Public Joy

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness[1] is the Bible verse that has animated The Trust Performing Arts Center since it began serving the community in 2013. Whether as a bank in the 1920s or as a quilt museum in the early 2000s, this building has held in trust many treasures while also stewarding the life of people rooted in Lancaster.

The Trust Performing Arts Center has joined in this tradition of working for the good of the city through concerts, lectures, theater, dance, gatherings, and art. The leaders of the Trust have sought to encourage excellence in the arts, and by doing so offer the gift of public joy.

What is “public joy”?

Tim Soerens in Comment Journal says public joy is “a visceral pairing of words that tap deep into the biblical idea of shalom. . . [it] gets at the pulsing, hopeful, brimming-with-possibility kind of energy that by its very nature requires equity and justice, and celebrates both individual and collective agency.“ [2]

He continues this idea by pointing out, “If we remember that we are creatures (and not the Creator) and that all is a gift, then of course we all need to orient ourselves toward this grand project of public joy. To love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself means that all our many gifts should be oriented toward the mission of creating as much public joy as conceivably possible.”[3] This idea of public joy connects well with Japanese-American painter Makoto Fujimura’s concept of culture care—a vision of being generative and caring for the soul of a culture, instead of taking part in the culture wars that tear us down.

In today’s fragmented, polarized world, we are witnesses to (and sometimes perpetuators of) the deep and wide cracks in society. These cracks show up in newspapers, on social media, and even in family gatherings. It seems we are mad at, offended by, or suspicious of almost everyone these days. Christians, though, having been given a vision of doing good and befriending faithfulness in the land, can shine life-giving light through all the damage. But this takes creative and wise personal and communal intentionality in the places God has put us and with the people he has given us.

As followers of Jesus gifted with the overflowing love of God through the Spirit, we can resist being defined by selfishness and scarcity of hope, but instead live in  the world as people with open hands of generosity and grace. By doing so, we may be able to breathe new life into our communities, adding public joy to our social capital. I have been very encouraged over the years to see The Trust serving our community in just this way. And this work is something they often carry out in partnership with other organizations. One such partnership has been with Square Halo Books.

Over the past couple of years, with my partners, I planned the 2022 Square Halo Conference: Inklings—Creativity, Collaboration, and Community, which we hosted in the Trust one weekend this past February. I had a vision for this event since before the pandemic. I wanted to offer to our guests an opportunity to enjoy talks about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their friends, but also give people immersive creative activities, such as enjoying original artwork in the gallery, sharing tea and poetry, pulling prints in a pop-up printing session, reading a short play together, and a sitting in a writer’s workshop. Finally, I wanted to work with local business to provide fun food and drink.

By all accounts, this conference was a great investment in public joy. Everyone who came received welcome bags filled with goodies from Lancaster County-based sponsors and distant partners. The Row House, a local forum, provided a good talk from a favorite writer. Keynote speakers presented in the Great Hall, breakout sessions led by local writers and teachers took place in the Square Halo Gallery, the Black Box Theater, and even next door at Living Faith Church. Lancaster-based Reverie Actors Company performed a staged reading of a Tolkien short story. And there was even a concert by singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson.

My hope was to offer our attendees a refreshing and delightful time. When I started dreaming of this conference, I wanted to do something that fit with the goals of Square Halo Books—give people opportunities to use their gifts and to grow as followers of Jesus.  Partnering with creative people and giving them chances to share their talents and expertise gets me excited, as does giving people opportunities to fill their minds and hearts with goodness.  Coming out of hard months of the pandemic, it was the right time to bring people together to enjoy beautiful and good ideas, and to talk, laugh and sing together.

As the conference wrapped up (and in spite of the glitches, fumbles, and mistakes made by Square Halo that we felt were so glaring), folks shared with me that the weekend was just what they needed. Later, there were emails from attendees relaying that their needs to be encouraged in their own creative pursuits had been provided to them through the weekend. One man said he had attended only to be with his familybut left the conference re-enchanted with life.

I was glad for the generosity of The Trust and other local partners, as well as all our speakers and presenters. By looking into the work of favorite writers, we were able to refresh the hearts and minds of our attendees and to encourage them in their future creativity. This conference weekend was one way to trust in the Lord, to do good, to befriend faithfulness, and to increase the possibility of public joy. I am grateful the people of The Trust Performing Arts Center joined my partners and me at Square Halo Books in this rich experience.

To learn more about Square Halo Books visit

Square Halo will have its twenty-five year anniversary as a book publishing company in 2023, and will be celebrating by hosting another conference—Ordinary Saints—Creativity, Collaboration, and Community. Tickets are available now at



Leslie Anne Bustard lives with her husband Ned in Lancaster City, where together they raised three daughters. She writes for Cultivating Project and Black Barn Online. Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children, a book of essays about children’s literature she co-edited, will be released in mid-April through Square Halo books. Her website Poetic Underpinnings ( contains her writings, poetry, recorded interviews and podcasts, and the goodness of other people’s creativity.


[1] Psalm 37:3 (ESV)

[2] Tim Soerens, “Subverting Two-Pocket Thinking with Public Joy,” Comment, Winter 2022, pages 57-58

[3] Ibid, page 58