Discover the Church of St. John Coltrane, Founded on the Divine Music of A Love Supreme

For some time now, peo­ple like poet Robert Graves and coun­ter­cul­tur­al guru Tim­o­thy Leary have assumed that ancient reli­gion and mys­ti­cism were the prod­ucts of mind-alter­ing drugs. But in the case of one mod­ern reli­gious experience—the inspi­ra­tion behind John Coltrane’s holy four-part suite, A Love Supreme—it was the dis­tinct absence of drugs that lit the flame. Like many recov­er­ing addicts, Coltrane found God in 1957, after hav­ing what he called in the album’s lin­er notes “a spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing.” Sev­en years lat­er, he ded­i­cat­ed his mas­ter­piece, “a hum­ble, offer­ing,” to the deity he cred­it­ed with “a rich­er, fuller, more pro­duc­tive life.” No rote hym­nal, chant, or psalter, A Love Supreme offers itself up to the lis­ten­er as the prod­uct of intense­ly per­son­al devo­tion. And like the ecsta­t­ic rev­e­la­tions of many a saint, Coltrane’s work has inspired its own devo­tion­al cult—The Church of St. Coltrane.

Presided over by Bish­op Fran­zo King and his wife Rev­erend Moth­er Mari­na King, the Saint John Coltrane African Ortho­dox Church in San Fran­cis­co reminds peo­ple, says Bish­op King in the short doc­u­men­tary at the top of the post, “that God is nev­er with­out a wit­ness. St. John Coltrane is that wit­ness for this time and this age.” Dig. The vibe of the Coltrane con­gre­ga­tion is “a rap­tur­ous out-of-your-head-ness” writes Aeon mag­a­zine in their intro­duc­tion to anoth­er short film about the church. And just above, you can meet more of the worshippers—of the music, its cre­ator, and his god—in “The Sax­o­phone Saint,” yet anoth­er pro­file of St. Coltrane’s prodi­gious reli­gious influ­ence. The con­gre­ga­tion, NPR tells us, “mix­es African Ortho­dox litur­gy with Coltrane’s quotes” and of course music, and A Love Supreme is “the cor­ner­stone of the [Bish­op King’s] 200-mem­ber church.”

King cites the titles of the suite’s four movements—“Acknowledgement,” “Res­o­lu­tion,” “Pur­suance,” and “Psalm”—as the basis for his form of wor­ship: “It’s like say­ing, ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ It’s like say­ing Melody, har­mo­ny and rhythm.’ In oth­er words, you have to acknowl­edge and then you resolve and then you pur­sue, and the man­i­fes­ta­tion of it is a love supreme.” The Kings found­ed the church in 1969, but their intro­duc­tion to the pow­er of Coltrane came four years ear­li­er when they saw him per­form at the San Fran­cis­co Jazz Work­shop, an expe­ri­ence they describe on their web­site as a “sound bap­tism.” Since its incep­tion, they tell us, the church “has grown beyond the con­fines of San Fran­cis­co to include the whole globe. Every Sun­day, the con­gre­ga­tion includes mem­bers and vis­i­tors from through­out the world.”

That diverse assem­bly recent­ly filled the sanc­tu­ary of San Francisco’s Grace Cathe­dral for a ser­vice in cel­e­bra­tion of the 50th anniver­sary of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme on Mon­day, Decem­ber 8th. Just above you can see Bish­op King open the ser­vice. His inspired deliv­ery should con­vince you, as it did New York Times reporter Samuel Freed­man, that “the Coltrane church is not a gim­mick or a forced alloy of night­club music and ethe­re­al faith. Its mes­sage of deliv­er­ance through divine sound is actu­al­ly quite con­sis­tent with Coltrane’s own expe­ri­ence and mes­sage.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Coltrane Per­forms A Love Supreme and Oth­er Clas­sics in Antibes (July 1965)

John Coltrane’s Hand­writ­ten Out­line for His Mas­ter­piece A Love Supreme

Watch John Coltrane Turn His Hand­writ­ten Poem Into a Sub­lime Musi­cal Pas­sage on A Love Supreme

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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