Last weekend, rock music could be heard reverberating through a church in Ridgewood. Framed by a stained glass window depicting Jesus with a flock of sheep, Iyare Osarogiagbon was singing from the stage, backed by Alphabet City, a “throwback rock” band of young musicians from Queens and Brooklyn. The concert, hosted at Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, was a part of the Stone Circle Theatre, the church’s nonprofit production arm, which has set its sight on becoming a spot that elevates and empowers artists in Ridgewood. 

In early 2022, Ridgewood Presbyterian began renovating. As staff at the church planned out the new space, they decided to try something new: instead of redesigning it to speak to the larger needs of the nearby community. After soliciting a list of requests from the local community board, they settled on starting a community arts and cultural center that doubles as a safe space for teenagers and the neighborhood’s influx of college students and young adults.

Today, two years later, the renovations are complete and the space is occupied nearly every evening by artists, various youth programs, and other local groups, like last year’s “Ridgewood Off-kilter Film Festival.” Through the theater company, the place now offers free practice spaces for local bands, weekly jazz nights , yoga classes and movie screenings. 

“The neighborhood around us is growing and changing,” says Dan DeBrucker,  who helps run the theater. “When we created this space, we wanted it to be a sanctuary that’s open to anyone, not just church members,” he says, “We want it to be easy for people to feel welcome here.”

DeBrucker says that the community-oriented programs are a powerful, sometimes overlooked way to practice the Christian faith.

“I think we’re doing God’s work by bringing the community together. We’re celebrating music and we’re honoring each other,” he said. “We’re doing church in a new way.” 

Alyssa Tumale, who plays in Alphabet City, says the church space feels familiar. “I grew up playing violin for my church choir in Queens so it’s cool to come back to this ethereal space,” said Tumale.

Violet Sepe, who plays bass in a queer/trans rock band that played the spot called Canvas Collective, says playing a church space feels new.

“When I got here tonight, I was like, ‘Am I supposed to be in here?’” Sepe said. “But when I walked in and met the staff, I could tell really quickly that they were queer-friendly. Sometimes I worry about that with religious institutions but I feel very comfortable here. As someone who’s never performed at a church before, this feels special.” 

Stone Circle Theatre is located at 59-14 70th Avenue, in Ridgewood. For more details about their upcoming events and resources, visit their website. 

Photos taken by Corrie Aune.

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