Alban Weekly | Art and faith converge at a hybrid church / community arts center

8 months ago

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Art and faith converge at a hybrid church / community arts center
Shortly after 5 p.m. on a Sunday in early March, about 20 adults gather around a long table in a gallery space in Alexandria, Virginia. Before them are scissors, glue sticks, pastels and colored pencils, and nearby, stacks of old magazines.
For the next hour and a half, they cut and paste and color, making collages and talking about what brings them joy, everything from quiet walks in the woods to tables full of oysters and beer.
It's not an art class. It's Sunday worship at Convergence, an alternative faith community that is both church and arts center. This week, the gathering ("service" seems too formal a word) is a creative Bible study. The Rev. Lisa Cole Smith, the pastor and artistic director, sets the tone with a verse from Matthew -- "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear" (Matthew 13:16 NIV).
Under the guidance of Anita Breitenberg, an artist and Convergence member, the participants flip through old sheet music and outdated issues of National Geographic, Savory, Motor Trend and other magazines, clipping images and phrases that illustrate joy:
A school of dolphins. Towering redwoods. A peaceful shoreline. Jude Law's come-hither gaze.
The gathering is the first in what will be a yearlong series, "Practicing the Presence of God." Every other Sunday, members will explore artistic and spiritual practices that can help them see beauty in the ordinary. Bringing together faith and art, it's a typical event at Convergence. In the decade since the church was founded as a restart for a struggling Baptist congregation, visual arts, dance, music, poetry and theater have informed virtually every act of worship -- and much else of the community's life together.
Read more about Convergence » 
A tiny congregation with a big building is resurrected as a center for peace
Concerned about violence in their city, members of a declining church in Oakland shifted focus, redefined its ministry and invited nonprofit service agencies to work together as the Oakland Peace Center.
Read more about Oakland Peace Center »
Making homes for the arts in sacred spaces
Arts groups need their space, and many older churches have plenty to spare. In a win-win for everyone, a Philadelphia nonprofit is pairing up theater, dance, music and other arts groups with congregations that have underused space.
Read more about AiSP initiatives »
The coffeehouse church 
Leaders of a 100-year-old United Methodist Church in San Antonio discerned a call to create a new, missional community. But instead of planting a church, they planted a coffeehouse.
Read more about The Loft »
The Turnaround Church: Inspiration and Tools for Life-Sustaining Change 
by Mary Louise Gifford
The Turnaround Church is the story of Wollaston Congregational Church United Church of Christ, a 130-year-old congregation that once was thriving in ministry, membership, mission, music, and money. For half a century, however, the church had slowly declined and was considering closing its doors. The two dozen remaining members knew they had to change, but did not know how. They had very little money left, but they were willing to risk it all. 
With few resources, members hired Mary Louise Gifford, a new seminary graduate, to be their full-time minister. Wollaston is now a vibrant, Spirit-filled faith community -- a turnaround church. Changes in worship, stewardship, and priorities, combined with the congregation's resilience and Gifford's optimistic leadership, have transformed this church. Gifford tells us how. 
Addressing a wide audience, Gifford shows church leaders they have options and reason for hope. People in dying churches will find assurance that they are still a part of the body of Christ. Clergy serving these struggling churches will discover tools and resources to help them guide change. Judicatory leaders will appreciate an inspiring story they can tell about a church that turned around in spite of the odds. The Turnaround Church, while not a prescription for all churches, is a call to make long-lasting, life-sustaining changes. 
Learn more and order the book » 
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