faith and I intend to develop this conversation through the creation of new work and the nurturing of a supportive community, a place of making and of faith.

“I believe that this Pioneer Ministry is a sign that within the Church there is a growing understanding that the creator God made us to be creative and a growing commitment to engage with visual artists to create new art and new ways of worship.”

At present Rev Peter Gardner is working from Renfield St Stephens Parish Church in Glasgow. He can be reached by email at pgardner@churchofscotland.org.uk