People fill each pew as the Rev. Bill Carter takes his seat at the piano. As the man known for both his sermons and his music begins to play, members of his congregation tap their feet, clap their hands and snap their fingers. It’s time to worship God.
At First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, jazz music empowers. It breaks through isolation, leads to reflection and encourages a spirit of community. For the last 23 years, Carter has organized a yearly jazz communion on the Sunday before Labor Day, bringing his jazz band, his congregation and visitors together.
Now the nationally recognized jazz ministry is expanding to offer four jazz vespers services in the next year as a way to explore the powers of music and healing.
“The arts can touch or even heal some of us,” Carter, 54, said. “There is joy and freedom in what we do. A jazz approach is going to say there is always more here than what is on the page, and maybe we haven’t found it yet.”
Like many churches, First Presbyterian has rich music offerings. But for many in the congregation, the jazz ministry holds particular power.
“I’ve always loved music in church,” said member Judy Cutler, who sings in the choir.
“When [Carter] first started playing jazz, I wasn’t really sure where he was going. But I find the services very uplifting. The music makes me feel closer to God, my faith and the people in my church.”