Manifest celebrates stories & the spoken word


Cooranbong, New South Wales

A Seventh-day Adventist arts festival has celebrated and explored the oldest and purest form of storytelling during its annual celebration of faithful creativity.

Often our most significant creativity is to make space in our lives—and in our church—for the creativity of others.

Manifest, held on Avondale College of Higher Education’s Lake Macquarie campus, March 20-22, revisited the art of spoken word this year after giving Australian premieres to stories on stage and screen this past year. Tell Me A Story saw eight raconteurs share stories that used ethos, humour and pathos to entertain and challenge a large live audience.

“Spoken word is probably the least employed form of storytelling in our current culture—in a formal sense,” says co-producer and Manifest co-convenor Joanna Darby. But it is an important one, she adds. “Stories don’t need explaining or have moral points drawn out. We experience them individually and find our own meaning from them.”

Micah Bournes from Long Beach in California (USA) headlined the Saturday evening event. His appearances over the weekend combined spoken word performance and theological teaching—the beat poet trained at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. The recurring theme of justice and creativity resonated with Christian charity Asian Aid, which partnered with Manifest to support the Friday evening contemporary worship service.

Another partnership with the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific’s Institute of Worship brought Nicholas Zork to Manifest. The composer, lecturer, minister, musician and singer-songwriter anchored a panel discussion about worship before helping lead the praise and worship in Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Sabbath morning service, coordinated by the institute, used adult and child actors, musicians, singers, storytellers and visual and performing artists to recreate a picture of Jesus.

“We see a synergy between the creative endeavours of Christians and the notion of giving our best in the act of worship and in the process of worship planning,” says director Dr Lyell Heise, who worked with Zork to present a series of worship workshops on Sunday. “Nick combined the insight of an artist with some of the deepest theological reflection about worship emerging in the Adventist Church.”

The presentation of Manifest’s most prestigious award to a self-trained chef who is now a bestselling New Zealand author also emphasised the relationship between creativity and faithfulness.

Jeremy Dixon received the Gabe Reynaud Award during a ceremony on Saturday also named in honour of the pioneering Adventist filmmaker. Dixon’s journey as a faithful creative began when he quit his job to start the Revive Cafe in central Auckland. The entrepreneur is now the publisher of four vegetarian cookbooks that have sold 110,000 copies in just three years.

“God hasn’t just blessed my business by handing out success,” says Dixon. “He’s blessed it by giving me guidance and wisdom and pushing me through the difficult times.”

Others received awards for excellence, too, with tertiary students winning three of the prizes associated with the Manifest competitions. Cardiff, Wales-based Daniel Brinsmead won the Avondale Conservatorium Prize for best entry in choral and instrumental music composition. Avondale religious studies major Anna Beaden won the Psalter Music Prize, which she shared with fellow songwriter Peter Tonna. And Townsville-based Nicole Sandy won the Signs Publishing Prize for best entry in writing. Sand artist Tiani Page, a first-time filmmaking competition entrant, won the HopeChannel Prize.

The festival closed with a commissioning where Heise issued a challenge for delegates to follow through or up on their Manifest experience within 72 hours. An associated post on the Manifest Facebook now features many examples of collaboration, consumption (of books, primarily) and creation. Writes co-convenor Nathan Brown: “Often our most significant creativity is to make space in our lives—and in our church—for the creativity of others.”

Manifest is coordinated by the Adventist Church in the South Pacific through Adventist Media Network and Avondale.