The Day After.
Well. The exhibition is finished for this time, and all is packed up and in my studio again. We had a very loving closing prayer and blessing from Lucy Winkett, Rector at St James's Piccadilly, and it felt that the exhibition breathed a sigh of relief and began to get itself ready for dismantling.
How was it? How was the two weeks in a central London location, in a fabulous old listed church with a philosophy of "All Welcome, end of story"? Well, it was fabulous. I am spending today back at home in my pyjamas following the sun as it shines in different rooms of the house, and forcing myself to do nothing so the experience can begin to settle in my mind. Here though, are a few thoughts. I will write about the exhibition itself later when I am rested. In the meantime -
St James's in Piccadilly opened itself to me and let me in. I was given a key, given the gallery and given all the time and space I needed to set up. The people who work in the church took me and the exhibition in their stride and nothing was too much trouble for them; I was made to feel welcome, I was made to feel as if the exhibition was important, I was treated with such generosity and courtesy that I could not but enjoy every moment in the church.
I think that as I sat upstairs in the gallery with my paintings and all the A Graceful Death stuff, I saw how important people are to each other. I think I saw how, if the leadership of an organisation is good, that organisation tends to be good. Sitting up in the gallery, the church would fill with the sound of tramps snoring. People would wander around, the traffic outside would ebb and flow, and the tramps would snore as if they were competing with each other to take the roof off. And then suddenly an orchestra would arrive. After a few minutes, they would play Mozart and continue to practice until the lunchtime concert. Up in the gallery, I could only see what happened in the church below if I went and looked. So then the Mozart would stop and after a little while, the snoring would resume and I would watch people come and go in the exhibition. And then, someone would play the piano. Once, two serious and intense young men came and practiced the most disjointed but clever piece of classical music for a concert, filling the whole place with a passionate and deeply intellectual recital of something beyond my understanding. After they left, after the concert, in the silence, the snoring started up again.
Yesterday afternoon, as the exhibition was winding down and people were gathering amongst the paintings for a last rather party like look and chat, a lady somewhere in the church below started to sing Ave Maria. Everyone stopped and looked heavenwards, it was so beautiful, it was so appropriate, and I longed to say Yes, I organised this for the exhibition, it is all my doing. But of course it wasn't. It was a wedding practice below, and I knew that, but I could see the effect it was having on the people in the exhibition and I loved it. By the end of two weeks in St James's, I was becoming accostomed to sudden bursts of fabulous music, and was beginning to take it all in my stride. Like the time, at the beginning of my stay at St James's, lots of young people arrived and started milling around the altar. A tour, I thought. A tour of well meaning but bored teenagers. Suddenly one of them started to sing, and all of them joined in, and lo. Not a group of tourists, but a travelling Venezualan choir rehearsing. Blimey, I thought, I wonder if they are meant to be doing that, before one of the excellent Vergers explained that it was all OK and they were booked to do a concert that day in St James's. And indeed, the next time I saw them they were in black tie and evening gowns with pearls.
That the organisation was good showed itself in the kindness and thoroughness of the people who worked there. All seemed to have a very quiet pride in not just their work, but in the church. Anyone can come in here and sleep, I was told. Anyone. During a service they have to sit up, but after they can go back to sleep. Merchant Bankers can come and sleep if they want but as it happens, tramps and the homeless are the ones who take advantage of it. Hence the snoring. There is a crisis caravan outside available for anyone who needs advice and counselling. It is true, it is an old fashioned caravan parked outside in the courtyard, and you get time and referrals and advice for free there, and anyone can go. There is much the church does and I don't really know any of it, but what snippets I heard from the staff and those who came to the exhibition as members of the church, made me think that there is a kind of fierce determination from the top down, to do what is needed for one human to another, to put their money where their mouth is, and to shine a light, the brightest light that they can, and to do it simply because they can and will. And to shine it in the darkest corners as a matter of urgency.
I met a wonderful man from the Alternatives organisation, part of St James's. He explained how the church encouraged free thinking, exploration, discussion and all sorts of alternative paths to spirituality and God through workshops, through speakers, through weekend workshops running constantly throughout the year and very much a part of St James's.
Finally, I met a lady, a wonderful fiercely intelligent brightly coloured lady, who is on the Parish Council and speaks many languages and told me she had a problem with authority; this lady said that this church was run with such creativity and intelligence, such passion and insight, that she had found her faith again after a period of having lost her way. She puts the leadership and the passion and the creativity down to the Rector, Lucy Winkett, and says that without her deep intelligence, commitment and leadership, none of this would be possible. Lucy, said this amazing lady, brought creativity back to St James's.
And now I am home, having been accepted into this church for the last two weeks, after they gave me a platform -asking absolutely nothing in return - to show my exhibition. I am thankful, I am affected by them, and when I can decide what to do to say thank you to them, I will do it. So until I know what I will do, I will say thank you here. Thank You St James's, thank you.
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