Churches are often seen as stodgy, sterile and unfriendly places, frequented by parishioners afraid to even ask their neighbors in to share a cup of coffee. During the recent Advent season, I visited a church not fitting that mold. Trinity Presbyterian, a church I’ve commented upon several times previously, featured an unusual concert on December 13 departing from standard Advent musical fare. One out of ten neighbor-friendly concerts Trinity held in 2009, they offered an evening of light jazz enhanced by a club-like setting in their lobby. An amazing variety of desserts and complimentary coffee drinks from Trinity’s espresso bar were available for concert goers. The only catch for Trinity members was you needed to invite a non-churched friend to attend. The large crowd was evidence Trinity loves inviting their neighbors to share their joy. [img_assist|nid=147418|title=Trinity Jazz Concert for Neighbors|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=189]
The music was provided by the Alaska Jazz Workshop and Trinity’s band. There were a few subtle Christian touches in the concert. Pastor Letts read a portion of Jesus’ birth story from Luke to set an Advent emphasis late in the concert. Several awesome Christmas renditions were featured with my favorite being Island Noel. But the standard fare featured selections like Round Midnight, Spain, and Save the Last Dance for Me. Both bands were played with talent and enthusiasm. Standout performances by John Damberg, J.R. Aquino, Anthony Reed, Keith Carnes and so many others made for an enjoyable evening. This was not really a Christmas concert so much as neighbors inviting neighbors for coffee, dessert, music and friendly contact. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with this warm and dedicated group of people. Even in a somewhat secular forum, Trinity still exudes the warmth and hospitality I find uncommon among so many Anchorage churches.
Intrigued by this relaxing and neighbor-friendly concert, I asked Trinity’s Senior Pastor Tom Letts some questions about this amazing concert.
Chris: Tom, I was surprised and pleased at the same time at the predominately secular concert in a sacred venue. What’s up?
Letts: Musicians, Christian or not, speak the same language. We are all passionate about music. And the musicians at Trinity just live naturally as Christians in these ‘secular’ venues. At some point it becomes utterly normal to play a ‘church gig’ together (Christmas and Easter mostly). Our worship services are built for celebrating all that God has done through the week. We sound and speak and act like ‘normal’ people but there is a certain freedom and joy here that can’t be found anywhere but in the worshiping Body of Christ. We celebrate the Creator of all music and all musicians. Musicians of all faiths ‘get’ this.[img_assist|nid=147434|title=Alaska Jazz Workshop & Trinity Band Combined|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=151]
Chris: How did you get hooked up with these musicians?
Letts: It seems to me that maybe the most natural connection between the ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ worlds is in the arts. It just makes sense to build relationships with artists of all kinds. About five years ago we began by building relationships with musicians in the area. We connected with J.R. Aquino when he was a junior at Diamond. We began working with John Damberg and the Alaska Jazz Workshop. We went to some ‘battle of the bands’ contests and got to know some of those guys. I substitute teach for the ASD in music and have met some great music teachers who happen to be great musicians as well. We’ve gotten connected with UAA’s music school and the Anchorage Symphony, the Dave Velasquez Band. We also go to the Taproot’s open mic night and meet musicians there.[img_assist|nid=147433|title=John Damberg and Alaska Jazz Workshop|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=142]
Chris: How did this joint venture get started?
Letts: It did not take long to realize that the south side of Anchorage had few music venues outside of the schools. This was particularly evident at Christmas. So we offered our building, as well as our resources for hosting and publicity, and put on Christmas concerts that served as fundraisers for the groups. The concert you went to was a fundraiser for the Alaska Jazz Workshop. It was the ninth community concert we’ve done. These musical community events are just so natural for us now. We know the musicians and we want to enrich our community…it’s great!
Chris: What’s the connection between this concert and Trinity’s mission?
Letts: It’s simple, all we are trying to do is offer ourselves to our neighbors as Christ first offered himself for us. No strings. No preaching. Just caring for others as He first cared for us. We tend to do this in areas that are natural for us. What is more natural for a church than music? Our musicians love their musician friends. These people really matter to them. Our musicians have developed a natural inclination to creatively serve their friends.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts Pastor Tom, and additional thanks to all the participants for the great Advent evening.[img_assist|nid=147435|title=Brass of Both Groups|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=213]