AKRON, Iowa | Kevin and Amy Linder find themselves in an old church jamming on a spring night in April, putting the final touches on a Christian contemporary music program planned for Sunday.
It's exactly where they wish to be.
"Isn't this great?" Kevin Linder asks while directing a visitor to steps leading into a full-body baptismal font that served the Church of Christ in Akron from its construction here in 1918 through its closing two years ago. "Check out the painting of the River Jordan."
Baptism signifies a new life in Christ for Christians. The Linders, who operate the Birdie & Carol Harris School for Performing Arts here, represent new life for this stately old church.
"The congregation at the end was very small," Kevin Linder says. "They worshipped downstairs. We bought it, cleaned it up and had a final service here in October 2015, I think. We took possession with the intent to do a performing arts academy named for Amy's grandmother and mother, who were dedicated to the arts throughout their lives here."
As Kevin conducts his tour of the basement kitchen and his office, piano student Sam Philips works with Amy on the piano in the main sanctuary, an area to be named soon for Kevin's daughter, Karen Linder, who was killed in a traffic accident in 2006. Karen Linder was a student at Hope College in Michigan at the time.
"We want to teach kids, not just from Akron, but from the area," says Kevin, a former high school band instructor who now teaches various music disciplines at Augustana College and Dordt College, in addition to his work with high school jazz bands across the region. "We want to teach them in the performing arts, whether it's music lessons or acting."
The members of the Church of Christ were adamant their old church be used for children in some manner once it changed hands. That desire meshed with the mission of the Linders, who have hosted a few performances in this structure already. They collaborated with others in presenting "Song of Singapore" in 2016. Amy Linder then wrote and directed "Once in a Blue Moon," which was staged two months ago.
"We did three shows for 60-plus people each time," Kevin says. "It was a lot of fun."
The Linders then quickly transitioned into their roles for "Fiddler on the Roof," which was staged at the Akron Opera House earlier this month. Kevin Linder, reprising the lead role from his high school days in Manning, Iowa, 40 years ago, played Tevye. Amy directed music for the production, a task she helped with as a prep accompanist when the local high school performed "Fiddler" in 1979.
"We are an inter-generational facility," Kevin says. "We seek to work with kids and adults of all ages. We want to work in partnership with the Akron Opera House and to be used as another resource by our local schools."
Kevin Linder laughs as he walks toward the furnace room of the old church, disclosing with some anguish how three furnaces quit on the same day, not long after he and Amy made the purchase. The roof will also need some attention soon.
"Still, for a 100-year-old building, it's in excellent shape," he says.
Amy, who helps lead the Praise Team for contemporary worship services at Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Sioux City, pilots Believe, a group that operates much like a praise band, offering "music with a message." Using her office just off the main sanctuary, she writes contemporary Christian music that she'll join others in performing during an hour-long show at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Birdie & Carol Harris School for Performing Arts.
"We have all volunteer musicians," says Amy, who also serves as accompanist at Augustana College and Dordt College. "I'll play piano and sing and we'll have a freewill offering."
Funds raised will help Akron's "Spa" (shorthand for School of Performing Arts) continue its mission of reaching and teaching those interested in the arts around Akron.