From 2012 – 2014 Fest Too was a highly successful annual two day art and music festival hosted by the volunteers of the Lab All Ages featuring over 75 volunteers, 40 musical performances, 30 bands, 17 artists and 7 workshops in the first year and expanding to a multi-site event in the second and third years. Teenagers and young adults came from as far away as Richmond, Washington, DC and Baltimore. Planning for the event was a year-long process under the leadership of Dan ABH, of the Lab All Ages program, who worked with young adult volunteers to develop the concepts, bands, art, publicity, food and organization of the event.
Convergence provided free space and support in the form of hand-making and serving food to attendees throughout the entire festival. We also offered support in the curation of a pop-up art show, attended the festival and volunteered to lead several workshops on artistic and personal development. While the Fest Too volunteers organized the festival, Convergence used all of its platforms to promote the event and acted as co-host.
While Convergence’s mission is focused on serving the artistic community, in the beginning, a large portion of our congregation were not artists. And even for those who were, connecting with teenagers, some of whom were antagonistic to the church, was intimidating. Early on, we encouraged our congregation to attend Lab All Ages events like the open mics, see shows, visit artists in their studios, etc. but many felt uncomfortable and unsure of their role. It also was difficult for some who were used to traditional forms of evangelism to understand our missional approach because it was unfamiliar and even counter-intuitive. There was no point where we were “sharing the gospel” in a formal way and we discouraged people from using “churchy” language. It’s important to understand this wasn’t a random decision. We had learned through personal experience that new people were made to feel like outsiders by those using this kind of language in our congregation and several genuine “seekers” stopped coming because they were afraid they would be called out for not being “Christian enough.” This is an extremely dangerous thing in a community trying to connect with non or new believers.
We realized we needed to provide language training for our congregation, a genuine reason for connection and something to do. At the same time, food was becoming a focal point for our congregation. People were displaying their culinary skills and an interest in learning new techniques. Hospitality around food has long been characteristic of churches and taking on the role of “host” gave our congregation a role that was familiar and transferable while stretching them to “be the Church” with strangers outside the church walls and without the use of stereotypical Christian language. It was significant that the church volunteers entered this endeavor with a desire to genuinely serve the needs of the artists. Knowing there were many vegetarians and vegans, the food prep included gourmet options for all food needs. This “extra mile” made a huge impression on the Fest Too participants and said much more in their language than our mere words could have. (Now grown up) “kids” still talk to us about how much that food meant and how good it tasted!
It’s a wonderful thing that happens here. I never in a million years imagined I would find a place so unique that allowed me to be and discover my full self, while giving me the opportunity to help sustain a local, creative community that is so important to so many.”— Avni
Through Fest Too, we were able to broaden the vision of our congregation and give them confidence in their ability to participate in the mission of Convergence. We learned that we don’t have to create the event or have the skills or talent to connect with our target audience. We can simply create space for them and add what we do well and enjoy; loving on people and making food. The spirit of Fest Too and the Lab All Ages lives on in the annual All City High School Art Exhibition (link).
Together, we were able to:
- Develop a ministry of “setting the table” within our congregation.
- Create a uniquely “Convergence experience;” one that is deeply arts related and allows the congregation to nurture and serve in the name of Christ.
- Give the Lab All Ages young people a chance to connect with the church in a more meaningful way. This was an opportunity to see “church people” as real people working with them towards a shared mission. This allowed us to connect and build friendships.
- Make the young artists feel loved and cared for. Many bands voiced their appreciation for the food and the effort to care for them. This was an opportunity to create “safe space” for them, something that is a high value in their community.