GULF COVE — When the Rev. Wes Runk, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, bought the reproduction rights to multiple jazz liturgies, he wanted to share an unconventional form of worship through jazz music.
Runk purchased rights to about 400 hymns and liturgies for $400 from his own pocket as a gift, he said, to the church. He acquired the rights, he said, from various sources, including Bill Carter and The Presbybop Quartet, and churches in Illinois and Iowa.
Carter is a friend of Runk’s and a former author for Runk’s publishing company, CSS Publishing.
“I’ve been in the publishing business for a long time,” said Runk, who founded CSS in 1970.
CSS Publishing specializes in Christian works, resources and sermon materials. Runk held his first jazz Mass March 10 at Hope Lutheran in Gulf Cove. It was a resounding success — 120 people showed up. Some had to stand. Since then, Runk has been holding jazz Masses at 6:45 p.m. every Sunday, and he plans to continue to do so.
When he acquired the rights to the jazz liturgies, the purpose, he said, was to expose people to jazz who are looking for new, unconventional, alternative experiences to their normal worship service.
A quartet from the Port Charlotte-based big band group Ingroov and nine vocalists perform at the jazz Masses.
“It was very uplifting,” said Larry Brady, who has been attending the church for 12 years and now attends the jazz Mass. “The tempo was so upbeat.”
Runk said he hasn’t put much thought into any business potential the liturgies might present — it’s just a way to get people interested in the church.
“I haven’t really thought about expanding beyond the church,” Runk said. “I’m concentrating on advertising for services, inviting guest speakers and other pastors to preach and worship.”
Runk said the jazz Masses are appealing to mainline churchgoers, and even are attracting some nonbelievers.
“Lots of churches are doing it up North,” he said. “So I figure to bring the liturgies here. If we record them, I may have to find someone to direct the program.”
Scarritt-Bennett Center is a nonprofit spiritual education, retreat and conference center in Nashville, Tenn. The center offers a service called “Vespers and all That Jazz,” which includes musical jazz numbers following scripture, prayer, readings and poetry.
“The popularity varies based on what liturgical season we’re on,” said Joyce Sohl, laywoman in residence at the center. “A lot of people who come see it as alternative to their conventional service.”
Sohl moved to Tennessee from White Plains, N.Y., where she first saw how jazz music was being performed in services.
“We spent six months planning (to introduce the current jazz format),” Sohl said. “We do not follow a prescribed liturgy, as most United Methodists don’t.”
Hope Lutheran is located at 14200 Hopewell Ave. For more information, call 941-697-2345.