Looking back, I’ve had the privilege of crafting and leading more than 200 jazz worship services—a great accomplishment to be sure, but also very humbling. Any pastor leading worship feels the weight of not only preaching every week but the even deeper responsibility of creating liturgy that assists people on their spiritual journey. It can be quite a challenge introducing new forms of worship to a congregation that embraces the old axiom, “we’ve always done it that way before.” And yet, it is these same folks who, I’ve discovered, appreciate the spiritual uplifting that a jazz worship service can bring. But creating and leading such a service can seem daunting to the pastor or church musician who does not have a jazz background. So, I offer five simple steps to creating a jazz service of worship:
- Acknowledge and embrace your church’s worshipping tradition. Don’t try to change everything. Rather set your service in the framework of how you usually worship.
- Select music that is accessible. Make sure the music fits the worship theme; that service music creates a spiritual mood; and the hymns are singable.
- Approach worship with the notion that worship is not led, it’s choreographed. The service should be crafted as one entire entity with liturgists assuming the role of spiritual guides encouraging worshippers to experience each moment.
- Engage jazz musicians who do not see this as just another gig. Each player needs to understand this as an opportunity to share his/her talent as an offering to God, and the congregation.
- Finally, let go and let the spirit take the lead as you journey through the worship experience together.
Just last Sunday Oîkos led worship at a church in the St. Louis area. Almost always we are given the opportunity for planning and guiding the entire service (in consultation with the pastor and the church musician, of course). This service was one of those rare occasions when our role was limited to offering the music while the pastor and liturgists “led” worship. This service was a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Outlined below is an example of how we incorporated jazz into an existing worship format. One note, the two songs marked with an “*” are not the pieces we actually played. I’ve substituted suggestions in place of the original compositions we performed. The band consists of a vocalist, sax, piano, bass and drums.
PRELUDE: “All Blues” by Miles Davis* (instrumental)
INTROIT: “Contemplation” by McCoy Tyner (vocal, using lyrics by Chuck Marhonic)
HYMN: “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” by Doris Aikers (congregation)
GLORIA: “Give Me a Clean Heart” by Margaret Douroux (congregation)
CHILDREN’S MESSAGE: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by Thomas Dorsey (vocal, MLK’s favorite hymn)
SERMON INTRO: “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free” by Billy Taylor* (vocal)
HYMN: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” (congregation)
OFFERTORY: “Come Sunday” by Duke Ellington (vocal)
DOXOLOGY: “We are Climbing Jacobs’s Ladder” using the words “Praise God, Praise God for our Blessings” (congregation)
HYMN: “Glory, Glory Hallelujah Since I Lay My Burdens Down” an African American spiritual (congregation)
POSTLUDE: “Yes, God is Real! by Kenneth Morris (vocal)
This was one specific liturgy, created for a specific congregation for a specific occasion of worship. However, the focus and flow provides a model for crafting any service of worship. I hope you find this helpful.