God through the lens: How one WNC Deacon uses photography as a form of ministry.
As a college student, Tim Jones used to spend his summers working at a Hendersonville upholstery shop across from a homeless shelter. On his lunch break, Jones would wander throughout the alleys of town, oftentimes encountering and talking to those that were homeless. Still driven by a desire to meet new people and to better understand the world beyond what he knows, Jones now works at the very same shelter as the Operations Director of the Hendersonville Rescue Mission.
"Here I am all these years later, walking those same streets and meeting new people," Jones said. "Somehow God just put them in my heart."
Besides his work at the homeless shelter, Jones has served as a Deacon at St. James in Hendersonville for ten years. For Jones, he aims to bring a welcoming and accepting presence to his work as a deacon as well.
"I hope I bring that perspective to my life as a deacon at St. James, which is only a couple of blocks away from my homeless shelter," Jones said. "Deacons serve at the intersection of the church and the world and my job, as I understand it, is to help close the distance between those two spheres for people. I love helping people find meaningful ways to serve."
With a stressful job in crisis ministry, Jones turned to photography as a way to cope with the heaviness of his work.
"It's heart-wrenching work dealing with all of the ways people are oppressed and exploited on the streets," Jones said. "The way I restore my sanity so I can keep serving is to get out into the forests and streams after work as far away from the world of drug dealers and violence and all of the things I deal with everyday at the homeless shelter."
Jones said that he has noticed similar patterns in his photography as within his crisis ministry.
"I take my camera with me to wherever my soul takes me. Just like in my work at the shelter, I like to find beauty in overlooked, simple things along the margins," Jones said. "Many nature photographers go after epic landscape shots. I like the small clumps of flowers along the edge of a stream bed that almost no one takes the time to pay attention to because in the right moment of light they are the most beautiful and holy scenes."
Photography to Jones has become a major part of his prayer life. However, it wasn't always this way. For much of his life, Jones saw art as purely decorative, but with no connection to one's spiritual life. This all changed when he found the Episcopal Church.
"Everything changed when I found my home in the Episcopal Church with its sacramental understanding of the world and its emphasis on incarnation and beauty," Jones said. "There are certain places and things that help me be more present. That's what is going on with my photography. It's like a Book of Common Prayer."
Despite having no formal training in photography, Jones' passion and artistic eye is apparent in his work. Much of this comes from his training not as a photographer, but as a painter.
"My background is completely in studio painting," Jones said. "All of my formal art education from the time I was about six through college was in pastel drawing and watercolor and oil painting. People often comment that my photos look like paintings, and that's because everything I bring to photography comes from what I know about painting. The same is true of the poetry I write and the sermons I preach. It all comes from the same place os inviting people to step into a canvas that I have painted with words or light. I feel like I am really a painter in disguise as a photographer, poet, or preacher."
Whether poet or minister, photographer or painter, Jones' main goal is for his work to bring peace, comfort, and healing to those around him. Ultimately, Jones has found that his photographs act as a form of ministry to many.
"I mostly use photography as a way of paying attention to what is going on in my soul," Jones said. "The great irony is that in trying to take photos for my own spiritual life, I ended up sharing them and others seemed blessed by them as well. My images are sold through The Gallery at Flat Rock in Flat Rock, NC. Through them I have my images throughout places of healing like the Pardee Cancer Center and places where A.A and N.A. meet. I have been able to share them in domestic violence shelters and even in my own homeless shelter. The light that grabbed my attention when taking the photos also seems to speak to others as well and somehow what was simply a personal hobby has also turned into ministry."
To see more of Jones' photography and writing, visit his Facebook page, Down Where the Soul Is