A well in Samaria. A performing arts center in Peoria, Arizona. The first, the site of a biblical story, the other an 8,000-square foot facility near Phoenix.
What do the two locations have in common? According to Brad Klassen, lead pastor at Copper Hills Church in Peoria, both the well in the story and the church’s new Center for the Arts (CFTA) fulfill a need and provide a place for people to meet Jesus.
“When (Jesus) met that woman at a well, that is a shaping, molding story for us as a church across the board,” Klassen says. “We see what he did and the effect that he has, and it is his effect, so we just simply have said, ‘We want to build a well like that well.’”
Copper Hills’ “well”—the Copper Hills Center for the Arts—brings creativity and community together in the church’s effort to not only serve the Peoria community but also provide space for life-changing encounters with Jesus.
The Center for the Arts is a continuation of the vision Klassen and his wife, Elfie, had when they moved to Peoria to plant Copper Hills Church 22 years ago. After visiting 600 homes that first summer, Klassen says he learned the primary reason people didn’t attend church was because the church lacked relevancy in the community.
With a desire to rewrite that narrative, Klassen set out to serve. So, when Copper Hills put a down payment on a piece of property 12 years ago, Klassen asked the community what kind of facility to build. In visiting with civic leaders, Klassen says the unanimous response was a space for the arts.
“We could just build a church, but what would the community call their own?” Klassen says. “What would they identify as their gathering space in the community? By then we had figured out we could meet anywhere as a church—a school, a park, a theater, wherever it would be. So to us, the building was secondary but primary for the community.”
In waiting for the vision for an arts space to come to fruition, the church served its community and built a foundation of trust. For example, the church has hosted movies in an adjacent park and an annual four peak hiking challenge.
“We serve in a whole variety of ways throughout our community, so this was just a natural next thing for the church to do,” Klassen says of opening the CFTA. “I don’t think you can just start something like this and go, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a great ministry, and we’ll open it up to the community and they’ll all embrace it, and they’ll think it’s fantastic.’ No, they’re going to be skeptical because it’s church, unless that church has done years and years of foundational, community-loving work.”
Eight years after purchasing the property, Copper Hills began construction on a black box theater for weekend gatherings and a kids’ space to potentially double as an art studio.
With rapid growth, and involvement from MB Foundation from the beginning, Copper Hills moved ahead on constructing a performing arts center for the community. The grand opening for its two-story, 8,000-square foot CFTA was Sept. 7, 2019, with the city mayor and other dignitaries in attendance. A craft coffee shop open seven days a week and an open-air plaza add additional community gathering spaces.
Director Cathy Beachy oversees the CFTA, including deciding which classes to offer and hiring instructors.
Last fall, the CFTA offered approximately 30 opportunities for students, including watercolor, calligraphy, photography, creative writing, sign language, sewing, theater, robotics and creative engineering. The CFTA also offers private lessons and dance classes.
“We’re taking the term ‘art’ and using it quite broadly,” Beachy says. “I sometimes say everything from container gardening to robotics and everything in between.”
Beachy is intentional when selecting instructors.
“We have credentialed, vetted, excellent artists, who also love Jesus and love people,” Beachy says, adding that some instructors are teachers at other educational institutions or former teachers or artists.
“We’ve really only publicly existed for a few months, but already people are finding us and hearing about what we’re doing in the community and wanting to collaborate,” Beachy says. “We definitely have a culture of collaboration rather than a culture of competitiveness.”
The CFTA has artistic opportunities for a wide variety of ages, from a pre-ballet class for 3- and 4-year-olds to private lessons for retirees. The CFTA’s watercolor class had one of the widest age spans, Beachy says, with students ranging from teenagers to retirees.
With an average class size of about eight, instructors have the opportunity to build rapport with students.
“First we love people”
Klassen and Beachy shared stories illustrating the impact the CFTA has had on people’s lives.
For example, while teaching a piano lesson to a young girl, Beachy noticed something was off emotionally. Instead of continuing with the lesson—she postponed it—Beachy asked if everything was okay, then took time to listen to the girl’s struggles at home.
“That’s a moment from Jesus, and we want our instructors to be aware of that,” Klassen says. “Because first we love people, and in that environment, we’re teaching them a certain craft or an art form, but (that) never transcends the value of the person. (Jesus) could’ve just left (the woman at the well) with the water, but he took notice and he took interest. That opened up the story.”
Citing other examples, Beachy tells of a woman in a creative writing class who came in thinking Christians were weird, but her experience gave her a different frame of reference. She also recalls a young pregnant woman who gave birth and her watercolor instructor was the only one who called to check on her.
“We’re using the arts to build relationship and to build rapport and to build trust and to build a love for Jesus,” Beachy says.
Beachy says 2020 will be a year of growth for the CFTA, expanding the artistic disciplines offered to things like culinary arts, executive storytelling, juried art and photography shows, galleries and technology. She looks forward to seven or eight summer camps.
The hope is to offer theater as well. Beachy says the vision is for another construction project to transform the auditorium into a theatrical space so it can truly be a performing arts center.
More than a place for Copper Hills Church attenders, the CFTA is a place for people to bring their friends and neighbors.
As Klassen explains, the well in John 4 had faithfully met a need by providing water for years before Jesus showed up. The woman in the story not only got what she came for—water—but when Jesus entered the scene, she received living water.
“Our hope is people are going to come for water—that’s the arts—and they’re going to get art at an excellent level….” Klassen says. “Our prayer and our hope everyday—we’re so careful who we pick as our teachers and artists and crafts people that lead—is that they will walk away with living art in their soul.”
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.