Secular Players and Religious Places

What is the role of a church situated in the midst of cultures of musicianship?

Two news features over the past month caught my attention and seemed to be connectable in a way significant for theology and music. One feature, by John Leland in the New York Times, describes a new evangelical church in the East village in Manhattan. This branch of Trinity Grace Church, housed at 59 Cooper Square, is one of five planted in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the last five years, and part of a notable expansion of evangelical churches in New York City serving English-speaking populations. Leland's article focuses mostly on pastor Guy Wasko and his theology of engaging the city.

Meanwhile, about a 45-minute walk from there, on the Lower East Side, is the setting for a second feature that recently appeared in the Times, by Daniel Wakin, titled "The Last Jam Session at 106 Rivington." In this story, we learn about a basement rehearsal space that has lasted for decades and served as a grungy communal space for musicians accomplished and anonymous, connected and struggling, where the sounds from the rehearsal rooms were a regular inspiration to those who felt comfortable in its musical spelunkitudish funk. I have not been there, but it reads to me like almost a prototype for urban rehearsal spaces: low on hygiene but high in passion's technicolor hopes -- and decibels. (Tangent: I play in a band that rehearses across town from Rivington, in Chelsea, in an impressively kempt space, which speaks to the ways in which rent-by-the-hour rehearsal spaces have stepped up their clean and sanitary appearance in the last few decades as the romance of drug culture has proven wanting and more or less receded, an ethic of health has become more common among rock musicians anyway, musicianship has become democratized, patrons have more disposable income prioritized for music (especially aging patrons who simply never stop playing), and rehearsal spaces, like landlords, find that they can command ever higher hourly rates. Anyway...)

The musicians at 106 Rivington are being displaced now as the building is prepared for other uses, and a loosely federated musical community goes into the diaspora for which it was in a sense always rehearsing.


I am thinking about the relationship between this newly-born church and this dying rehearsal space. Were they ever to talk, some of the views of the pastor (on sexuality, for example, which is discussed briefly in the article) would likely be taken to be too reactionary to many of the musicians, though he would probably be met with easy tolerance, and his own admirably pastoral forbearance, which he is at pains to emphasize in his NYC ministry, would be respected.

I wonder what would happen if a church like this tried to make pragmatic common cause with musicians needing a place to call home.

Many churches (I'm thinking especially of the many Catholic churches in which I grew up and have visited and whose church halls and large multipurpose spaces feel so familiar to me) have (or could make, or could invite to be made) rooms they could rent to musicians for a nominal fee, or perhaps in exchange for musicians playing in services or in concerts at the church. Many churches have need, to put it mildly, of people hanging around, and talented musicians are a unique kind of gift for churches to just have on the premises. In my experience, many musicians are attracted to thoughtful people with whom they can talk about spirituality without needing to be "converted" to anything except their own most honest and critical sense for what is true.

It looks like Trinity Grace Church already meets in another church's space, but I wonder what other churches in the New York area have both spaces they might rent (noise challenges and scheduling issues notwithstanding) and have conversations with local artists of which they are in need. I know of no other way forward theologically, in academic and pastoral life, in a "secularizing" culture like ours, than for people who identify with religious traditions to be deeply related in the lives of people who do not so identify (and vice versa), both risking what they think "is the case" in search of something greater than both have previously known. No doubt such arrangements already exist, and I (and perhaps others) would be interested to hear about them.

How do your own local religious institutions relate to the local arts scenes?

Tom Beaudoin
New York City

Cross-posted, wearing noise-cancelling headphones, to Rock and Theology

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jim McCrea
6 years 12 months ago
This statement lept off the page at me:  "- Mr. Carnes added, the city has become “like a Silicon Valley of church-planting.”
“You can come here, try new ideas, fail and start again,” he said. “It’s a hot area where failure isn’t a disgrace.”

Hey, bishops:  pay attention!  This is where your 20-somethings are going after they leave school, quickly get disillusioned with the average religion-mill parish, and walk away.  I'd love to see the "former religion" demographics of these young folk.

I haven't seen that many younger people, outside of a Newman Center of Catholic university campus, in a Catholic church for yearsssssssssssssss.
ed gleason
6 years 12 months ago
Sorry but lines got deleated.
St Boniface, inner city Franciscans, knows about presence,  uses it stage /auditorium for original plays and I'm going to suggest music too


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