By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Staff Correspondent
BALTIMORE, Md.—Think of a little girl we’ll call Susan. She lives in Baltimore with her nice, but spiritually empty family. Susan wants to learn to play the viola and sees that The Church on Warren Avenue (TCOWA) offers lessons, so Susan’s mom signs her up. Soon, the little girl is coming to a church building and getting to know her teacher, who happens to be a Christian. The pastor stops in and says hello and chats with Susan too. The young girl discovers that the people at that church seem to really, genuinely care about her. Susan’s mom, of course, provides her daughter’s transportation to and from the classes. As she waits for Susie she too begins chatting with the teacher and sometimes the pastor. The mother and daughter go home and talk to the father and the family decides maybe they’ll check out that church on a Sunday.
Similar scenarios are happening at The Church on Warren Avenue through the church’s new Warren Fine Arts Academy.
“We hope to extend the excitement of music beyond the doors of the studio and into the lives of our students. Music is not just a resource for learning and cultivating gifts and creativity, but it is a discipline that is fueled by love—much like our Christian life is fueled by our love for our Savior, Jesus Christ,” Michael Gamon, the Warren Fine Arts Academy director, explained.
Gamon is in his early twenties and brimming with enthusiasm. With dark hair and expressive eyes, he looks like the artist he has become. As a homeschooled student he took private viola lessons. He received his Bachelor’s degree in music in 2006 from Lebanon Valley College and is now pursuing his Master’s Degree in Pedagogy at the Peabody Institute. It was at Peabody that he met TCOWA’s music minister, Dawson Hull, at a Christian fellowship on campus.
“He and I spoke and brainstormed often about how music has been a major part of the Christian Church since very early on, and how it can be used as a tool for evangelism and service, not just for ministry and performance. Dawson wanted to start an arts ministry The Church on Warren Avenue, where he was serving, and asked if I might be willing to organize and build the school. I spent a year in meetings brainstorming and developing the idea, and in the fall of 2008 we opened our doors,” Gamon said.
Twenty students are now studying music during the weekdays at the church through the Warren Fine Arts Academy of Music. Gamon, along with other Peabody musicians, teach viola, violin, piano and guitar.
“So far, the community has been very receptive of the school. We are seeing growth in our church, as the building moves away from a ‘Sunday Only’ church to a “seven-day-a-week’ church.”
The goal is to teach the arts and allow people to express their God-given talents. But it’s also a way to reach out to the community and bring people into the church where they meet Christians who care for them.
“We want to talk to them and get to know them while we teach,” Gamon said. “The academy should be a safe place where they learn and get nurtured.”
“I don’t want to say, ‘Hello, this is a viola and this is Jesus Christ,’” he said. Gamon also wants to see the academy help rebuild the image of the church, which he said is suffering in today’s society.
“We hope that as students cultivate their gifts in our church building, they will come to associate the traditional church with safety and security, not an out-of-touch museum, or irrelevant authority figure which so many view it to be,” Gamon said, acknowledging that it’s the relationship that matters.
Now Gamon and Hull are working to develop a guitar program that will grow into a school of rock and roll in an effort to build stronger community ties and relationships, and grow the ministry.
“The academy has enhanced our presence in the community and allowed us to reach people who have not been reached before,” Lyn O’Berry, pastor of The Church on Warren Avenue, said.