Episcopal Church Building Fund launches initiative in Arlington, Texas

Partnership between Theatre Arlington, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church catalyst for imaginative move

Posted May 23, 2016

[Episcopal Church Building Fund press release] The Episcopal Church Building Fund (ECBF) is delighted to announce a creative new loan initiative between ECBF and Theatre Arlington in Arlington, Texas, a dynamic community-minded regional theatre in downtown Arlington that has birthed greats like the lead singers of Pentatonix.

This loan arose out of a highly innovative partnership between St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, currently worshiping in the theater, and Theatre Arlington. Leaders of both non-profits are involved in a ground-breaking revitalization project aimed at transforming the Main Street corridor of Arlington into a premier arts district.

ECBF loans normally are made directly to Episcopal parishes with the permission of their diocese. This bold initiative breaks new ground and offers exciting new possibilities for supporting ministries in a world hungry for encounters with God, just not always inside a church building.

New ways of thinking about church property

St. Alban’s is no stranger to brave creative thinking. It is a parish in the reorganized Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, itself flung into reimagining “church” when a former bishop and several others left The Episcopal Church in late 2008 but claimed Episcopal Church property, including St. Alban’s building. The Episcopalians at St. Alban’s were among those of several congregations who were forced to find other places to worship. St. Alban’s began worshiping in Theatre Arlington in late 2008. The property claims are still in litigation. But bold initiatives, unusual venues, and prayerful risk taking such as St. Alban’s has enabled the diocese to not only survive, but also to grow.

“Working with ECBF was a natural move, because we already had partnered with them in other ways,” said the Rt. Rev. J. Scott Mayer, provisional bishop of Fort Worth. Several congregations in the diocese participated in ECBF’s Recasting Assets program, a process to help congregations identify their place in the community — to understand their relevance; to build mission and value in the world around them, and to use their real-estate assets to develop financial self-sustainability.

This innovative initiative takes to a new level ECBF’s commitment to helping congregations transform anxiety about their future into creative engagement with their communities as they love their neighbors and serve God.

“This reflects our understanding that the church is changing rapidly and so must our concept of what constitutes church-related property,” said the Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, interim president of ECBF.

Historic partnership between theater and church

In the initiative rooted in that new way of thinking, a $500,000 loan from ECBF is being structured as a mortgage and being made directly to Theatre Arlington in support of the ministry of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. St. Alban’s holds weekly services in Theatre Arlington’s space and rents office and classroom space from the theater.

This will allow Theatre Arlington to remain in their Administrative/Education building on Main Street and continue, along with the Downtown Arlington Arts Management Corporation, to spearhead the development of the Arlington Arts District. Theatre Arlington Executive Director Valerie Galloway said the staff and board of the theater are thrilled to be strengthening their relationship with St. Alban’s.

“Throughout history, the church and theater have had a symbiotic relationship. Theatre developed from religious rituals of the hunt, and the church regularly employs theatrical elements to teach. So the alliance between Theatre Arlington and St. Alan’s is historic on many levels,” Galloway said.

St. Alban’s is “glad to have played matchmaker in this collaboration between ECBF and Theatre Arlington,” said the Rev. Kevin Johnson.

“Working in mutually beneficial partnership with Theatre Arlington rounds us out and spurs us to be more than church as usual, not just on Sunday mornings but in our whole ethos. We find that out-of-the-box creative approaches such as taking Ash Wednesday ashes to the UTA campus come easier, enabling a wider variety of people to connect with the transcendent. It really is the living manifestation of going beyond the safety of the church walls into the world. Bringing a congregation of people to the Main Street theatre every week has raised our community awareness and helped us become a more engaged partner in the development of the downtown core.”

In addition to worshiping there, St. Alban’s has for several years helped raise money and provide volunteers for Theatre Arlington’s Camp Be a Star, a week-long theater camp for homeless children and children in transitional housing in Arlington. Through a partnership with the Arlington Independent School District, this unique camp teaches theatrical and communication skills and helps improve self-esteem and confidence.

All of this made a perfect fit for the Episcopal Church Building Fund, and offered the perfect launching pad for its new initiative.

“The ECBF wants to support the ministry of the Church and the larger community. This seemed to be the right project to achieve that goal,” said Woodliff-Stanley.