Every day Daphne coloured dozens of pictures. A pad of paper and a box of crayons, that’s all she needed.
Daphne was in her late 30’s and suffered with Downs Syndrome. She was a member of the church where I am the minister, although she moved away with her family a number of years ago now. If you asked Daphne something she would usually repeat back to you the question you asked. There was little conversation with Daphne. Her mother and family understood her, but few others did. Daphne did not communicate very much, she lived in her own world. But she coloured dozens of pictures.
One day I asked her mother for some of them. I said that I wanted to put them up in the church. I could see that she was puzzled with the idea but she agreed and gave me six of her pictures. When I put them up in the corridor of the church I felt strangely excited, which was odd as it was very late on a Friday night when I would usually prefer to be at home. I stood back and they looked really good. There was a pattern and a rhythm to them which was only evident when you saw them together. Daphne was an artist.
The following Sunday was the fourth Sunday in Advent. We read the song of Mary from Luke 1: 46-55 which talks about the humble being lifted up. Everyone knew Daphne and the message of the gospel was clear and everyone was as excited as I was to see her pictures up. That was 12 years ago now.
Daphne left a long time ago, but one of her pictures is still hangs in the corridor. Her picture is always accompanied by many others because the same corridor is now part of a larger art gallery which, in turn, is part of an arts centre which is based in the church. The Ark T Centre was opened a year after I first hung Daphne’s pictures up. Daphne’s pictures gave us the idea to open and art gallery and the idea of an art gallery attracted some artists to work in the church which led to us opening an arts centre. Eleven years on and the Ark T Centre spins around visual arts, dance and music and every week many hundreds of people share in all sorts of creativity.
Last week I was invited in to a music session for people with learning difficulities. They wanted to give a little performance of work on the last session of the term. One of them sang ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ all the way through without the words. Then he sang ‘O Come all ye Faithful’ all the way through in Latin! He suffers with Downs Syndrome. Afterwards I asked him how he had learnt to sing, and to sing in Latin, and he told me that he went to a local Catholic Church where he is in the choir. The Church had taught him to sing – and to sing in Latin as well.
Today I celebrate the Church which lifts up the humble and sings the song of Mary.
By James Grote, minister of John Bunyan Baptist Church, Oxford.