Downtown church features huge jazz mass Sunday

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July 21, 2003 // UPDATED 10:59 am - April 30, 2007
By: April Wooster
April Wooster

Every fourth Sunday of the month, Downtown's Episcopal Church of Gethsemane diverges from tradition and incorporates jazz music in its 10 a.m. mass service.

This Sunday, July 27, the church's distinctive jazz mass will be bigger than usual, with a larger choir and visitors from two Episcopal organizations here for a 15,000-person convention at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Jazz pianist Laura Caviani will lead a bassist, drummer and three choirs from Gethsemane, south Minneapolis' St. Thomas Church and the St. Philip's Church of St. Paul. Up to 400 members of the Union of Black Episcopalians and the Episcopal Society of Ministers in Higher Education are expected to join the 905 4th Ave. S. congregation.

Gethsemane's jazz mass features contemporary Episcopal liturgy that lasts 60 to 90 minutes and includes instrumentals, choir and participatory music. Pieces range from traditional African American spirituals and gospel music to the works of 20th-century composers such as Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Gethsemane's musicians also play their own arrangements and compositions. Traditional hymns aren't played unless they can be modified to the jazz style.

The jazz mass began three years ago as an experiment during Sunday afternoon services. Rev. Dr. Sandye A. Wilson, who took over as Gethsemane's priest in 1998, wanted to change a half-century of declining membership at the traditional parish. Besides a higher commitment to community service for the homeless and refugees, Wilson thought that jazz could attract not only a larger congregation, but also a younger, more diverse one.

"We needed to be able to relate to people in a variety of musical genres," Wilson said. "We wanted to provide an environment that encouraged greater diversity in the congregation."

Average Sunday attendance at Gethsemane is about 140 between its two morning services. The jazz mass attracts between 10-20 additional people, according to the church's Senior Warden, Louis Stanley Schoen, and that includes members of other congregations as well as non-regular churchgoers.

At the July 27 jazz mass, Wilson plans to preach a sermon that emphasizes hope and unity in the community. As always, the public is welcome to attend. A post-mass reception will feature a $20 CD of Caviani-led, five-piece jazz mass music called "Jazz in the Garden." The revenue will help support the Church of Gethsemane's growth and ministry to the city. For more information, call the church at 332-5407.