Church Inks Deal to Hold Services at Byrd Theatre 

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Clergy discourage giving the bird on Sunday -- or any day, really — if you want to score points with the Big Guy upstairs, but Todd Schall-Vess is confident that giving the Byrd will be better received.

Schall-Vess, general manager of the Byrd Theatre in Carytown, signed a deal last week that will transform the landmark movie palace into a temple of faith every Sunday beginning in September.

Area 10 Faith Community, an upstart nondenominational church, will holds its services there. "It's just an awesome building," says pastor Chris Barras, who lives a block away and is a well-known fixture in Carytown's quirky shops and eateries.

Already an associate pastor at Velocity Church, which meets at the Regal Cinemas in Short Pump, Barras says being so quickly accepted in Carytown's tightknit community after moving here with his wife and three sons two years ago made him "really committed to doing a city church." It's his way of giving back, he says.

When approached by Barras with the idea of using the Byrd, Schall-Vess says he instantly saw what the young pastor hoped to accomplish.

"It was on that level that I responded to what they wanted to do," Schall-Vess says. "Part of what made me attracted to the idea was they're not just a church looking for a place to have services; the church is just one facet of a complete organization that's all about developing the community.

"It's worshipping in the community certainly, but the church is just one facet of a larger community picture."

He and Barras declined to discuss the cost of renting the Byrd, but Barras says he's happy to help fill the theater's till. "I liked the fact that the money I was spending was going to somebody local," he says. "The money from our church is in effect helping something locally."

The theater won't be altering its schedule dramatically and will continue to have matinee showings on Sundays. "It's going to utilize the theater at times when we would ordinarily be dark," Schall-Vess says.

One thing that won't be used by the church, he says, is the theater's famous Mighty Wurlitzer.

Organ music just doesn't suit the mood of Area 10 anyway, Barras says, describing the church's musical score as more contemporary, veering toward rock.

Other features of the 80-year-old movie house do appeal to Barras. "I would love to just rise up on the [stage's elevator] platform one time," he says. "That would be awesome."

And then there are those other well-known Byrd features certain to set this church apart from other houses of worship.

"It'll probably be the only church with [painted murals of] nudes in the lobby," Barras says.

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