Concerts for All
Eighties music—it doesn’t exactly conjure up thoughts of a Lenten concert series, but United Reformed Church in Somerville, New Jersey, has a ministry of music that started in that decade. Back then, it consisted of lunch, a brief worship service, and a concert each Wednesday during Lent.
Around 2007, the concert series shifted from Lent to be year-round. Today, United Reformed offers six or seven concerts each year, all open to the community. The church began offering the concert series “to let the community know [about the church], to be a little more visible, and to hopefully bring some arts and things into the area,” says Paul Dickey, United Reformed’s organist and director of the Raritan Ringers, a handbell group that offers concerts at the church.
Concerts run the gamut from classical to jazz to contemporary Christian. Somerville High School holds band and choir concerts at the church, which has also hosted jazz groups like the Midiri Brothers, well-known jazz musicians who visit United Reformed every other year. The Central Jersey Symphony contacted the church when they were looking for a new venue to hold concerts.
The concerts usually draw between 100 and 200 attendees, although a popular Christmas concert packs the house each year—the sanctuary can seat 500 people.
“Our sanctuary has wonderful acoustics, so performing groups love to be here,” says Dickey. “Almost any kind of performing group works well here.”
Dickey says that United’s facility is used by a number of different groups during the week, including a Spanish-speaking congregation, an Alcoholics Anonymous group, and Habitat for Humanity. The facilities are also used for Bible studies and career counseling. United sees the concert series as another way to open itself up to its community.
“The idea was to get people into the church to see what we are and what we’re about,” says Dickey. “I don’t know that we’ve gained any membership, but that was not necessarily our intent. It was just to offer a place to the community.”