Local church offers new arts programs to neighborhood kids

Kar­en Rohr­er and Re­becca Blake out­side of Beacon. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

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. ••

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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