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Church Offers Sermons, Screenings

As if delivering sermons in a coffeehouse wasn’t unique enough, the National Community Church will soon be holding services and screening films in a restored 1930s movie theater.

Earlier this month, the church purchased a building at 535 Eighth St. SE. The location was a movie theater from 1910 to 1960 and still features its original facade and marquee, and in recent years it had been used as a church.

This isn’t the first time the National Community Church has met in a theater — the group also hosts services at seven other locations, six of which are movie theaters. At the new location, however, the church has a larger vision.

Lead Pastor Mark Batterson, who has lived on Capitol Hill for 15 years, said he relishes the opportunity to give something back to the community he holds dear. Upon taking possession of the property June 1, his church will immediately begin renovations to return the theater to working order.

“We’re just thrilled that we can add a unique dimension to Barracks Row,” he said. “The one thing that was missing was an entertainment venue like a movie theater. We’re just excited that we aren’t just beneficiaries now. We can be contributors to what’s happening.”

The initial improvements will be functional. The plan is to reopen the balcony and add acoustic treatments before renovating the facade, which will require permits and extra time. The interior will be “returned to its original grandeur,” according to Batterson, who hopes to outfit the interior of the theater in an art deco style.

Batterson would like to screen classic films or independents in addition to first-run films, and he’s considering more offerings for children.

“I can envision a Washington week where we have films that were either shot or based in D.C.,” he said. “Because of the classic nature of the old movie house, we definitely want to show some classics. … The opportunities are endless.”

The venture will function much like the NCC-run Ebenezers Coffeehouse, the church headquarters and another of its locations for Saturday and Sunday services. At the coffeehouse, all profits are donated to the church’s favorite causes, including overseas orphanages and AIDS clinics.

The new location is also good for parishioners, hundreds of whom live within walking distance. Others will appreciate its proximity to the Metro, since most of the church-goers attend services using public transportation.

It’s also a stone’s throw from another NCC property on Virginia Avenue, where the group has purchased three plots of land. Although church leaders planned to build a theater there originally, they’ve adapted plans to focus on the new location and its renovation.

“It was like God said, ‘Why don’t I give you phase one,’” Batterson said.

Although he’s not yet sure when later phases will be complete, Batterson hopes to open the theater late this year if the renovations unfold smoothly. Church services already take place at 9 a.m. on Sundays, with a second 11 a.m. service to be added in early June.

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