A photographer whose faith called him from pastor of the written to the created Word of God was honoured with Manifest’s most prestigious award this year.
Pastor Wes Tolhurst had won awards and been published in magazines such as Australian Geographic when a book by Seventh-day Adventist pioneer Ellen White prompted the then teenager to pursue a career in pastoral ministry. “My life took a different turn when I read The Great Controversy,” says Tolhurst. “Yet I often wondered why God had given me a gift for documenting my keen interest in nature.”
A call to make documentaries similar to those presented by English broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough but from “a Christ-honouring point of view” inspired Tolhurst. He eventually followed that call in February 2016. “One day I was Pastor Wes and then the next I was calling myself a professional photographer. I can understand how that must have been difficult to grasp for many of my Adventist acquaintances. For a good 12 months, I felt like an imposter, just muscling my way in.”
Tolhurst Creative is now a team of three that has served more than 100 clients, including more than 50 schools, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the then James Frizelle’s Automotive Group. Its largest project: a 10-part Following Jesus: Multiplying Disciples and Following the Spirit: Multiplying Churches video series for the Adventist Church in the South Pacific, shot in Jordan, Israel and Turkey. It is currently producing a series on domestic violence for the City of Gold Coast and a Wild Hearts YouTube channel featuring Tolhurst’s sons Byron and Finn.
The latter starred in a home video Tolhurst shot to promote a beekeeping enterprise and the money it would raise for an ADRA beekeeping project in Malawi. After reading the Bible story of Abel bringing his first fruits to God, Finn auctioned the first jar of his Flow Hive honey through social fundraising platform GoFundMe. “I couldn’t help but capture the story of this harvest,” says Tolhurst. Intended only for family and friends, the video went viral. Finn would appear on most of the major television networks in Australia (ABC TV’s Behind the News, Seven’s Weekend Sunrise and Sunrise, Nine’s 9 News Gold Coast and Today, Ten’s Totally Wild), in newspapers and on radio. The coverage increased views of the video and giving to the campaign. Finn would exceed his initial target of $A3000. “The reach around the world of one little video about a jar of honey highlights just how thirsty people are for stories that matter,” says Tolhurst.
The Gabe Reynaud Award recognises all this as a demonstration of excellence in faithful creativity. “Wes is an inspiration because he dared to take a risk—not just for his craft but for ministry,” says Manifest co-convenor and artist Joanna Darby. “His work is beautiful—and it could be just beautiful without needing to be anything else. But Wes has made his mission to glorify God, and his work does so unashamedly.”
Tolhurst, an alumnus of Avondale College of Higher Education, is open about his journey of faith. “Clients are always intrigued I spent 20 years in full-time pastoral ministry. I love sharing what I learnt through that season and how faith continues to be my foundation into the future.” He describes himself in a public statement on the Tolhurst Creative website as “a believer” who sees the world as “a place of wonder, a gift”.
“My vision is to show the world how beautiful it is,” says Tolhurst, whose bright and natural style comes partly from his minimal use of technology, “and to show that beauty has a purpose—to reflect the immeasurable love of our God and Creator.”
The decision, though, to forgo a salary and begin a creativity-based small business while supporting three children in Christian education and paying a mortgage made an impact on more than just Tolhurst. “The greatest leap of faith was my wife, Melissa’s. I’ll be forever amazed at her level of unselfishness.”
Meaningful relationships are key to the success of the business, too. “Everything we do is based on our ability to build [those],” says Tolhurst. It is even at the core of his advice to other Adventist creatives wrestling with the decision about whether to follow a calling into full-time, self-supporting ministry. “God is faithful when you pursue His calling.” Tolhurst encourages others to become digital disciples. “It’s an exciting time because there are opportunities that didn’t exist 20 years ago. My brother, who has been a video editor all his professional life, said, ‘It’s not fair. It cost half a million dollars to set up an edit suite back in the day and now you young punks just do it on your laptop.’ That’s not entirely true. I don’t think I can be called a young punk anymore!”
Gabe Reynaud Award
Previous recipients of the Gabe Reynaud Award include Darby, academic, composer and writer Dr Robert Wolfgramm, the interactive, outdoor drama Road to Bethlehem, clown, storyteller and trainer Graeme Frauenfelder, entrepreneur and publisher Jeremy Dixon, children’s minister Pastor Daron Pratt, singer/songwriter Melissa Otto, and children’s ministry and production creatives Rod and Zan Long.
Presented at Manifest’s creative arts festival between 2011 and 2015, the Gabe Reynaud Award is now part of the Adventist Church in Australia’s Digital Discipleship Conference. Manifest co-convenor Nathan Brown presented Tolhurst his award at the Gold Coast-based conference yesterday (July 6).
Manifest is an Adventist Church in the South Pacific-led movement exploring, encouraging and celebrating faithful creativity.
Gabe Reynaud is the Adventist Church’s first professionally trained film director. He eventually became Senior Producer at the then Adventist Media Centre and pioneered a filmmaking unit at his alma mater Avondale College of Higher Education. His work as a faithful creative, including Keepers of the Flame, The Search, Digging Up the Past and Chasing Utopia, won a number of international awards. Reynaud died in a motorbike accident in September 2000. Read more at www.avondale.edu.au/manifest/gabereynaudaward.