Jesus, Jazz, and Worship
Digging into a Dialogue through Welcome, Wonder, Wisdom, & Witness
Through generous grants from a number of agencies, including the Vital Worship Grants program at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC is honoured to be conducting a year-long, in-depth study of the dynamics of jazz worship services. We want to appreciate the diverse ways in which Jesus is encountering people with his grace through jazz in worship. Through these conversations, we pray the Spirit will inform and reform our ways of worshiping in jazz.
The Rev Dr Brian Fraser is minister with Brentwood Presbyterian Church. In addition to Brentwood, Brian consults and coaches through his own firm, Jazzthink. From 1985 – 2002, he was dean of the Presbyterian college at the University of British Columbia and taught church history at Vancouver School of Theology. He has been a keen jazz fan since early university days.
Dan Reynolds is Brentwood’s director of music. He is a graduate of the jazz program at McGill University and plays with a number of jazz groups, including his own, in the Greater Vancouver region. His Prodigal Son Suite has been recorded and won the Julian Award for Excellence in Emerging Canadian Jazz Artists in 2017.
Brentwood Presbyterian Church is a dynamic fellowship of the friends of Jesus in a suburb of Vancouver. We are blessed with an intimate warm sanctuary with amazing acoustics. It is a perfect space for nourishing souls to flourish in the grace of Jesus Christ, especially among the jazz community in the region. We do weekly jazz worship services, offer space for concerts and rehearsals, and work with community organizations to raise friends and funds through benefits. Find out more at www.brentwoodpc.ca.
How We Plan to Dig
Through the summer months of 2018, we will work with four jazz students who will be conducting interviews with those participating in jazz worship services at Brentwood and other churches in the Greater Vancouver region. We think there are more of those services happening on a regular basis here than anywhere else in Canada. The questions will be composed according to the principles of ‘lived history,’ an approach to discovering how people experience and construct their lives in their own words and images. Since those attending these services come from a wide range of religious affiliations and levels of involvement, we anticipate a fascinating diversity of perceptions.
At the end of August, we will convene a consultation to dig more deeply into the data that we have gathered and analyze more fully the ways in which participants in jazz worship are constructing the reality of their encounter with the grace of Jesus Christ in those services. Two sage and seasoned jazz musicians who play for jazz services will help us with these considerations. Tom Reynolds is vice-principal and professor of theology at Emmanuel College in Toronto. Brian Hayman is an organizational and leadership consultant. We hope 50+ people will be part of this process. The consultation will be videoed and live streamed to provoke interest and participation well beyond our live location. Selections will be edited and made available through social media.
Having listened carefully to how the people attracted to these services are framing Jesus encounters with them, we will then convene a series of conversations to bring those perspectives into dialogue with the ways in which worshipers and theologians have practiced and reflected upon the liturgical traditions of the church over the generations. A key contribution to these sessions will be the literature produced by the Calvin Institute.
If resources allow, we will expand our research and reflection across Canada and into the United States, using the networks of participants to provide new contacts.
What We Pray the Trinity Will Generate
We are deeply aware that the Holy Trinity has placed us in the midst of Canada’s most secular urban centre. 10,000 people will move into the Brentwood neighbourhood in the next 10 years. Most of them will live in high-rises. Their sense of purpose in life will have been shaped by a great multitude of experiences and world views. This is, and will become even more, a microcosm of Charles Taylor’s contested community. Are there, then, ways in which we can draw from the workings, wit, and wisdom of jazz to witness to the reconciling grace of Jesus Christ is such a hybrid social setting?
As we listen and learn through these dialogues, we anticipate that we will improve our ways of composing and performing jazz worship services. Those changes will be informed and reformed by the living Word of God in Jesus Christ, made real for us through the continuing illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Through these dialogues, we pray that a broader and stronger community of mutual support and reform will emerge among those who see in jazz both a form of witness and a source of learning.
We anticipate an enriching of our improvisations with the idea of the ‘invisible church’ as it has developed from Augustine, through the Reformers, and down to the present. The aspect of that doctrine that intrigues us most is how God is working through the jazz tradition to witness to the reconciliation of the world to its Creator through the cross of Jesus Christ made evident and efficacious in the inner work of the Holy Spirit. What new possibilities in missional church life emerge as that dialogical attitude is tested out?
We welcome your comments and questions as we pursue this project. Within a month or so, we will have put ways of following and communicating with the project on our website at www.brentwoodpc.ca.