A Community that Supports and Shares The Healing Journey
Please note: In 2022 we learned the H.O.P.E. Ministry has been on hold due to COVID. We will provide updates when they come available.
Karen Johnston, studiokarenjohnston.com, is an extraordinary intuitive, abstract painter and instructor living in Nashville, Tennessee. The powerful healing nature of her artwork is invaluable. She is also the founder of The H.O.P.E. Ministry, a community that supports and shares the healing journey. Many people of all ages have benefited from her compassion, love and generosity. It is an honor to present this inspirational interview with her here and include her among our “World Changers” series.
We selected Karen for the Featured Artist Membership Award in The Healing Power of ART & ARTISTS “Art That Lifts Our Spirits” exhibition. You can visit her membership page here. Her artwork can be found in numerous private collections throughout the U.S. and her many exhibitions that include those at J Gallery, Alive Hospice, Chromatics Gallery, and The Arts Center of Cannon County among other venues.
I am also honored that Karen has agreed to participate as a Special Recognition Art Award panelist in our exhibition “The Spirit of Resilience”. She wrote, “As an artist, instructor, cancer survivor, and leader of a healing ministry, resilience is the result of a buoyant mind-set.”
Karen, when and how did you start The H.O.P.E. Ministry?
In 2010, I wrote and submitted the original proposal to start a healing ministry at our church in Nashville, TN. A few months later in 2011, we hosted our first meeting. Immediately, the group attracted members and grew beyond our parish and into the community. At that time, it was a support group solely focused on those affected by cancer. After a while, people began to ask if they could join the group due to other life-challenging illnesses or were caregivers. That’s when we expanded into The H.O.P.E. Ministry (Healing. Optimism. Prayer. Encouragement.) and included everyone along the healing path.
What inspired you to initiate H.O.P.E.?
The idea originated from an unexpected connection in 2010. I had just had surgery for cancer and two weeks later, a woman from my church called me with a similar diagnosis. I was happy to share my experience and she was grateful for the camaraderie. As a pair of new cancer survivors, this relationship was one of honest giving and receiving. It posed a visionary question… if everyone had support along their journey…. what would that look like?
We formed a seed that eventually flourished into more. It became apparent to me that whole healing wasn’t only personal, physical, and prescriptive, but heavily multi-faceted, creative, and social. Starting a cancer support group had never been a prior aspiration, but after I had cancer, it made sense to me and felt important to share this perspective, especially if it could impact others.
“I approach The H.O.P.E. Ministry much like I approach my abstract painting — with an open mind, an open heart, and an ever-expanding sense of trust.”
Please describe the purpose of The H.O.P.E. Ministry.
The H.O.P.E. Ministry is a community that gathers to support and share the healing journey through any stage of cancer or life-changing illness, including caregivers, family members and friends. When you gather with The H.O.P.E. Ministry, you allow our mutual-help community to nurture your well-being with fellowship, compassion, prayer, expression, and the open space to simply be.
Through casual group sharing, listening, humor, inspiration, and resource information, you gain a chance to process your journey in a positive, atmosphere with others who have experienced similar ups and downs. Coming together during this sacred time can make a meaningful difference, build supportive relationships, foster insight, and help you to restore a greater sense of wholeness.
Who else works with you at The H.O.P.E Ministry?
Due to the broad nature of healing, The H.O.P.E. Ministry has been able to include a variety of people that includes doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, spiritual leaders, artists, writers, musicians, educators, therapists, psychologists, nutritionists, yoga instructors, exercise specialists, non-profit leaders, businesses, special interest providers, compassionate individuals, and others along the way who support the mission of holistic care and well-being. Everyone comes together to support each other, sharing their unique gifts, and making a good difference.
I am open to including anyone who has a passion for the cause. As much as possible, I like to encourage member participation. Just because someone has received a diagnosis doesn’t mean their light and perspective is diminished. Our own members are huge contributors and that helps forge an organic sense of belonging. We get to know and appreciate each other well. The deep bonds and sense of care that develops stimulates a natural helpfulness within the group.
How do you lead The H.O.P.E. Ministry from your perspective as an artist and your experience?
As an artist who continues to cultivate and lead this healing ministry, I approach The H.O.P.E. Ministry much like I approach my abstract painting — with an open mind, an open heart, and an ever-expanding sense of trust.
I use the intuitive, artist mindset to sensitively listen to all members of the group, much as I would “listen” to my paintings. It’s how I get to know them better and get to know their gifts in order to help them purposely share within the group. It is beautiful, for instance, to encourage their creativity in the kitchen in order to share their favorite recipes at meetings or finding ways to help them share their stories, or their crafts, or being open to fusing their professions into enjoyable and/or informative meetings.
The dynamics often change, and it helps to be adaptable and fluid amidst the unknown. It has led to its long-standing continuation and has fostered growth in unexpected ways.
Also, as an artist, I think art, creativity and imagination are huge within the healing process. Over the years through The H.O.P.E. Ministry, I have included multiple ways of using art and creativity to spread joy and healing.
What are a few of the art activities you have organized through The H.O.P.E. Ministry?
In 2014 , I had the privilege of hosting a community-wide art show titled “The Conversation,” using many of the paintings and journal entries that I created during the stages of my own health, healing, and caregiving journey. I organized a panel of experts to talk about the broad and vulnerable nature of “whole” healing which included a nurse, a therapist, a priest, and me, the artist. I later formulated a mobile version of that show for another group that started in response to our model.
Over the years, I have been able to include a variety of children’s artwork in our ministry which is always well-received. For different occasions, the children of our parish school have created hand-made Valentine’s for our members. They sculpted Christmas ornaments and welcome gifts for our members. They baked treats and came to sing for our group.
I have also personally developed hands-on art experiences for our members, most recently “Project LOVE.”
How did “Project LOVE” come about?
I was set to host an in-person art meeting for H.O.P.E. when COVID-19 shut everything down. Refusing to let the virus cripple our connection, I developed a simple way to safely do an art activity from home. Creating a video was the easiest way to share the outcome. The idea for “Project LOVE” stemmed from a long-distance project I did with my family when my dad was in strict isolation for his own cancer treatment. Art heals! Here is a link to the video: https://youtu.be/NZzCrBtesSM
“A huge success of this group is being able to show people that even though they have an illness, they are bigger and brighter than their illness…”
Please provide an example of how H.O.P.E. has changed people’s lives through the healing power of art.
A man in his 80’s entered our ministry to process his wife’s sudden death from cancer. He painted for the very first time with us and fell in love with the process. After many “art conversations” he went on to launch his own Etsy shop to show and sell his numerous works. Painting became a joy in his life.
I also had the honor of speaking to a group of pre-kindergarten “Kindness Ninja’s” about H.O.P.E. and supporting others. Inspired to make a cheerful difference, they hand-painted beautiful, keepsake gifts and made us all honorary “Kindness Ninja’s.” It was truly uplifting.
What other activities does H.O.P.E. engage in?
We flex back and forth between meetings that are educational, inspirational, creative, and/or discussion based. It’s enjoyable to get everyone wholly immersed in an activity. For instance – we had singer-songwriters join us for an honest discussion. They turned our words into a song, then returned to perform “our song” for us. We have had nutrition experts join us to help create and sample healthy food recipes. We have had book discussions, simple yoga sessions, and holiday celebrations, to name a few. For years, I held separate discussion groups that solely focused on the art of conversation.
For those who aren’t able to physically join us, we collaborate with a ministry that knits prayer shawls. Their gorgeous and patient handiwork is a beautiful demonstration of intention and care. It allows us to extend a warm gesture to those needing extra love along their journey.
In what ways can people near and far help support The H.O.P.E. Ministry?
H.O.P.E. has been blessed by many who are able to donate their gifts and knowledge to our group. We are always interested in incorporating new ideas and activities. In order to do arts meetings, we need funding for supplies. The biggest honor is when people are inspired to extend our mission by offering compassionate support to others. It takes all of us to pay attention to those who are suffering, extend our hands in purposeful ways, and make a difference.
To what do you attribute the success of The H.O.P.E. Ministry?
Everyone is welcome and accepted – as participants or volunteers! A huge success of this group is being able to show people that even though they have an illness, they are bigger and brighter than their illness or their loved one’s illness. Their gifts, their presence, and their participation — in big or small ways – is meaningful and important. Once they see that, it helps put a new perspective on things.
The group also radiates a feeling of family where everyone genuinely cares about one another. It feels comforting to know that everyone in the group shares an understanding of the journey and that no one needs to journey alone.
What advice can you offer artists who are interested in starting a similar healing group?
Starting a healing group involves a significant commitment of time, energy, discipline, and passion. It is rewarding but, like everything, will present its own set of challenges. While you care for others, you must be able to physically, mentally, and spiritually nourish yourself in positive ways in order to maintain health, balance, and focus.
Particularly for artists, embracing a regular, personal art practice yields an intrinsic form of self-care and honest expression that is valuable beyond compare.
What plans do you have for The H.O.P.E. Ministry in the coming year?
With COVID-19 in the mix, I’ve adjusted our gatherings to an online format. It’s been amazing to keep in touch via Zoom. I keep our meetings organized such that everyone gets a chance to talk and share, but there is always time for casual chit-chat, too. Given the vulnerability of this group, our upcoming meetings will more than likely be online (rather than in-person), perhaps interlaced with some fun projects. This year is certainly new territory for us!
Do you have plans to expand the concept of H.O.P.E. in other communities or help others set up similar program?
H.O.P.E. is a beautiful complement to the healing journey. I would love to see it expand to any community that is interested in adding compassionate support to their cause or for their patients.
I am always open to advising others and have helped set various support groups in motion. Nurturing inner well-being is an important part of healthcare. It makes a positive difference to hold space, listen, and continually provide opportunity to learn, grow, and form meaningful relationships amidst adversity.