In 2006 Lisa Cole Smith an actor, director and seminary student was invited by the trustees of the Fair-Park Baptist Church re-start project to submit a proposal for an experimental new church. Through her own experiences, reading and consulting opportunities she perceived a disconnect between churches and the arts and believed in the possibility for great synergy if the two were to connect on common ground.
Both face challenges the other can fruitfully inform. In our current culture churches are faced with the challenge of ministering to a diverse community of believers and reaching out to those seeking community at a time when the form of how we “do” church is in question. Many churches see the value and need for incorporating the arts in worship and ministry yet lack the resources and training to do so. Ministers and worship leaders are hungry for ideas that are effective in stimulating the congregation and easily integrated into their own church culture.
At the same time, artists engage the transcendent and prophetic on a daily basis. They often have an innately prophetic and visionary sensibility, yet are seldom recognized and sought out as essential contributors within civic and faith communities. Many Christians in the arts find it difficult to integrate their artistic work and their Christian identity. Few communities support and encourage the arts as part of spiritual life, theology and reflection. Outside the church, artists have few opportunities within which to develop personal discipline, spiritual mentorship and be connected to a wider community.
These observations mirrored Lisa’s own experience as an artist and Christian and her longing to join the two. The proposal she submitted to the trustees reflected a desire to explore what would happen if these two worlds were to converge. What would happen at the intersection of art, faith and the human experience?
Over the last seven years we have created space to observe this intersection, to dream of what is possible and research how we might best serve in this movement. Lisa writes: “I felt called to create space where people like me could experience encouragement, development and validation in convergence of our artistic and spiritual lives. It was to create a community where people are challenged to fully be who they were created to be while helping artists and faith communities re-engage in conversation.”
We believe that by encouraging creative voices we will find creative solutions to the challenges that face local churches and our world. By opening our doors to local artists and arts organizations and creating a forum for public dialogue on faith and cultural issues we believe we will be better equipped to meet current and future challenges. We want to encourage more churches to do this so we no longer feel the need to “catch up” or battle culture and so that artists have a truly valued place in society; neither celebrity nor misfit, but humble contributor with a credible voice. We hope this creative convergence will promote a society whose culture reflects the deep spiritual and existential concerns of all people and promotes the human experience as one dedicated to higher purposes.
The Fair-Park Baptist/Convergence Re-Start team consisted of three trustees in the beginning; Stephen Welsh, Dee Whitten and Burt Ransom. They hired Lisa Cole Smith to serve as Pastor and to develop the Arts Initiative. Shortly after the project began, Todd Cullop was hired as Co-Pastor to aid in developing the church component of Convergence. Along with a small number of the remaining Fair-Park Church new people came to join the congregation. Susan McBride, Jim Ailor and Max Inman joined the trustee board and Pam Moyer and Jay Smith came on staff from the congregation in 2009.
Finally, in 2011, the trustees voted to entrust the building and assets of the former Fair-Park Baptist Church to the new Convergence entity declaring it to be a self-sustaining congregation. Convergence is now an independent faith community. Mary Harris, Ken Hadley, Jim Cole, Grace Olsen and Chris Miles currently serve on the Leadership Team for Convergence along with the staff.
History of the Re-Start
In 1946 people gathered together to answer a call to build a church to serve the people of the fast growing community of young families in the Fairlington and Park Fairfax neighborhoods. In 1948 they built the first building (now known as The Lab) where they met for worship and fellowship. In 1960 a sanctuary building was built to make room for growth the church as experiencing. Mary Harris, who grew up in Fair-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.”
Over the years Fair-Park Baptist served the community faithfully. In 1996 Duke Street Baptist Church merged with Fair-Park to become one congregation. It was this combined congregation that made the bold decision in 2005 to explore the concept of a re-start. Recognizing that the church was no longer effective in meeting the changing demographics of the surrounding community, the congregation voted to suspend congregational decision making authority and elect three trustees to search for new leadership and a new vision for a new church. It was through the faith, generosity and trust of these Fair-Park members and the trustees that something as bold as Convergence was birthed.