Jazz Vespers

In the mid-60s, John Garcia Gensel, a pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, began a remarkable ministry to the jazz community of New York City. He met with musicians in clubs where they worked and he counselled them, married them, baptized their children, and buried them.

genzelOut of that ministry grew jazz vespers. Sunday morning services made little sense for a “congregation” that had gone to bed at about the time most parishioners of St. Peter’s were rising. Gensel decided on the merciful hour of 5 p.m. The musicians involved in or touched by his ministry read like a who’s-who of jazz: Max Roach, John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Herbie Mann, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington.

Gensel’s first thought was to hold services of worship in nightclubs but was dissuaded from doing so by Ellington’s sister, Ruth, who said that if the surroundings were beautiful, the musicians would come. And they did. There were, however, some who worried that jazz might attract, as it was put at the time, “a wayward, nightclubbing crowd to St. Peter’s.” Gensel replied: “That’s the kind we want. The good ones can stay home.”

St. Jude’s Anglican Church in Oakville continues this wonderful tradition at 4 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month. You will find us at the corner of William and Thomas Streets in Oakville.


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