Connectivity. It’s something Tom Kohler knows a thing or two about.
Recognized as something of an expert in bringing people of different backgrounds together for the betterment of all concerned, the head of Chatham Savannah Citizen Advocacy is usually someone worth listening to when he bends your ear.
Such was the case a few months back when he approached me with a gleam in his eye to ask if I —as someone connected to the local music community— thought that area players, singers and songwriters would attend a church service that not only centered around popular music, but in fact consisted of nothing but popular music.
Seems he had been to such a service last year at the request of his old friend Enoch Hendry, who’s the Reverend of Trinity United Methodist Church (next to the Telfair Museum), and Tom had been wowed.
“Picture this,” he said, with the conspiratorial look of someone adept at getting folks to eat unappetizing things which might be very good for them.
“People file into the church in complete silence. Then, a series of contemporary songs are played over the PA. Folk, rock, soul, gospel, bluegrass — you name it. They’re meant to embody certain aspects of spirituality. Between each song there’s a brief silence in which personal reflection is encouraged. Then, everyone leaves.”
“No other expectations of any sort?
“Interesting,” I thought out loud. Tom had gone into this “service” expecting little but a pleasant diversion, and had left something of a minorly changed man.
Not necessarily more religious or spiritually minded, and certainly not a Methodist — yet, somehow more grounded, and more connected with the invisible strings which bind people to the transformative magic of music, and music to the rather nebulous concept of a higher power.
Tom thought it would be great if local musicians of all beliefs (or lack thereof) could be convinced to join this year’s installment (Rev. Hendry’s been holding this low-key affair every Maundy Thursday since he came to Trinity 5 years back), but in truth, this kind of inclusive, outside-the-box happening could appeal to all manner of music lovers, whether they play or not.
Hendry first started hosting such a service about 15 years ago while ministering in Knoxville, when he struggled to find a way to connect college students’ love of pop culture to what he perceived as a need for more spirituality in their lives.
“When I was in college, all these songs on the radio were marketed as pop, but when you actually listened to the words, they were quite plainly spiritual in nature. Without being co-opted by organized religion, which turns some folks off.”
“Like ‘Jesus Is Just Alright With Me.’ In fact, ‘Morning Has Broken,’ which Cat Stevens didn’t write, but made famous, has actually been accepted into our United Methodist hymnal! Many people know Rod Stewart’s version of ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,’ and it appears to be about a wife or girlfriend. Yet, when Van Morrison wrote and sang that song initially, he’s admitted that it was directed at the Lord. You go back to Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. They all came out of the church, and it informed their music.”
Hendry says that while the service’s structure is traditional (it includes a call to worship, invitation, confessional prayer, and the offer of Holy Communion), it’s done solely through the words and music of John Prine, U2, Elvis Costello, Indigo Girls, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle and more.
Hendry says that even though the church seats over 500, only about 30 folks show up each year, although he hopes that with this added publicity, they’ll come close to 100 this time. And even if it stays at around 30, he feels it’s worthwhile.
“I met Steve Earle at a dinner years ago. I showed him our program and explained the idea behind using his song. He was really intrigued by the possibilities and thought it was a cool idea.
“Not everyone thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he chuckles. “But then again, they’re not supposed to. It’s all about spurring the same internal dialogue.”
This service takes place 8 pm Thursday at Trinity UMC on Barnard Square.