Partof the conversations at Church Simplified during the formative years, and at some level still ongoing, has to do with what it means to live a life of worship to God. And as with most good conversations that tackle substance, it would soon be followed by imagining the possible forms by which the essence could be expressed. In the life of a community, we found that service and art are two places where corporate expressions of devotion to God can be made manifest and experienced.
While we do strongly affirm the power of music as a great instrument that bring communities into a collective space of praise, and reflection, our constant exploration turned us to other art forms. This idea of of course is not originally ours, you don’t need to look far into church history to see that art of all forms were made and used by the church to enhance corporate expressions of devotion to God.
As a matter of fact there were moments in western history where there was hardly such a thing as “secular art” because most of the art was sacredly made for and by the church. This meant that even people who wouldn’t consider themselves people of faith still engaged the church to experience the beauty of all the was created in the spirit of wanting to bless God.
It is in this conversation that installation art was brought up, the idea that we could build structures and experiences that engage the entire range of senses to then help people ponder life changing truths. One of the things the excited us even more was that whatever this space was going to be, It could be the way we were going to serve the greater community of people living and working in BGC. This is how Walkway: Reflections on the Stations of the Cross was born.
We were barely four months old as a community, about 40 people composed mostly of twenty somethings when held our very first Stations of the Cross Art installation. It was on the night of holy Wednesday 2008. We had rented out the top floor of the Fullybooked bookstore at the Bonifacio High Street mall and only featured 8 of the 14 Stations of the Cross, largely its because that’s all the space could take.
Though the exhibit was only up for a few hours, being a small church, it was all the rent we could afford, still, a few hundred people came out to experience the exhibit and seemed really moved by the experience. We were delighted by turn out and feedback, but also saddened that we couldn’t keep it up longer.
It was then that we had decided that for the following year, we were going to write to the management of the Bonifacio High Street mall to see if they would rent us the space in one of their activity areas where we could set up a tent and at least have the exhibit up for a few days. Because of the faith based nature of the exhibit, we thought that the mall even considering it would be a long shot. But we felt a step of faith was required of us, so a few months later we sent in out a letter.
Fast forward to about five weeks before the holy week of 2009, just when we had thought that the proposal was dead in the water, we got called into a meeting with the marketing executives of the Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation who managed the mall under Ayala Corporation.
They completely loved the idea! But, they just had one condition. They weren’t going to rent us a space in an activity area, they were going to lend us, for free, the entire open air stretch of the Bonifacio High Street mall, and we would have to use the whole area for an 8 day exhibit.
The team that was with me, we just looked at each other with both excitement and abject fear. The scale of the entire project went from filling an exhibit that covered 20 feet to 2 kilometers. But the fear that the mall might come to their senses and change their minds a second later was greater, so before they could say anything else. We said Yes! We’ll do it. So with less than five weeks to go, with hardly any funds to build, with only the feeling that God was in this, we set out to create the first official Walkway:Reflections of the Stations of the Cross exhibit.
With many people pitching in from their own pockets for funding, and materials, including people from our mother church, Without Walls ministries in Alabang we found ourselves up and ready for day 1. What happened next that first year at Bonifacio High Street was undoubtedly a move of God, because there was no way we could anticipate and predict what was about to happen.
People started checking the exhibit out. At first a little distant, a little tentative, which was expected, it was still Palm Sunday. We felt like there was enough people who passed by to make us happy with attendance. But by tuesday morning, something incredible happened, every television news network showed up. Starving for content, they were all rushing to film a feature on anything relevant to passion week as this was the last working day before all of Manila would come to a halt.
What happened next completely floored us. Literally from as early as 7am to 1am during the remaining days, Wednesday to Sunday, It was non stop. People of all kinds showed up for the exhibit. We know this for sure, because the mall was closed. We were the only thing happening at BGC, probably the only event happening in a commercial area in all of Metro Manila as well. It was literally double digit thousands within the 8 days. Parking slots were a rare commodity that week.
For us though, the success of Walkway was way beyond the number of people that come. It was seeing the faces, most of them streaked with tears as they felt God with them. It was how families were drawn to each other, how friends, communities supported each other.
During that first year, two stories come to mind that have stuck through they years.
A nun came passing by one morning, intrigued at what she saw, decided to stop and interview us. She then asked if she could come back in the afternoon, apparently she was a sister at assigned at an orphanage.
When she came back later that day, it was with a bus full of children, and they went through the entire exhibit together. When we caught up with her at the end, she thanked us for hope, and for a ministry of reconciliation. A few days later, we got an email from her telling us she would always be praying for us. I’ll never forget that.
There was a man with his wife and young kids by the Station we ask people to think about their families. After reading the reflection, we saw him huddle his family close and barely getting through the tears began to pray for each of his kids and his wife. The volunteers near them ended being a wreck themselves for what they had just witnessed.
2016 will be the eight year of the Walkway event at Bonifacio High Street. And every year we have done it has been worth with. For these are the kind of stories that happen over and over again at Walkway. We have been given an amazing privilege to have the mall, the ultimate place of commerce, the main intersections of life in Manila, for 8 days, once a year, to turn into a sanctuary, a refuge and a place of healing. More importantly, it’s place to meet Jesus, to remember the price he paid to show us how much he loves us.
––Bebo Bharwani, Spiritual Director of Church Simplified
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