Innovation in Practice: Praising God through Gospel Jazz Music at St. Stephen’s UMC

Innovation in Practice: Praising God through Gospel Jazz Music at St. Stephen’s UMC


11/20/2014

Jazz Wednesdays are unique. “Where else can you get free professional jazz music on a Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx?” said Jackie Flowers, a vocalist at Jazz Wednesday and member of St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church.

The sweet sound of gospel jazz music is alive and well every Wednesday at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church. The Wednesday Word & Jazz service is led by Rev. Nathaniel Dixon, Pastor of St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in the Marble Hill section of The Bronx. It features GOJA (gospel jazz) music, a term he coined to explain his deepening relationship with God.   What makes GOJA music different?  One thing - lyrics that put God first. The formula is easy - straight ahead original jazz music compositions with lyrics that praise and give honor to our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.


Helpful Tips:

  • Discern gifts and graces; what are you uniquely qualified to do?  This may be talent, but also can be local situations that present an opportunity.
  • Take risks by using alternate meeting spaces, or weekdays or times.
  • Challenge your church members to take the lead in organizing and planning the program.
  • Try to reach people from around the community or from different faith communities.

When he came to St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church Rev. Dixon asked God, what he should do with his musical talents. Through a process of discernment, the Spirit led him to the idea of Jazz Wednesdays.  But he was not sure what this entailed. Led by the spirit, Rev. Dixon allowed God to move him and Jazz Wednesday service at St. Stephen's was launched.

One of our members Gale Godwin said, you should have something for our guests to eat. She called it “Lunch On Us” and it stuck. St Stephen’s has been hosting Jazz Wednesdays with the Word & Jazz service and Lunch-on-Us since September 2006.

Worship is one of the ways God’s people acknowledge God’s presence.  The United Methodist Church’s Songs of Zion Hymnal says, “Singing is as close to worship as breathing is to life.” GOJA music has had a profound impact on Reverend Dixon’s life and a growing impact on the lives and thinking of other jazz musicians as well.

Reverend Dixon would readily admit he is not the first jazz musician to combine jazz music with lyrics that praise God, Duke Ellington along with many other jazz musicians have done this as well. He, however, sees a new genre of music that can bring new souls to Christ Jesus. He sees it as a tool to make disciples for the Kingdom of God.

The lively jazz worship at St. Stephen’s is structured yet informal. A true ecumenical event, neighbors, some Jewish, some Catholic come as they are.  They come for as long as they can and stay for the community lunch after the service. Gospel jazz music brings together communities of all walks of life every Wednesday at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church. “Jazz Wednesday attracts the kind of people that I want the church to be, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. The kind of weekly event I believe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have approved of. Members, visitors and friends of St. Stephen's have been coming for years and they are spiritually and physically fed. The fellowship after the service is probably the highlight of the service for me said Reverend Dixon."


Innovation in Practice: Using old tools/methods to do new/different things or using new tools/methods to do old things

The Jazz Wednesday Ensemble perform classic jazz anthems, original pieces written and produced by Rev. Dixon, jazzed up versions of church favorites and each week a different lay servant gives the homily.

“At Jazz Wednesdays, we give God thanks through music, scripture, teaching and singing. We lift God up in many ways and jazz music is just one of the ways we do that,” said Rev. Dixon. Jazz music is another way that draws people closer to God and to one another.

The Word & Jazz service at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church takes place every Wednesday at 1pm and a free community lunch program called “Lunch on Us” is directly afterward at 2pm. St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church’s motto is “Real Church for Real People” where all are welcome. For more information and to see a video of Jazz Wednesdays please check out St. Stephen’s website at www.ststephensunitedmethodistchurch.org