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‘God’s Brilliant Idea’: Gerard Kelly


‘Framing Collioure’

When I visited Collioure in 2008, I was deeply struck by the ‘Chemin du Fauvisme’ exhibition. Like thousands of tourists before, I stood looking at a grey church through an empty golden frame and was convicted of my own lack of vision and imagination. What would it take, I wondered, for me to see the colours a great artist might see? What courage would I need to celebrate what I saw, even as others around me, more rationally defined and fearing excess, named me wild?

A student more of mission than of art, more familiar with churches than galleries, I accepted this rebuke at the very heart of my faith…this has become a vital metaphor to me in recent years as I have wrestled with the loss of colour that so many people describe in their experience of the Christian faith…in the century since Derain and Matisse first painted in Collioure, tens of millions of people have walked away from commitment to the Christian churches of the West…And those walking away from faith often experience their journey as a kind of liberation. Looking back over their shoulder to see what they have left behind, they see grey. Old buildings; empty creeds; bland faith. What they do not see is colour and life.

And yet the church is, in its origins, God’s brilliant idea…It is a sparkling idea, a concept radiant with light and joy. Words like ‘brilliant’, ‘bright’ and ‘beautiful’ can legitimately be used to describe it…What happened to the fountain of colour God switched on at Pentecost? Where did the explosion of joy go? How did a movement of life and exuberance become, for so many, a source of greyness in our world?

…Can we break out of the greyness of our church experience to discover the riot of colour God intended? Is there a route back to the brilliance of God’s plan? Like Mark Figueres with his empty frames, I want to ask you, ‘What do you see?’ and challenge you, perhaps, to see more.


God’s brilliant idea #1: ‘Shine through them’

The church exists because God has committed himself to work through people. This is the fulfilment of the Creator’s long-held intention to shine wisdom through his human creatures into the world he has made. We will explore this as a prismatic plan: the many colours of God’s wisdom displayed through redeemed human lives…What does it take to shine God’s light into every corner of our culture?

God’s brilliant idea #2: ‘Give them power’

A second biblical metaphor for the church is… a human community indwelt by the Holy Spirit…What is God doing in us that will empower and resource what he plans to do through us?

God’s brilliant idea #3: ‘Help them love’

The third brilliant idea, perhaps the New Testament’s most dramatic metaphor for the church is ‘the body of Christ‘…We will ask whether the recovery of servant love as the very mark of the church might not lead to a renewal of its life and mission, asserting that God’s kingdom runs on meekonomics – the subverting of power and wealth that brings the margins to the centre. How might a tidal wave of small acts of love change the direction of our over-consuming culture? What does it mean for us to incarnate anew the very life of Christ?

God’s brilliant idea #4: ‘Make them one’

Lastly, we will discover the New Testament’s future-focused vision of the church as ‘the bride of Christ‘, a body resplendent with beauty reflecting the colours and contributions of every culture on the planet. ..What does it mean to truly celebrate diversity?


I want to suggest that in our quest for [a truly missional church] there are colours we will need to recover; wavelengths of God’s mission to which we have perhaps become blind.
It is significant that science, and not aesthetics alone, played a part in shaping the work of the Fauvists and the colour-revolution they gladly joined. Their work was, in part, a response to changes in their cultural landscape.

In the closing years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, two areas of research were moving ahead at such a pace as to make new experiments in art not only possible but inevitable. The first was the development of photography and the associated experimentation in the behaviour of light. Early discoveries in photographic processing showed as never before the relationship between sight and light and revealed much that had never before been so fully understood. This led to discoveries about refraction and the nature of colour that gave avant-garde artists new confidence in their experimentation. They were freed to ‘see’ more than they had ever seen before, understanding that the light pouring into their eyes carried many more colours than their rational minds had previously acknowledge.

In parallel to this, developments in the manufacture and import of pigments were offering to the painter unprecedented power to reproduce the colours he was seeing. Year by year new pigments became available or affordable, and each one added to the artist’s armoury. The Impressionists, most notably Monet, were the first to take advantage of these developments and break into new areas of experimentation with colour. The journey was taken further by the Post-Impressionists and by Seurat and the Pointillists – who painted by applying thousands of tiny dots of disparate colours – until the baton was passed by the Fauvists and beyond.

All in all, the art world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a carnival of  colour, a global celebration of polychromatic light. As representatives of this period, Matisse and Derain, honoured to this day in the town of Collioure, stand as ambassadors of colour – prophets of a technicolour future. The wildness of their paintings should not be dismissed as naive and over-imaginative playfulness: it is underpinned by a deep and essentially scientific interaction with colour. The Fauves are not Surrealists. They are not trying to tell us what they have dreamed or imagined. They are trying to tell us what they see. Colour, for them, is reality. It is our paler, more monochrome view that is imagined, imposed on our vision by a cold rationalism that insists on informing us that stone ‘is’ grey. Derain and Matisse want to break open the limited and limiting exceptions that dull our senses. They are artists engaging with a changing world. They want to free us to see all the colours light has for us.

Can you hear the Holy Spirit, through them, calling you to a fuller vision of the church?

This is an abbreviated version of the introduction to ‘Church Actually: Rediscovering the brilliance of God’s plan’ by Gerard Kelly, published in 2011.

The author acknowledges Bishop Pete Broadbent as the source of the phrase ‘God’s brilliant idea’: Bishop Pete in turn says about this book: ‘Gerard helps us re-own our puzzling, sometimes frustrating, church and see it in all its glorious technicolour. Enjoy!’

‘Spoken Worship’ by Gerard Kelly

Spoken Worship 001

Serendipity is a wonderful thing – a chain of events can lead to real insight. In this case, I saw a remark by Simon Sutcliffe on twitter, asked him to blog about it, which Rachel Parkinson commented on in an interesting way, so I asked her to blog as well; she referred to this book and made it sound interesting, I got a copy and I am captivated and given new nourishment for the journey. It was published in 2007, so you probably already have your own copies but if not I urge you to buy it. You can read a great deal of the book here and at £5.20 for the paperback  (£4.49 Kindle) it will not break the bank. The one review says it is aimed at Evangelicals but I am no Evangelical and I find it inspiring. Thank-you Rachel, for the signpost.


Spoken worship is about the power of the spoken word to illumine human experience in the place where it matters most: connection to our creator. For centuries Christian worshippers from formal hymn-singing traditionalists to chandelier-swinging charismatics have set words to music to enhance the worship experience. In gatherings large and small, in great halls and home groups, in the shower before breakfast and in the car on the way to work, we sing our praises to God. But in doing so, have we forgotten the power of words spoken.

…I have discovered that the spoken word has a power of a different order of magnitude from the power of a word set to music. I have found that there is a special additional something, a deepening of the impact, when words are spoken into the holy space that is worship…I believe there is vast potential for God’s people to rediscover the power of the spoken word as a vital element in worship… in essence, spoken worship is poetry written for the context of Christian worship. It is the writing whose ultimate goal is not so much literary as devotional, writing aimed unashamedly at provoking and prodding the human heart to wonder before its maker. Like many other forms of poetry, it is writing that has a life on the page but whose real life emerges only in performance: writing designed to be clothed in the human voice…

This is the calling, I believe, of the worship poet: to love words, and in words to carry love. Whatever else worship is, it is a language of the human heart. It speaks of deep longings, of love deeply felt, of ultimate concerns…It is poetry of the soul, reaching out to the soul’s greatest lover.

Performance Note on Pages 18-19

Worship is by definition a shared experience: it is the response of a community to God its creator. Even when she worships alone, the worshipper stands in radical solidarity with the family of God through space and time. She is, as Wordsworth noted, ‘never less alone than when alone’. Worship is not a private, obscure, barely intelligible transaction between a God lost in the clouds and a seeker lost in confusion; it is an expression born in belonging, a shared articulation of the human touching the divine. Spoken worship, then, cannot afford to be written in a private code: it does not dare to be obscure. It must, rather, touch the depth of the meaning of worship in such a way that those who hear it, or read it, or themselves speak it out, are drawn into the experience. It may be a secret garden into which the traveller has never before strayed, but it must be a garden whose blooms, once found, are recognised as such…

This does not mean that spoken worship must be bland – that it must speak in the language of a menu at McDonald’s. To be accessible and intelligible is not, by definition, to be shallow, and unless spoken worship is in some way deep – unless it goes somewhere that those engaging in it would not otherwise go – it has nothing to offer. It must live in the tension between obscurity and banality, between indecipherable depth and unpalatable shallowness…Its goal is resonance, that beautiful moment of connection when a worshipper can say, ‘I feel this too, I just didn’t know how to say it’.

…It follows, then, that the gift most essential to the creation of spoken worship is the gift of empathy, and time and energy invested in this gift will be richly rewarded when it comes to both the composition and the delivery of spoken worship. Without this gift, the most finely crafted piece will have no power; with it even a few stuttered and stumbling words can play their part. Before even putting pen to paper or stepping up to a mike, an indispensable principle must be embraced: learn to listen, and listen to learn. This is the craft of the worship poet. Spoken worship is a mirror held up to those who seek God. As well as polishing the words and their delivery, there is  much to be said for polishing the mirror.”


Gerard Kelly

Senior Pastor, Crossroads International Church, Amsterdam



God’s Giant Jigsaw: The Rev Rachel Parkinson

Mosaic 1


“So instead of lovingly creating a monochrome peoples known as the Church – it is part of my role to work with The Artist to bring together all the raw materials of Jew and Gentile, Male and Female, Theist and Atheist, Muslim and Sikh …. to form the most beautiful, radiant and glory-filled mosaic for all eternity. We might call it Kingdom.” 

(Simon Sutcliffe, Venture FX pioneer – writing in the previous guest post)


Months ago I was puzzled by the muted reaction given to a proposal that Churches Together run a stall at the local community gala.  It turned out that even the natural enthusiasts were left scarred by experience.  The vast majority of the local populace of our suburban “village” on the north side of Leicester had very obviously given the churches stall a wide berth in previous years.  Rejection may be part and parcel of the way of the cross, but inviting it so deliberately was not on most people’s agenda.

 Mosaic 2

Which was how Messy Church came to take over the pre-booked stall on the churches behalf.   One piece of MDF, 3 volunteers and a modest internet investment in glass mosaic tiles later – we were ready to offer people the chance to lay tiles in a community mosaic.


Feeling obliged to do things “properly”, we had literature to distribute (but it kept blowing away and became so weighed down that literally none of it moved).  We had a prayer station in the corner – a holding cross, icon and small stock of battery-operated tealights – but we largely forgot about it in the endless flow of people coming to engage.


One of us was a natural deacon – going beyond our gazebo to alert people to the opportunities afforded within.  Otherwise our attention was focussed entirely on the absorbing process of laying the tiles and, almost peripherally, on the amazing variety of people who came to make their mark.  Encouragement, praise, a minimal framework of rules for mosaic making, and a valuing of everyone’s contribution (even when they didn’t leave the desired grouting gap!) were the hallmarks of interaction.  The cross – with faith, peace, love, joy, hope and trust written into the heart of it – was hardly spoken of directly but was nevertheless the centre of our activity, emerging in colour contrast as the tiles were laid.


A moving encounter was with the grandmother of a multi-generation Asian family.  Wearing a sari and speaking little English, we assume she was either a Hindu or Sikh.  When she saw one of us barefoot and noticed the prayer table in the corner, she slipped off her sandals before tentatively laying a tile or two – a recognition of holy ground.

 Mosaic 3

I kept remembering Gerard Kelly’s wonderful poem*  which begins:


Fit me in somewhere

in this giant jigsaw, God,

somewhere in this work of art

you’re working,

select a space my shape can fill

and with a puzzle maker’s skill

let my contours find their fit without contortion.


For a while, we created a sacred space where a wide variety of people could find their fit around the cross without contortion.

Does it matter that we did not have the growth or sustainability of the local expressions of church as our goal?  As a one-off, surely not.  But am I brave enough to join Simon in saying that this can and should apply more widely?  And – the question that puzzles me – if, as he says, the church should indeed not be the centrepiece of God’s missional activity and yet is still “vital” (in this case, vital in providing funding for the gala booking fee, Messy Church and my stipend!) –  then how do we resolve that tension?

Rachel Parkinson


The Rev Rachel Parkinson, Superintendent Minister of the Leicester North Circuit of the Methodist Church

*found in Spoken Worship, published by Zondervan, copyright 2007 Gerard Kelly

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