By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
When a fire claimed Josh Evans' church on Dec. 18, his first thought wasn't where his congregation would meet next, or if there was anything salvageable left in the building.
His thoughts turned to the upcoming shows that they had scheduled there. He wondered where the teenagers, who made up the majority of the crowd, would end up on a Friday night.
For Evans, the 30-member congregation's outreach into the community were those shows at the church. Providing a safe, alcohol- and drug-free, all-ages venue in Joplin was the legacy that Solace Church had carved out over the course of two years.
As fire raged and claimed the church's building and equipment, Evans thoughts were not if they would rebuild, but how.
"It hasn't felt different meeting since then with our people," Evans said. "We're still together. We didn't lose anyone. We lost equipment and a building, but that isn't what unites us in the end. The venue was too big if it was just our members. We cared about our mission of getting out there to those kids."
The church, which was located at 1610 S. Main St., was a total loss, save for a few amps that avoided smoke damage and a few pieces of furniture that weren't soaked from the firefighters' efforts to extinguish the blaze.
When the doors to Solace opened two years to the day that fire forced them closed, the church had a mission in the community. Venue Director Courtnie Ward said that they wanted to find a way to reach out to the community and show them that the idea of church and faith could be different.
"We wanted to find those people who had bad experiences with church or who had been turned off by religion," Ward said. "We wanted to show them Jesus' love exists, and it is for everyone out there, but we aren't going to force that onto the people that come through our doors. We want to show them that faith isn't just rules and regulations. We aren't a Christian venue. We're Christians with a venue."
While walking through the remains of the church Tuesday, Evans commented on the support that has come from the music scene, which his church helped nurture, in the time since the fire.
"We have strived to maintain a steady relationship with local bands in Joplin and throughout the area, even if they aren't on the same message that we are on," he said. "We aren't going to tell them that they are doing wrong or that we are perfectly leading a Christian life, when they aren't. We want them to see our shortcomings, to see that we love them right where they are. That goes for bands and the people that came to the shows. Everyone that came through those doors was our family."
Sister Mountain Brother Sea rhythm guitarist and vocalist Biaka Zaidarhzauva had become a regular at the venue over the past year. Zaidarhzauva said that Evans was the key in getting his band into the Joplin music scene.
"If Solace couldn't book us, they would find us a place to play," he said. "We valued that safe environment that the people of Solace provided for us to grow in. It was a loss both for the scene and the people involved, because there was dedication there that you just don't see anywhere else. Total positive growth."
Seeking a new home
After the fire, Zaidarhzauva put his artistic design talents to use for the venue by designing the "We are more than bricks and mortar" logo that has become part of the message the members of Solace have helped spread.
"I'm terrible at raising money, and I can't build, so I designed," Zaidarhzauva said. "But I wanted to do what I can to help out a place that has helped us out so much."
The design now adorns T-shirts and hoodies that the church has begun to take pre-order on at solacejoplin. storenvy.com. Money raised through the venture will go toward finding a new venue in which the church can host shows.
"We put a bid out at our first place earlier today, and it was way below what they were asking," Evans said Tuesday. "But we are going to keep pushing to find a new home, and that's where the support has come from. We have people who had just come to shows asking what they can do. People who aren't Christians or who believe something so opposite realize the positive place we ran, and they don't want to see that go away. To us, that is God's love. We know we did a good thing with that venue if that is the kind of legacy we have built in Joplin."
Ward added the one message that she had received that brought it home to her.
"We had a guy send us a message from out in Columbia, and it said, 'Even atheists love Solace,'" Ward said. "That meant a lot to us. We don't know him, but he knows what we are about. He gets it, and so do we."