InSpero People: Matt Schneider

September 3, 2016

Matt has been a friend a partner of InSpero’s for about two years. We met him through mutual friends and felt an immediate connection with him because of his vision and desire to see art bring renewal to this place and particularly to the City of Birmingham. Matt was also instrumental in making InSpero’s Five Men Show art show happen in October 2015. We are thankful for Matt, his work, and his heart for this city and its people. We look forward to collaborating with Matt more in the future as we continue to hope with him now.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Matt Schneider, and I’m on the clergy staff at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in downtown Birmingham. I am the pastor of our Five O’Clock community; I am the editor of our annual magazine, The Advent; and I oversee our newcomers ministry, among several other things. I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, and I’m married to Hawley, who is from Washington, DC. We have two daughters, Eden (6) and Zoë (4), and we’ve lived in Birmingham for two years.

How is your life different from what you imagined when you were in high school?

When I was in high school I was an atheist. So that’s changed dramatically. But I knew I wanted to be a writer. I paid attention in my English classes, ended up being the editor of my high school newspaper, and knew I wanted to study journalism in college, which I sort of did. I ended up getting a degree in communications with a writing emphasis. But I changed course to become a teacher and earned a master’s in English for the sake of being a teacher. I was a writing teacher and a tutoring center coordinator for a while during and after grad school. At the same time I was becoming a Christian—against all odds. Through a long process of life happening to me, I ended up answering a call to switch career paths and pursue professional pastoral ministry. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of my studies were part of a long progression toward something. None of my undergraduate and graduate schooling was wasted. I’ve applied my studies in writing, rhetoric, and teaching to ministry—I now have a very creative approach to being a pastor. But circling back to your question, if you would have told me in high school, while I was living in Northern California, that I’d be a pastor in Alabama, I would have figured you had the wrong guy for sure.

What are you creating right now?

As I mentioned, I’m the editor of a magazine, and we just finished our second annual issue. Most people push back when I call it a magazine, saying I should call it a book or a journal. This is because we intend for the publication to be timeless, something people will want to keep on their bookshelves or coffee tables for a very long time. It’s more akin to an arts and literary journal in its shape and feel, but it’s kind of like nothing else: It’s published by a particular type of church, so there is a clear theological current through everything. It’s literary, but the content is not predominately literature. It’s perfectly bound like a paperback book, and it’s printed on very thick matte paper. So it has the appearance of a serious literary journal. Probably the best way to describe it is as a compelling hybrid between Vice magazine, The New Yorker, and Modern Reformation if you know what any of those publications are. It’s serious with principled conviction, yet can be tongue in cheek and witty at points.

Each year we devote the issue to a theme. Last year it was storytelling and this year it is creativity. We’re trying to grapple with topics that people are talking about a lot in both secular and Christian contexts. I’ve noticed during the last few years that people have been talking about creativity. I see it in church with a growing interest in the arts. I see it in the city of Birmingham, which is going through a period of creative renewal that people are excited about. I also see it in bookstores around the country, where people seem to be buying more products like coloring books for adults and journals to get their creative juices flowing. Creativity is also embodied in the hipster, maker, and artisanal movements. Some of this is just trendy for sure. Some of it is sincere though. And it’s prevalent across cultures of varying stripes even in places we would have least expected years ago. For example—and I’m not judging but just observing here—it seems every young Pentecostal person I meet nowadays shops for clothes at Urban Outfitters and American Apparel.

I’m really excited about issue 2 of The Advent, the “Creativity Issue,” where we wrestle with all this stuff from a Christian perspective, predominantly influenced by the Protestant Reformation. Our treatment of the topic is by no means exhaustive, but I’m really happy with the content, both written and artistic. We release the issue this week, and it will be available at our church for up to a year until we run out.

What's a lesson your art and/or work have taught you?

I think tons about process. The popular culture’s fixation on art is with end products. But for me the process that gets me to my products is perhaps even more important. I’m a big fan of demystifying creative processes since a lot of people’s creative growth is stunted by fixating on end products. Any productive and respected artist knows that the stuff we put on public display has a lot of fits and starts, discarded drafts and sketches, and failures and embarrassments in the background. The creative process is humbling, maybe even humiliating.

Can you describe a time you have failed?

Now that I do a lot of editing, I find it helpful to write for other publications so that I can be edited. I recently had a piece I was working on rejected by another publication. Most new writers are crushed by this kind of rejection—this applies to any creative endeavor really, not just writing. The more I fail and get rejections, the more accustomed I become to it as part of the creative life. In order to produce art for public consumption, I have to accept that taking risks, falling flat on my face, and then getting back to it is all part of a well-rounded creative career. I haven’t really mentioned my life as a minister much yet, but failure is true for me as a preacher, pastor, and mentor too. And it’s true for me as a father—I fail my kids everyday.

Of course, there are periods of grieving that come with the failure. I allow myself to feel crummy when a sermon seems mediocre or a piece of writing gets rejected. Then I come out of it by God’s grace and am able to start over again. It helps to work with caring people too when you’re creating. My editor who scraped that recent essay called me the next day just to make sure we were still on good terms. He’s sensitive to the vulnerability that is inherent to writing. I loved him for this, and his gesture helped me move on from the initial emotions I had. These types of experiences then make me a better and gentler editor (and pastor and father) because I’m reminded of what it’s like to be on the other side of the equation.

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island, what 5 things (besides food and other necessities) would you want to have?

Assuming I’m alone and can’t bring my wife and kids, I’d bring a pen, some paper, a utility knife, a broad-brimmed hat, and some high-SPF sunblock. I’m being honest about the pen and paper. If I can’t write stuff down, it just bounces around my head, stresses me out, and my sleep suffers. I’m sure this would be even more the case if I were by myself and accompanied only by my thoughts. I’d need to get them out. I think that’s better than talking to a volleyball named Wilson, at least for me.

Please tell us more about The Advent magazine release party and how people can get a copy.

The Advent magazine issue 2 Release Party will be this Thurs., Sept. 8 at 7 pm at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, 2017 Sixth Ave. N, Birmingham (downtown). After that, the magazine will be available to pick up during normal business hours or on Sundays around the church building. And the copies are free, a gift to the people of Birmingham. Also, folks can hear me preach most Sundays at the Advent at 5 pm.

Also, I mentioned my wife Hawley earlier. I want to give her a nod as an artist too. She’s a portrait photographer, and she is the staff photographer for The Advent magazine. Working on this magazine together has been a total joy. It’s actually one area in life where we’ve been able to work together without a hitch. Getting the laundry done in our house is perhaps more complicated than collaborating on a creative project! When you pick up your copy of our magazine, take a look at the photography first. Her work in this issue blew me away.

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