Old South Church in Boston


One of Boston's most venerable churches, Old South has hosted a weekly Jazz Worship service since the fall of 2005, with music led by alto saxophonist Willie Sordillo since the inception.

You walk in from Boylston Street at the end of a long Thursday. The first thing you notice is an odd and wonderful juxtaposition: everything about the building you are in says “old,” “staid,” “well-behaved,” “frilly,” and yet the unmistakable wail of a saxophone, the thrum of an upright bass, speak of something wilder, more uncontained and mysterious. As you follow the sounds, you meet a smiling usher who hands you a worship bulletin and guides you into the Chapel.

Several things strike you at once. The chapel emulates a Gothic cathedral, with soaring arches, stone walls, stained glass, and a chancel and table at one end, but the space has been subverted. The rectangular, formal hierarchical space is set up in the round, and you walk in on a level with the band and the worship leaders—all of whom, incidentally, are dressed pretty much as you are. The space is dim, lit almost as much by the many candles as by the ornate chandeliers overhead.

You sit down and worship begins. The service is structured and yet informal. As the group progresses through ancient rhythms of prayer, preaching, and song, people move about the room at will, getting up when moved to light a candle. The service is participatory: you are invited to call your prayers out during prayer time, to talk back during the sermon, to tell the story of communion together. The old stories are made new through intimate, eclectic, full-body worship. The music is a combination of jazzed-up church music and straight jazz reinterpreted by its churchy context. After the service, the worshipers gather for hearty food, mission projects, Bible studies, or, for visitors, a tour of the church. You head out relaxed, challenged, Spirit-filled, ready.

Boylston Street 645
United States