If you build it, they will come. And come they do, to Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Westchester. Holy Nativity’s pastor, the Rev. Peter Rood, is a man who understands this concept.
Rood’s mission — to create a space for people of all faiths to celebrate together — has created a community space for activities ranging from a community garden to art exhibits to live music and classes.
“This all started with my sense that we had a good space for (community events), and knowing that, I started booking live acts,” Rood says. “We’ve had classical gigs, live opera, pop performances, and I’ve been pleased with the growing audience.”
The church building is well-suited for live music, given its layout, large size and acoustics.
“It has wonderful reverb and is a great place for sound and voice,” Rood says. “We don’t depend on amplification for speaking, and the room seats about 135.”
The pastor has brought in a variety of musical talent, focusing on offering opportunities for budding musicians and young talent.
“I had a connection that would put me in contact with these wonderful musicians fresh out of music school — who are all trying to make a living doing what they love — so we decided to make a venue for young and growing talent,” he says.
He adds that unlike other venues, where one has to fight traffic to find a parking space, Holy Nativity offers a comfortable space.
“While it’s fun to go to Culver City or Hollywood to hear music, I thought, here we have a live space in a residential community that’s wonderfully centered and in a densely populated area,” Rood says.
In addition to special musical guests, two years ago he set up a Jazz Vespers series, what he calls a “hybrid service jazz vespers,” to provide a “focused performance.”
“The first 25 minutes is focused on quiet and prayer — we have a very simple and accessible prayer service,” he says. “I’m very careful to make it open for all faith traditions. Then it’s all about music.”
In addition to live events and jazz, Rood has made an effort to include art in the church, in keeping with the grand churches of Europe.
“We’ve tried to create an environment where folks can not only hear music but see great works of art, and we’ve commissioned a great piece, in addition to one of my own pieces that is hanging,” he says. “We’ve had four art exhibits on the campus, and we’re making a joyful noise but we also want the community to be considered, so you can come to Holy Nativity and see art, as well.”
The main emphasis in all of these events, however, is to make a community gathering, no matter the religion. Rood’s commitment to this has been lauded for its accessibility to all.
“We tried to make a space on 83rd [Street] and Dunbarton [Avenue] that has as many entry spaces as possible to get involved in some important work,” he says. “It’s based upon an understanding of what it means to be a community, and we believe strongly that the church is a gathering place.
“We anticipate, expect and benefit from what people bring us and it [has] created a lot of energy and life in the place.”
Rood is also writing a book with co-founder of the Environmental Change-Makers group at Holy Nativity, Joanne Poyourow, which will look at environmentalism from all faith traditions.
Holy Nativity will also have a Lenten speaker series on global repentance that will be an interfaith dialogue.
The next Holy Nativity event will be a free performance by musical group Little Windows at 7 p.m. Saturday, January 26th.
The church is at 6700 W. 83rd St., Westchester. Information, (310) 670-4777.