Church reaches out with gift of music

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church reaches out with gift of music

Oct. 6, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0556}

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

The soulful sounds of jazz kept a steady, rhythmic beat on 26th Avenue South one evening last September in St. Petersburg. The foot-tapping and hand-clapping drowned out the pitter-patter of rain under gray skies. It was the second annual jazz festival for McCabe United Methodist Church.
“Jazz is one tool to communicate the Gospel. Any and everybody are welcome,” said the Rev. Dwayne Craig, the church’s pastor. “It’s a free concert because grace is unmerited. There’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love. It’s a free gift.”

The festival is an outreach tool for the church. Craig calls it a “casting the net” enterprise. Last year, 450 people attended. This year, in spite of the rain, they had 650 visitors.

The event boasted an impressive lineup of accomplished jazz musicians. Eric Darius, Taabu, Rae Dingle, Shawn Brown, B.K. Jackson and more wowed the crowd late into the night. The church partnered with WSJT 94.1 FM radio to provide the festival.
Ava Dula is not a member of McCabe United Methodist Church, but she’s a jazz lover … so she went to the festival. “When I used to hang out at the clubs, Eric Darius would play. Now he’s made it big, and I’m so proud of him,” she said.

Craig says McCabe used jazz to ignite a spark in the South St. Petersburg community. He said he felt this would be a perfect opportunity to link the church with the cultural arts community. “I made the connection between the jazz and spiritual communities. I knew we had to speak to freedom and link it with the Christian narrative,” he said.

“It’s exciting for this congregation to think outside the box,” said Maria Scruggs-Weston, chair of McCabe’s Special Projects ministry. Craig describes it as a new way of thinking about doing ministry. Since jazz has a rich tradition of storytelling, he incorporated that in the festival.

“There are so many life dramas that jazz tries to communicate. John Coltrane grew up as a Methodist. ‘Love Supreme’ was his dedication to God,” he said.

The church is known for finding unique ways to connect with members of the community. This year it sponsored seven street walks in the surrounding neighborhoods. Reggie Grisby is confident the jazz festival will draw new members. “While they’re here for the music, something else may slip in,” he said.

Grisby knows how important a welcoming church can be to the unchurched. “I was going to take my life. Then I met Pastor Craig in a parking lot and got drawn to him,” said Grisby. “He prayed with me on the side of the road for 10 minutes. I’ve been coming every Sunday since. That day, my life got saved.”

Craig knows many in the community love jazz, but he hopes the festival will encourage them to also seek spiritual refuge at the church. He got contact information for everyone who attended and sent them invitations to attend the church, as well as another musical extravaganza. Jazz and gospel vocalist Belinda Womack will perform Oct. 28 with the Gibbs High School Gospel Choir. 

Dula is intrigued by all the cultural activities at McCabe. “I will be here next Sunday,” she said.


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.

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