Christmas Art 2018: A Christmas video from Jen Rawson and Kings Church Edinburgh

Kings Church, Edinburgh certainly know how to mobilise their artists for the Yuletide festivities!

They started with Threadbare in 2016, continued with He Draws Near the following year and now have made it three exceptional Christmas videos in 3 years, with Translation.

Each project has revolved around the creative partnership of poet Jen Rawson, and director George Gibson, and for Translation, they pulled in a further 20 or so people from their church to pull together their most ambitious and visually arresting project yet. We spoke to Jen to find out more about the project.

How did you come up with the theme for the video?

JR: Last Christmas, I began thinking about how God translated himself into human form. I can’t remember what sparked the idea — a sermon I heard or a passage I’d read — but the analogy of the invisible God translating himself into a form we could better know and understand at Christmas resonated with me. At the time, our church had also become increasingly diverse. There were people representing dozens of different nationalities in our congregation, and I loved the idea of using their voices and languages in a project. With these two ideas in mind, the title “Translation” was born. The text of the poem came much later.

What were the challenges of executing such a project?

JR: The audio was much more complicated this year because of my idea to layer several different voices together. This meant coordinating 9 or 10 different people to record, finding times that worked for them, finding equipment that could record to a high enough standard, and then much more technical editing to put their voices together. Our usual audio guy was also having surgery on his ears a few weeks before the project deadline so he wasn’t as available. (Despite this, he still composed the stunning music you hear in the video.) All of these factors meant collaborating with more people, which meant more organisational and admin work and also meant a greater need to communicate ideas very clearly.

Some artists struggle to work to briefs set by their churches for specific events and projects. What advice would you give to church leaders and artists to help more churches produce such high quality creative projects?

JR: Our church leaders have been great at allowing us the freedom to be creative. Aside from asking us for an artistic piece for the Carol Service, they never gave us a specific idea or theme we needed to stick to. They also recognised that what we were creating was an artistic work rather than a preach, and there was never any pressure to put in a blatant Gospel appeal or message. The video was always considered an element of the overall service so it was okay to use it to ask an unanswered question, for example. Because other elements in the service would provide the more overt message.

That said, we involved our church leaders in the process. They read over the poem, made minor suggestions, and gave their approval before we continued with the project. They also previewed the final video. At the end of the day, this artistic work was commissioned by the church, and it will reflect on the church’s reputation and beliefs. So it was only right that the church’s overseers were able to have input on the final product. For the artist, humility is key. For the church leader, trust the other parts of the body that God has placed in your church and encourage their God-given gifts. I’ve been immensely blessed by the leaders at King’s Church Edinburgh who do this so well, and hopefully, others will be blessed by the art that’s created as a result.

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