This spring, my wife and I had the privilege of attending our son's graduation from Harvard Divinity School (I try to squeeze that in whenever I can) and were afforded the opportunity to explore Boston with him as our guide. We were strolling through historic Copley Square and happened upon a beautiful, historic building, Old South Church. Of course, my mind immediately thought "Paul Revere" but it quickly self-corrected itself (Paul Revere's story was the Old North Church).
Actually, my immediate thought was that this was a beautiful, historic landmark that was most surely now a museum. We turned the corner and I was physically stopped in my tracks by an artistic and eye-catching banner hanging from the ornate columns of the church that read: "Jazz Worship, Thursdays 6:00 pm, A Congregation of the United Church of Christ" I was so awe struck by this simple proclamation, that I captured a photo of the banner and posted it on my social media channels.
At this point, you must be thinking that I am slowly losing my mental capacity, but hang in with me and keep reading to hear a wonderful story. There are a couple of reasons that I was instantly thunderstruck by this scene, both have to do with my context or perspective of what I was seeing and how reality seemed to contradict my perception. First, I am not too familiar with the United Church of Christ or the other flavors of this denomination, but as a born and bred Southern boy, anytime I see "Church of Christ" I automatically think of a worship service with no musical instruments and a congregation not too interested in reaching out to the community. So, to advertise Jazz-style worship seemed to imply the use of instruments to create some very cool music.
The second paradox my mind was confronted with was by the architectural history I was experiencing. I assumed that the building had to be 200 years old "if it was a day." I since learned that this is the "new" building that the congregation moved into in 1875, so it is only 141 years old! And, as I stated at the beginning, I wrongly assumed that it was a museum to the centuries of witnessing the settling, rebellion, and maturing of a young nation. But, could they really be a vibrant congregation trying to reach the city of Boston for Jesus? I was extremely intrigued and had to know more about this beautiful, old church.
As luck would have it, a pastor friend in Knoxville, TN my hometown, saw my social post and let me know that he had worked with a current staff member of the Old South Church. (NOTE: if you didn't know, everybody that is anybody has some connection to Knoxville!). I immediately contacted his friend, Kate Nintcheu, who quickly connected me with the Senior Minister and CEO, Nancy Taylor. Nancy became the first female, Senior Minister at Old South 11 years ago and started the Jazz service soon thereafter. My conversation with Nancy opened my eyes to how Old South Church was being the "sanctuary to the city."
We spent very little time talking about the history of the 350 year old congregation, except that the church understands it "stands on giant shoulders, but they use them as a springboard to continue making history." Nancy shared that it is not a wealthy congregation, and it is extremely difficult for them to maintain the historic facilities in downtown Boston. But as a congregation that is trying to reach people with the Gospel, they keep their doors open 7 days a week and they literally interact with people from all over the world every day.
I was initially curious about the Jazz service on Thursday evenings; and I learned it is held in their Gothic-styled, stone chapel, where they worship in the round and share an open Communion table. Nancy explained this is one of her staff's means to "overcome the predominant perceptions of Christianity held by the majority of people they encounter." Ultimately, the main goal for Nancy, her team, and the whole congregation is to "every week, bring people to faith."
I am so glad that I have new friends in Boston that understand their place in history, not only American but Biblical, and are dedicated to following Jesus into relationships with people that are hurting and broken in a way that only Jesus can heal!
"...praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:47 NIV
For more information about Old South Church, visit them online at oldsouth.org, or if you are in Boston, drop by and see them at 645 Boylston Street. Tell them Mark from Knoxville sent you!