Pandemic Arts at Red Deer’s Sunnybrook United Church

Over the years, Sunnybrook United Church has been exploring how the arts can offer healing, comfort and spiritual nurture. When the pandemic struck and self-isolation became the norm for many of our congregation, it seemed natural for us to respond to the dramatic changes in our lives by nourishing our spirits with the arts. Over the past few months, we have developed two innovative ways to do this.

“Sunnybrook Gifts:” Since the end of March, we’ve sent out electronic “gifts” that contain photographs, poetry, inspirational quotations, and brief Scripture passages. For example, Gift # 12 featured a photograph of a “patchwork church” created by the children in Sunnybrook’s Sunday Club program, with the caption, “For the moment, our ways of meeting and greeting one another have changed. But let’s remember that we still belong to a caring community of faith.” Each gift concludes, “We are wishing you very well. From your friends at Sunnybrook United Church.” We send 2-3 gifts a week to those on our email list. Some recipients have printed and delivered them to those who might appreciate them.
Our intention is to offer comfort, while providing a regular reminder that we still belong to a vibrant and caring community. The person who coordinated the project reports that creating the gifts “has been deeply nourishing.” On days when she was feeling anxious about loved ones and/or overwhelmed by the news, her coping strategy was often to work on the project. She reports that she emerged from these times “with renewed hope and a greater sense of peace.”

The people of our congregation have felt connected and supported by a regular gift from their congregation. One recipient said, “Just the use of the word “gift” in the title and subject line was a little blessing.” And the regular invitation to notice signs of beauty, resilience, and hope offered a little encouragement and inspiration in anxious times.

The second innovative use of the arts at Sunnybrook is a collaborative art project titled after Gordon Light’s hymn, Draw the Circle Wide, (More Voices 145). Circles are symbols of inclusivity, and show up in cultures around the world. Children start drawing them spontaneously at about the age of three years and they can still offer pleasure when we’re much older than that!
Draw the Circle Wide invites participants to engage in drawing, painting and pasting circles on watercolour paper that has been divided into a grid. A box with supplies, instructions and safety cautions is delivered to the doorstep of each participating household, giving an opportunity for social interaction. The instructions suggest watching a brief YouTube video hosted by Canmore artist Barb Fyve:

After 4-5 days, the supply box is picked up, sanitized, replenished, and then passed on.
So far, a couple of dozen households have taken advantage of the opportunity. The feedback has been enthusiastic:

  • “I felt like I was doing Art Therapy,”
  • “I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the project”
  • “It was fun doing the project with my grandchildren and Mom,”
  • “I set it up so I did it with 3 friends. We took photos so we could make the images into greeting cards,”
  • “The process drew out my playful side,”
  • “I got to use materials I had never used before.”

The circles produced will be used in the church building and a variety of communications.

For more information about either of these initiatives, contact Sunnybrook United Church in Red Deer, via email or 403-347-6073.