A Presbyterian church in Olde Richmond is bringing fresh energy to the neighborhood with free afterschool creative classes for neighborhood kids and a new approach to the spirit of an old church.
“It’s hard in a time when churches are closing for people to feel like they have an anchored place,” said The Rev. Karen Rohrer, 27, co-director of Beacon, 2364 E. Cumberland St. “People’s impulse is to be in life together, to be invested in each other’s kids, to be in a small community … a lot of younger folks moving into the area may be hungry for that kind of community, but they don’t know what to call it.”
Beacon is the former Beacon Presbyterian Church, built in 1871. The original church building was demolished in 1957 after being damaged by a hurricane, and in 2011 was reopened as Beacon, with new leaders who are committed to creating a church that also works as a creative space and community center.
“We judge our activity by who participates in the life of this place and are invested in it – not just by how many people are in the pews,” said Rebecca Blake, 29, co-director of Beacon.
Beacon offers three free after-school programs — for visual arts, creative writing, and since September, for music writing and recording.
Artwork made by local kids covers the walls of the church sanctuary, and the basement where art and creative-writing classes meet is stuffed with arts and crafts supplies. Volunteers who run the programs include former art teachers and folks from the neighborhood.
“It’s not even a surprise that I’m sitting in a church basement now doing this,” said Jim Wells, a trained musician who leads Blackboard Labs at Beacon, which teach kids to write and produce their music.
Wells said some projects done by the handful of students at Beacon include a theme song for an imaginary television show, and music in the style of pop group One Direction.
“The program was centered around learning about hip hop culture and music. But for kids at Beacon, that music wasn’t part of their background, so we’ve been adapting it into poetry writing and digital music production class,” Wells said.
These after-school programs are entirely secular and separate from the religious side of the church. But to ordained minister Rohrer, the efforts all come from the same place.
“We bring all of that background into it – caring about the community, wanting to be a positive presence in people’s lives,” she said.
Recently, Beacon announced that they had successfully raised $2,500 to begin “The Lights on Cumberland Street,” a long-planned project that will cover the ceiling of the sanctuary area with tiny lights. Once completed, the lights will represent the individuals who supported the project and create a unique source of light shining from Cumberland to Letterly streets, said Rohrer and Blake.
“The idea of hanging the lights is about people feeling like they have a stake in this place,” Blake explained.
The lights project is just the latest creative design undertaken at Beacon. Volunteers previously redesigned the entire sanctuary, ripped up all the old carpets, and installed wheels on all the pews to make them mobile for various types of events.
Beacon’s services indicate that it’s a church where things are done a little bit differently –church services are held at 5 p.m. on Sundays, instead of on Sunday mornings.
“It’s a much more relaxing experience on a Sunday evening,” Rohrer said. “There’s the natural relaxed vibe that happens, there’s less shyness about singing.”
That’s all part of the unique spirit of Beacon, as Rohrer put it.
“It’s somewhere you will be cared about — and won’t be forced into a committee right away,” she said, laughing.
To learn more, visit www.thewordatbeacon.org. ••