By Arie Ringnalda, Director of Arts+Media
Years ago, on a fishing foray to tiny Whale Pass, Alaska, my colleague John DeYoung and I met a local legend. Upon attending the town’s only church, we were introduced to Gerald Welch – pastor, bow maker and archer of remarkable acumen. Gerald is a lover and maker of the English long bow. His bows, carefully crafted with handpicked yew, bone, horn, and even halibut skin are sold throughout the world. In 1998, it was a shot from one of Gerald’s bows that smashed the prior longbow record by 130 yards, as the long arrow pierced the turf at 466.44 yards.
Not only does Gerald craft bows of beauty and excellence, he handles the finished product with a skill few can match, even at age 70. Toss an aspirin in the air, and Gerald can shoot it out of the sky. A master archer of old was known to be able to fire off 12 in a minute and hit the target every time. Gerald can fire 22 in the same span, without a miss in the bunch. With jaws agape, John and I watched him nail the target, arrow after arrow. Gerald quipped, “I used to be able to do that from a horse!”
How does Gerald do it? An unwavering focus on the target. The target is primary – everything else is merely a variable to adjust for in order for the long arrow to hit it. In distance archery, when an arrow falls short, the next one that soars is adjusted for crosswind, trajectory and draw until the target is met with impact.
The Target of Christian Education
We believe that each child that we encounter is our long arrow and the target a resolute, purposeful destination to which we will guide that child. In arts, that destination is a passionate pursuit of God’s truth, conveyed eloquently, beautifully and powerfully. Every student is a truth teller, channeling their performing, visual or media arts passions into a purposeful pursuit of Christ and creating inspiring work for Him.
At Valor, our targeted approach to Christ centered arts education is anchored by practical opportunities to marry a high level of craft with a Kingdom focused perspective. We strive to foster an environment where students can participate in creating culturally relevant work that has the potential to influence others for Christ.
First, we have to define what culturally relevant artistry looks like today. To fully prepare our students to engage with the world, all arts classes at Valor have a focus on problem solving, collaborative work and idea exploration, and the ability to communicate ideas in a variety of compelling ways.
We also believe that art making should take advantage of the tools of the day, so we ensure that classes leverage technology to fully enhance and deliver creative product. Media classes offer direct access to our culture through the language that drives it.
But while our desire is to foster artistry that speaks to the world and uses the tools and best practices of the day to do so, we recognize that our end goal as followers of Christ is very different from the broader culture. In a “me” or “I” generation where artistry is leveraged for self-glorification, our desire is for students to serve others and speak God’s truth through their creative gifting.
Serving God Through Art
At Valor, we’re thankful for the opportunity to do art in some pretty unique ways. For example, we blend arts intentionally with our Discovery program. For several years, we took a group of performing arts students to Albania in partnership with Campus Crusade for Christ to minister through arts workshops and a final production at the Albanian Palace of Congress. Through God’s grace, students delivered a Christ-honoring, but hard-hitting original performance about finding true love – God’s love – in a culture that can seem devoid of it. We also took a student film crew to the island of Mykonos to film an allegory of Christ with locally cast talent for a short film called “The Journeyman”.
For our own productions at Valor, we often co-write original, Christ-honoring productions with our students. We do so partially because so few musicals or plays express the Christian heart well, but more significantly because we want students to experience first-hand that their creative voice can be used to directly influence others for Christ.
We also place a high value on student interactions with professional Christian artists. Over the years our music students have had the chance to work with artists such as Michael W. Smith, Stephen Curtis Chapman, Matthew West and producer Ed Cash, while our film students had the opportunity to produce a professional music video for Christian recording artist Lindsay McCaul. Students in the performing and visual arts conservatories receive weekly private lessons and master classes from professionals to hone their craft.
Connecting Christian industry leaders with our students has helped students grow their own talents, and more importantly, helped them see that they can chose to use the gifts God has given them to pursue him on a daily, life-long basis.
Finally, our Valor Conservatory for the Arts features a seven course arts major anchored by a specialized Bible and business course called Game Changers, which is geared towards helping students use their gifts in both an entrepreneurial and service capacity through project based learning.
Becoming Master Archers
As parents and educators, we have an opportunity to take every child on a carefully aimed journey of growth in the creative gifts poured out by a loving God. Each day, we can refine our aim so that a target of Christ centered inspired passion, confidence, and ability is achieved in our students. And in turn, our children will grow to become master bowmen themselves – focused leaders who take aim at the world around them, seeking to make it a place where truth alights and the hope of Christ soars free, where the long arrow finds its mark.
That’s a target that Pastor Gerald Welch, master artisan and archer of Whale Pass, Alaska, would love to see future generations aspire to.
*This article was previously published in Christian School Education, Volume 19 Number 3, 2015/2016.