The walls and stained glass of the old St. James church in Old Town Bowie have echoed with a song quite different from gospel in recent days.
A chorus of young voices performed “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” as the Charis Center for the Arts opened the musical at the church Dec. 7. Additional performances are planned for Saturday and Sunday.
Children in the Charis Center for the Arts, an afterschool and summer program that has called St. James Church home since 2010, may have to find new accommodations as the site’s owners are trying to sell the site to another church or religious organization.
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which owns the church, has been letting the center that trains youths between the ages of three and 18 and meets Monday through Friday use it for free. The diocese is looking to sell the site to another religious group and is seeking to put the location back on the market in the new year. The old church, which had been there since 1906, closed in 2010 as membership fell to around 75 people, said Paul Cooney, chief operating officer for the diocese.
“It's not just an economic transaction,” he said. “We take really seriously here's a place that for decades their happy events, their tragedies, their sad times were observed.”
The diocese received the city’s blessing on Dec. 3 to amend the church’s site plan so that a day care center for up to 54 children could be maintained at the site.
“The church is trying to build value in order to have an attractive amenity [and] facility for acquisition and sale,” said Robert Antonetti, a lawyer with the Largo law firm Shipley and Horne, which represented the diocese to the council.
The church was last assessed at a value of about $860,000, according to records from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The facility was being marketed at $1.2 million, Cooney said. That’s more than the three-year-old center can afford, said owner Emma Hadley.
The center has about 60 children enrolled in its afterschool programs, many of whom come from Bowie and Old Town Bowie, and Hadley said she is hoping to expand enrollment to around 200 children, she said. The bulk of the center’s revenue comes from student tuition, which ranges from a few hundred dollars to more than $6,000 depending on the program. The center also received a grant of $25,000 in February from the Prince George’s County’s Department of Youth Services, Hadley said.
“I can’t purchase the building right now,” she said. “While we’re growing, we have a ways to go before we can afford a facility [that costs that much].”
While the center has been looking for another home, the church grounds and Old Bowie in general are a perfect fit for an art center, Hadley said.
“This space allows for very intimate theater,” she said. “The only thing that limits what you can do with this space is a lack of imagination.”
Both parents and students spoke glowingly of the center.
“I found my people. I found something I want to stay in forever,” said Tea Jeffries, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Yorktown Elementary School who played Lucy in the musical.
Losing the school would be hard to take for Téa and her younger sister, Sasha, said their mother, Angela Jeffries of Bowie.
“I would be devastated,” said Jeffries, who added she struggled to find an art program for her daughters. “I would be lost.”