Fire Creates Urgent Need at Convergence Church and Arts Center

Convergence has been saddled with over $40,000 in repairs.

The modern sanctuary building has served the Convergence Arts Initiative since 2006 but was originally built in 1960 for the Fair-Park Baptist Church, founded in 1946. (Courtesy photo)

By Amy Louviere

ALEXANDRIA, VA – At first glance, religion and the arts appear to have few commonalities. Lisa Smith, however, sees things differently. An actor and theologian, Lisa is the founder and pastor of Convergence Church, at 1801 Quaker Lane, which abuts the Park Fairfax community on Quaker Lane.

“I’ve always had a deeply spiritual side, but never felt complete in either the theatre or church,” said Lisa. Thus, creating a space where the two entities could intersect and co-exist became her mission.

The community art space frequently is shared by the sounds of local musicians. (Courtesy photo)

Supporting the Art Community

In 2007, Convergence was launched to support the local arts community and enable artists to feel valued in their work. “We believe that all people are creative, and that art-making is a deeply spiritual practice,” said Lisa.

Both performance and visual artistry make their home at Convergence, and no age group has been overlooked. Among the groups that rehearse and perform at the church are the Alexandria Kinder Choir, the over-50 Encore Chorale, and the Alexandria Singers, a premier pops ensemble with more than 80 active members.

Community space at Convergence serves many art shows throughout the year. (Courtesy photo)

Two resident theatre companies include Brave Spirit, which performs visceral and intimate productions of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and Arts on the Horizon, offering high-quality performances and educational opportunities for children ages 0-6.

Earlier this year, Convergence partnered with St. Johns Community Services, a center for adults with mental disabilities, to provide students numerous opportunities to promote and sell their artistic works. And over the past four years, several public and private schools in Alexandria have taken part in a highly successful juried art exhibition.

As physically prominent a fixture as art is at Convergence — you must navigate the ever-changing gallery before entering the sanctuary — worship plays a key role.

Mary Harris, who grew up in the original -Park Baptist Church recalls that the entire congregation voted to choose the design of the new building. “In the end it came down to the youth and we voted for the modern design over the traditional one.”

Christian Faith and Art Merge

On the first and third Sunday of the month, congregants gather to explore the Bible through a creative lens. “This time is designed to engage the

Christian faith with an open mind and heart and ask questions about how the teachings of Jesus apply to our day-to-day lives,” said Lisa.

Once a month, potluck dinners offer the church community another avenue for cultivating relationships. A meal becomes holy worship, Lisa explained, when we sit down together at the table with our neighbors and dig into one another’s lives. “Sharing stories and testifying to the way God is at work in our lives, committing ourselves once again to loving one another the way he has taught us to love — that is also a holy act.”

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Coordinating multiple classes, performances and church services can be a juggling act for the staff of Convergence. With so many organizations depending upon its services, one interruption can have far-reaching consequences.

In 1996 Duke Street Baptist Church merged with Fair-Park Baptist to become one congregation. It was this combined congregation that made the bold decision in 2005 to explore the concept of a re-start as Convergence. (Courtesy photo)

Fire Causes Substantial Damage

On October 31, Lisa and her staff faced one of their biggest challenges when an underground fire caused widespread damage to the facility’s electrical system. While the building itself was unscathed, the entire power system had to be shut off until proper repairs could be made.

Without missing a beat, Lisa, cultural architect (and husband) Jay, and community coordinator Dan Abh began looking for alternate venues for those partner organizations with holiday performances looming.

Saving Christmas

The response was immediate. “It’s been really incredible to see the level of generosity shown by the faith community,” said Lisa, who likened the experience to a Hallmark movie entitled “Saving Christmas.”

That generosity paid off for groups like The Alexandria Singers, scheduled to hold its annual Christmas concert at Convergence in early December. A series of phone calls by Lisa and her team led to an offer from Groveton Baptist Church, and three nearly sold-out performances went off without a hitch.

“This is truly evidence of the unique character of the staff at Convergence,” noted Bill Colosimo, music director of The Alexandria Singers. “They were able to set aside their immediate issues long enough to put relationships first. We look forward to returning to Convergence as soon as their situation is resolved.”

Community Help Needed

Since shortly after the fire, Lisa has been working diligently with the City of Alexandria, contractors and Dominion Power. Reconstructive work is extensive and time-consuming; Convergence will likely not reopen until February. And until issues between the insurance and utility companies are resolved, Convergence has been saddled with over $40,000 in repairs.

“This is a real time of discernment and patience but also an opportunity to reconsider who we are as a community, what is important and what is necessary,” said Lisa. “With the right attitude and some help from our friends, we’re keeping our eyes on the bright light at the end of the tunnel.”

If you would like to help Convergence cover the costs for electrical repairs, please consider making a donation here (https://ourconvergence.org/donate).