Jazz in the Liturgy & More: Canterbury House at University of Michigan

Recently I reviewed Better Get It In Your Soul: What Liturgists Can Learn from Jazz, a new resource on creativity in worship written by Reid Hamilton and Stephen Rush, chaplain and music faculty advisor at Canterbury House at University of Michigan.  I was delighted with the book, wanted to learn more, and consequently contacted the authors, who were every bit as gracious and welcoming as their book had led me to expect.  The following is from my phone interview with Fr Reid, as well as information gleaned from the Canterbury House website, which is a great introduction to their people and programs.  The CH mission statement summarizes pretty well what they are all about:

  • A progressive alternative for Christians and other spiritual seekers
  • Devoted to the spiritual growth of the students, faculty and staff at the UofM
  • Committed to integrating the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and socially responsible dimensions of student life and culture
  • Dedicated to finding God without twisting arms or sacrificing reason
  • Combining new artistic expressions with ancient wisdom and tradition
  • Friendly to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people
  • A student organization and a ministry of the Episcopal Church

There are plenty of opportunities to get involved with social justice at CH.  Service projects include:  Casa Materna, a home and educational resource for expectant mothers in Matagalpa, Nicaragua;  Episcopal Relief & Development disaster relief work; and Brewing Hope, a fair trade coffee partnership.  A fundraiser is currently underway to help rebuild Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.  Mass services frequently honor specific saints of the church, commemorating social activists and raising awareness within the U of M community.

It is in the area of music, as you might expect, that CH is really unique.  They are fortunate enough to have a full time chaplain—few Episcopal campus programs do—and are therefore able to provide both a jazz mass on Sunday night and either an Evensong or Taize service on Wednesday. The Chapel is heavily utilized by music students for senior recitals, as well as providing a quiet spot for piano practice. Typically six concerts are scheduled each semester: these are ticketed events whose proceeds are used to pay the musicians.  Fr Reid said that some students who come to concerts later come back for church services; others may come only for the concerts.  The music itself is a ministry and that is reason enough to do it.

What impressed me in my conversation with Fr Reid was the wisdom of finding that “one thing.” (Remember Jack Palance’s advice to Billy Crystal in City Slickers?)  Among all the various activities expected of a college church, perhaps what we need to do is to find that one ministry which, as Hamilton and Rush have said of music, “resonates” with your campus community.  Decide who you will be and what makes you unique.

Of course, the next step in establishing your identity is getting the word out to others.  Fr Reid said that it had been very helpful at CH to invest in creating a distinct and easily recognizeable logo.  That image has been used consistently for everything associated with CH: letterhead, brochures, posters, tee-shirts, and even–and I love this one–temporary tattoos!  (How about that for “branding”?)

The door is open at Canterbury House at U of M:

If you are exploring your faith, creating your ethic, looking for a safe place to ask hard questions, need a welcoming and open community, like new and interesting art and music, or are wondering how you can make a difference in the world, then Canterbury House is ready for you.  The atmosphere is relaxed, the worship is informal and accessible, and the teapot is on the stove….Come and be involved, be challenged, be fed, be comforted, or just be! We are happy to see you.”

More to come!  Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: