This is a short story about what it means to have faith. It all began with a grand piano and the seed of a vision of a small Presbyterian congregation in North Burnaby.
A little more than 5 years ago, that congregation convinced Brian Fraser, Reverend and founder of Jazzthink to join their church in the role of Pastor. It wasn’t easy. Fraser was consulting, coaching, and speaking at the time. In fact, he had consulted with the congregation in the fall of 2009. They asked four times before he said yes and since then their persistence had paid off.
Owing to his ties with his organization Jazzthink, and connection to Cory Weeds (owner of Vancouver’s Jazz Cellar), Fraser heard repeatedly from musicians that the space had great acoustics and would make a wonderful music venue. Thus began a monthly jazz vespers series on Sundays similar to that of St. Andrew’s Wesley’s jazz vespers. Eventually the vespers series moved to Wednesday evenings and started to run weekly.
Last year I was introduced to Fraser via a mutual friend and I’ve had the privilege of performing at the Sanctuary three times. Once with guitarist Jon Roper for a vespers – which is a worship service with short reflections interspersed with jazz songs and very geared towards the musicians – they get to play whatever they like. I’ve also performed for a Sunday Easter service with pianist, Dan Reynolds (who is also Brentwood’s music director) and, amazingly, with my 11 piece R&B band (Top City). Talk about being inclusive of all styles!
Brian tells me that throughout these past 5 years the congregation has grown to represent over 14 nationalities. He’s obviously proud of the multicultural nature of his flock and is excited about the current growth in the Brentwood area. With so many new people moving into the area in the next while, he is looks forward to establishing the Sanctuary at Brentwood as a Centre for the Arts.
Built over 50 years ago, the Sanctuary is discovering a newfound usefulness in the community enabling amazing things to happen. And indeed they’ve been happening. For example, Jazz legend Harold Mabern was featured recently with saxophonist Cory Weeds.
Artist Laura Zerebeski has created a stunning rendition of the space at the Sanctuary.
Brentwood’s congregation not only funded the grand piano mentioned earlier, but also an extension to the stage, new paint throughout and even new comfortable theatre style chairs which allow for a flexible seating arrangement – concert or cabaret. None of the old hard wooden church pews!
A new state of the art sound system has been designed by one of the musicians frequently utilizing the space – bassist and singer Adam Thomas. A benefit concert was held featuring two prominent Vancouver jazz singers – Jen Scott and Jillian LeBeck. It was a great concert.
Going forward there are big plans to install a curtain pipe and drape system, new lighting and even remodel the kitchen and parking lot!
Now maybe when I say small congregation you think – 150 or 200 people. Nope. Not even close. It started with just 15 determined people. And their Reverend of course. Now there are about 30 in regular attendance on Sunday morning and 20 at Jazz Vespers.
When I asked him about the church’s interest in music, Reverend Fraser explained that Presbyterians are well known for the inclusiveness of music in their ministry. “We believe in creating a ‘space of grace’ – a place where people can be nourished via art and music to flourish”.
As for the space itself, adjectives such as warm, cozy, bright, alive – not ‘churchy’! are often used to describe it. I can attest to that. If you want to check out the musical happenings there visit http://brentwoodpc.ca/jazz-evensong. They also have two wonderful Gospel workshops happening, along with a continuation of the jazz vespers through the summer and a new classical music concert series.
I’ll be there August 5th with guitarist Jon Roper and stellar trumpeter Gabriel Mark Hasselbach. For more info visit my upcoming shows page here.