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Jazz Church

I don’t know about you, but when I’m eating my bowl of Cheerios every morning, I like to have something to read. And I’d prefer it be something written on actual paper and not on a screen. Not that I’m against reading on the iPad, the Kindle or the iPhone. There’s just something about that LCD screen early in the morning that is just too much, especially before I’ve had my coffee.

Since we no longer subscribe to a real newspaper, I have to look harder for something worth reading while I eat breakfast. One day last week, I reached over my bowl and grabbed a magazine that had arrived in the mail the day before. It’s a new magazine to me, one that I now receive because I registered for a workshop with the Alban Institute. (The Alban Institute does a lot of continuing education for pastors and churches, and they publish this magazine for geeks like me who enjoy reading about theology and church.)

I opened the magazine to the cover article, whose title intrigued me: “Jazz Church.” Unfortunately, I’ve already recycled the magazine and can’t remember the name of the author,  but I remember that he is a pastor serving a congregation. Anyway, he talked about how the character of a congregation often resembles the style of their worship music. For example, congregations that worship primarily with classical music are often highly structured, with clearly defined roles and processes. A congregation whose primary medium is praise music will often center around a charismatic individual, just as the music often comes from a soloist.

Then there is the “jazz church,” like the one the author serves. His congregation worships with jazz music, and their congregational structure reflects that style. There is a lot of spontaneity in jazz music. It doesn’t feature just one voice or instrument, but different musicians step forward at different times and then blend back into the ensemble. If someone makes a mistake, she works it into the theme and the other musicians play off of it. Mistakes are welcomed, in fact, as is improvisation. The music centers around a theme, but it plays with it, improvises on it, explores it and expands on it. But the theme is always there, at the heart of the piece.

Reading this article, I realized that Christ UMC is, in many ways, a “jazz church.” I would say that the music of our pianist Jon Calvin is at the heart of our worship, and his playing is responsive, improvisational, spiritual, open-ended, playful at times and always moving us deeper.  Likewise, our congregation is flexible, responsive, open, playful and spiritual. We know our primary theme: relationship with God, one another and the world, but we feel free to improvise, to try new things, to make mistakes and to be open to the Spirit’s leading. Not one person is the featured performer, but each person steps forward when the time is right, then blends back into the “band” seamlessly.

It was a fascinating article, and one that made me grateful for how God works in our congregation. What do you think? Would you say we are a “jazz church?”  Tell me what you think and let’s continue the conversation. I’d love to hear your variation on the theme.