By Amber Noel
The Haven+ London is the only charity of its kind in the United Kingdom. It focuses on the mental and emotional well-being of artists, with special concerns for mental health and spiritual care. The story of how it came about starts with a 5-year-old in Brazil.
When he was a little boy, the Rev. Peterson Feital — now known as “the Showbiz Rev” or just “the Rev” — received a prophetic word at his church in Rio de Janeiro that he would someday go to England. So he set about becoming an Anglophile: reading English lit, watching British TV shows, learning the language and slang. (Next time you catch your kid reading Harry Potter, watch out. You might have a future C of E priest on your hands.)
In childhood, too, an artistic vocation — and a very energetic personality — emerged, which became an effective way to deal with a complicated life. Already Peterson was the only churchgoer in an anti-Christian family and a survivor of emotional and sexual trauma.
But artistic energy, he found, is not always so easy to bring to the Church. The energy and the practical needs of a creative often manifest a life of intensity, deep exploration, and unpredictable spiritual, emotional, and financial needs.
As a young man, he became disturbed by the inability (or awkwardness?) of the churches he knew to deal with artists among them — including himself as a budding minister — to understand their temperaments and vocations, not to drive them away when they became a handful, or shut down their ideas.
It was also difficult for parishes not to overuse the artists among them for free work, like Christmas plays, Easter cantatas, and beautification projects. Much less could he find congregations that knew how to nurture, welcome, shelter, or disciple creatives. Peterson even developed an eating disorder for a time, under the stress of stifling his gifts while serving God’s people.
This tension is precisely where his current ministry as missioner to the creative industries and founder of The Haven+ began to take root. He’d found the good news of Jesus embodied in the institutional Church, but also found there a lack of understanding. What passes for “artistic temperament” may be often enough a lack of self-discipline or a need for attention. But what about when it is someone’s calling?
Discerning real vocation and nurturing unique callings, whether inside or outside the Church, with an eye to spiritual transformation for everyone involved — that’s what “the Showbiz Rev” is passionate about. But it’s also vital for the Church to bring not just more stress for creatives, or more requests for free art, but gifts of healing and hope — for everyone from Tony Award-winning actors to graphic designers struggling to pay rent.
This is what lies at the root of the particular work of The Haven+. It is a community run by a network of artists, counselors, clergy, and other professionals, through a website, and serves as a kind of clearinghouse for mental/emotional health resources and spiritual care.
It provides safe spaces like discussion and support groups, mental health resources and pastoral connections, and opportunities like exhibits and performances to any artist who gets in touch, but especially to creatives working in and around London. It is currently raising funds to launch an emergency mental health hotline.
The Haven+ does not proselytize, and is undergirded by a language and mission of care intentionally applicable to those of any religion or none. Peterson is not shy, however, about using Scripture and Christian language in encouraging artists to deeper exploration of their creative crafts, as well as their experiences and souls. Their latest project is a case in point.
This Easter, The Haven+ has curated an exhibition featuring visual and performing art reflecting on experiences of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, through the lens of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. This exhibit, The Wilderness Project, is installed in every available space of St. Pancras New Church in London, and is meant to be an immersive experience for visitors as well as a spiritual exercise for those contributing work.
With a financial aim to raise £150,000 for the charity this year, it’s also a practical opportunity for artists and The Haven+ to make a little money. Anything on display may be bought, with 30 percent of the royalties supporting The Haven+ and the rest going to the artist, from March 28 to May 10, the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week.
Ric Stott, a London-based visual artist and writer and a contributor to the exhibit, is also its curator. When asked what excites him about this work, he said it is partly the practical aspect:
At a time when opportunities for artists are sparse, it is good to offer space to showcase new work, and creatives come to life when they have something to work towards. So much of the art world can be elitist and uncaring, and The Haven+ offers a safe space for artists [who] feel vulnerable — seeking excellence in creativity, for sure, but also having a pastorally sensitive ear.
He also hopes, he said, that the exhibit will be good, not just for London, but for the entire United Kingdom, and for the communities of all who have contributed globally:
The theme of the exhibition itself is also important at this moment in our collective experience. The last 12 months have been a wilderness year for most of us: social frameworks and patterns of life that we have been used to have broken down, fear and uncertainty abounds, and even our identities and sense of self become fragile. All these experiences resonate with the story of Jesus in the wilderness, and inviting artists to make work that reflects on this enables both the artists and the viewers of the work to consider how this year of pandemic has impacted on our own lives and souls.
One of the advantages that art has in enabling this exploration is that rather than presenting straightforward and easy answers, art can hold the ambiguities, questions, and pain without bypassing the difficult feelings that lead to healing. There is no shortcut from Lent to Easter Day without undergoing the desolation of Good Friday, and artists can serve us by helping us to understand what that complicated and painful journey looks like in our own lives.
When artists thrive, communities and cultures thrive. This is because artists have a gift for sensing, gathering, and interpreting our experiences back to us in meaningful, imaginative, and often enlightening ways. In a sense, they see, hold, and express what is common to us all, even the complex and difficult, the dark and dreadful, the Good Fridays of our experiences, even when we don’t always see it or want to. In learning to meet artists where they are and care for them, the Church seizes the opportunity to embrace, learn from, tenderly care for, and disciple the whole human experience.
And what happens when Christians provide artists with a safe environment in the name of Jesus? “They’re coming to Jesus,” Peterson said.
Learn more about the mission of The Haven+ and Peterson’s ministry at thehavenlondon.com.