“Build it, and they will come,” Vozzella said, referring to the Fine and Performing Arts Academy that First Presbyterian Church in Rapid City recently launched on a shoestring budget as part of its children and youth ministry.
The youth academy program — with its art, vocal music, drama and guitar lessons for kids 4 years through 12th grade — is something that is not being offered at any other church in town, said the new director of worship arts at First Presbyterian.
“I think First Pres really has seen a gap here in Rapid City and they’re trying, very intentionally, to meet a need here,” Janssen Hemmen said. “We don’t have enough exposure to the arts — adults or children.”
She’s a Presbyterian minister who pastors the Hermosa United Church of Christ, a small congregation that, like so many churches, is forced by resources to focus on the essentials of children’s ministry — Sunday school and helping kids learn the stories of their faith.
But historically, churches have been places of artistic learning and expression, she said.
“If we’re created in God’s image … then something about us needs to stay in touch with that creative part of ourselves if we’re going to love God,” she said.
If Ainslee and her brother, Eli, 6, learn to tap into their creativity as children, it will help them become better people — whether they become engineers, lawyers or artists, she said.
When he came to First Presbyterian in March, Vozzella brought the vision of a performing arts academy with him. At his most recent post as worship arts director at First Methodist Church in Midland, Texas, Vozzella developed a similar academy that has been a successful educational outreach for that church. He and his wife, Cathy, are the parents of Ashley, 8, an academy student.
“In Midland, I got a $1 million grant to do this. Here, I’m doing it with basically no money,” Vozzella said.
With the help of a small church staff and numerous volunteers, the First Presbyterian academy has ambitious plans for the future — including a drama troupe that is already planning a 10-day trip next summer that will take them to
performances in churches, vacation Bible schools and nursing homes across the northwestern U.S. and Canada. The drama group will employ “lifestyle evangelism” instead of overt proselytizing in its religious message, Vozzella said.