Jazz, fun and worship on 'Low Sunday'

Global music leader Amanda Powell leading alternative worship experience at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church

"If it's not fun, it's not worth doing." So say the pastors of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights.

Fun in worship is one of the catalysts behind Forest Hill's alternative worship services. The next service, Swing to the Lord a New Song, at 7:30 p.m. on April 11, at the church (3031 Monticello Blvd.), will be a toe-tapping, joy-filled jazz fest, showcasing sacred works written in jazz or gospel styles.

Pastor John Lentz says that the service is part of the church's commitment to presenting "the dance of worship" in new and lively ways. Many mainline churches are trying unorthodox worship styles in an attempt to appeal to younger people. But Forest Hill, noticing that many younger church-goers appreciate traditional worship elements, decided against scrapping their current style.

"We call our 11:00 Sunday morning service 'formally informal'," says Lentz. "The pastors wear robes and a choir processional starts the service, but it's a rare Sunday when the congregation doesn't burst into laughter or applause, or both."

Still, Forest Hill wanted to offer something different, not only to draw in people who don't normally attend church, but to provide new ways to worship for its regular congregants. Music director and organist Anne Wilson has designed a series of Sunday evening services around different musical experiences, naming them "AWE" for "Alternative Worship Experiences."

Swing to the Lord a New Song falls on the Sunday after Easter, sometimes referred to as Low Sunday. But, Wilson promises, "there will be nothing 'low' about this service."

A jazz combo with well-known professional jazz musicians—trombonist Paul Ferguson and trumpeter Jack Schantz—plus the adult and high-school choirs of Forest Hill Church and the award-winning Cleveland Heights Barbershop Group will be featured. 

"We're not re-inventing worship," says Wilson, "we're expanding it with new ways to praise God and connect people in the community."

Previous AWE services featured calypso music by the University of Akron's steel drum quintet; Dance Afrika Dance, a Cleveland dance and drama group specializing in African arts; and global music specialist Amanda Powell.

All AWE events are free and open to the public and are followed by a reception with refreshments. For more details about the April 11 concert, call 216-321-2660 or visit www.fhcpresb.org.

Peg Weissbrod is a freelance writer and part-time publicity coordinator and webmaster for Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 11:47 AM, 03.17.2010