MOST CHURCHES are maintained for the Sunday worship only, sitting empty and quiet during the week. But on a busy day here at Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Georgetown, I can long for that tranquility. Dumbarton's congregation is committed to using the building, placing a special emphasis on patronizing and promoting the arts. I oversee the operation, a challenging job as the building is used frequently throughout the week and the activities are as various as the messages left on my answering machine.
I recruit potential users, monitor the activities and serve as liaison to the board of trustees. On a given day, I may consult with an electrician, move furniture for a dance class, show a musician the sanctuary and negotiate a contract for a workshop or lecture to be held three months later.
A lot of the activity seems to arise spontaneously, as people discover the building's potential. The sanctuary is a glorious room with acoustics that amplify a finger-snap to a sharp crack of sound. This characteristic and the intimacy of sitting in the round make the room ideal for chamber music. The Dumbarton Avenue Concert Series has been housed here since 1978, presenting Washington area musicians monthly.
Concert days at the church have a special feeling of urgency as we work to set up the lights, stuff the programs or hang the art shows that transform the social hall into a gallery. Before the concert and during intermission, the audience will browse through the work of an artist we have found who might not have access to other gallery space. With a full audience, the musicians playing and the sanctuary full of candlelight and sound, I am struck by the beauty of the room and its vast potential.
For a month last fall, a New York conductor gathered area singers for a concert performance of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," which was rehearsed here. This summer, two young opera composers booked the hall for a performance of some of their recent works. This coming season will see several independent musical events held here--Brazilian pianist Caio Pagano in recital and the Rosewood Consort among others.
But musicians are not the only artists who find the space appealing. Children in leotards arrive each Wednesday for dance classes in the social hall. Last spring, D.C. City Ballet director Bernard Spriggs moved his school and rehearsals to the small stage upstairs for 10 weeks while he found a new studio. The company will return to perform here during November and April.
Another group, Dances of Universal Peace, drawing on the words and songs of many different religions to inspire meditation and movement, is sponsored by the Sufi Order each Thursday evening. The dances are based on the mystical idea that in uniting the breath of the participants as they sing and dance, their hearts and spirits are unified.
The church's dual function as place of worship and center for the arts has inspired an effort by the congregation to unite the two in "Seasons of the Spirit," a week-long festival of the arts in worship, which began yesterday. Artists and theologians, church musicians and historians have been gathered to give workshops each evening on subjects ranging from church architecture to interpreting the Scriptures through mime to block printing and banner making. The festival will culminate Saturday with art and liturgical crafts exhibits and an afternoon of performing arts. It also will explore the ways in which the arts can be integrated into the worship service.
Sometimes when I find myself alone in the sanctuary, I think about the history of the building and the ghosts that inhabit it. Did this room inspire Walt Whitman as he served here as a nurse during the Civil War? Does his muse help to fuel the artistic creativity that goes on here more than a century later? There is something about this church building and the spirit contained in it that inspires creativity and a feeling of awe. I am happy to have its welfare as my responsibility.