Church and State

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spring 2006 / church and state :: email this story to a friend

Slam Poetry in the Sanctuary
By Lydia Ruffin

Imagine walking into one of our city's great cathedrals on a Friday night and hearing the sound of Buddhist chanting. Intrigued, you come in a little farther and notice that instead of rows of pews there are candles, tables and chairs with sarongs for tablecloths. People are gathered quietly around the tables listening to the chanting. In a few moments they will be invited to walk mindfully, or do a walking meditation in the cathedral space, or simply remain seated if they wish. An evening at Art & Soul Café at Christ Church Cathedral often begins in this way.

Conceived around a kitchen table by an Episcopal priest (Susan Nanny) and myself (a musician), and our partners, Art & Soul Café began as an experiment in spiritual inclusivity. We felt that many, including ourselves, would like to be part of a community where different spiritual traditions were explored and that all were welcome regardless of where they were in their spiritual journey; a place where those who were disillusioned with the institutional church could come for a different experience of the Divine. From our mission: "Art & Soul Café seeks to nurture a spiritually inclusive and creative community by awakening the human spirit through interspiritual connection and exploration of the arts. We honor community and encourage creativity, personal growth and holistic living while supporting the arts locally." This best describes the passion of the community over the last couple of years.

A committed group of about 25 volunteers has formed the founding community of Art & Soul Café. There is an average of 75-125 people who have come on the first Friday of the month since it began in March of 2004. The café season is from September through June. Each month has a theme and is artistically supported by our music director Dan Rubright and guest musicians and artists who lead the interactive evening. Participants at Art & Soul Café have painted on large canvasses, creating a community painting; written poetry in a slam poetry evening and learned African dance; heard scholars on evolution, religious naturalism, Sufi poetry, the historical Jesus and storytelling; and watched as actors improvised on stories (Playback Theater). Workshops and discussion groups have often spun off from themes that have drawn many to a deeper exploration. The café evenings last about two hours and also include desserts, cheese and fruit and a variety of beverages. And, a tradition has begun to end the evening with the Electric Slide — the music starts and most everyone joins in!

The creation of an Art & Soul Café evening involves many people and a little magic in transforming the Gothic space into a café setting. The Cathedral was made into a flexible space in the 1960s, removing the pews and replacing them with interlocking chairs that can be moved, and movable wooden cubes for staging. This makes setting up tables and chairs possible. Add a portable sound and lighting system, large screen and projector, tablecloths and candles — good music, conversation, art with soul, and new possibilities are born. I have enjoyed immensely being part of the creation of Art & Soul Café and look forward to the continuing evolution of it.

There are three Art & Soul Café evenings to come in this season. On Friday, April 7, we will be collaborating again with Crossings Concerts to present Early in the Evening. Dr. Gerald Early, renowned author and historian from Washington University has chosen and will introduce jazz works played by Reggie Thomas and his group and special guest vocalist Denise Thimes. The evening begins with drumming at 7:30 and the concert starts at 8:00 p.m. On Friday, May 5 we will kick-off the annual Flower Festival weekend at Christ Church Cathedral. The Cathedral will be full of glorious flowers from the Missouri Botanical Garden at the bequest of Henry Shaw (an annual tradition since 1890). Art & Soul Café will host an art exhibit by Linda Wiggen Kraft and the evening's theme is Evolution and Nature. Check for more information about the Flower Festival and street fair on Saturday, May 6. On Friday, June 2, we will explore the culture of Southern Sudan. You can keep up with future cafés at There is a suggested donation of $15 ($12 for students); however, we will accept any self-determined donation. We also offer a certain number of complimentary tickets each month. For reservations contact me at:

1210 Locust St. (corner of 13th & Olive)
St. Louis, MO 63103

Lydia Ruffin is the artistic director of Art & Soul Café.

© 2006 The Commonspace