As the dawn breaks over Midtown on Easter morning, Dwight Andrews will lead a celebration service that reflects his two passions: music and urban ministry. The saxophone-playing pastor will greet the sun with a jazzy serenade, played atop a parking deck.
Andrews, senior minister of the First Congregational Church on Courtland Street, along with early-rising church members, will be on the parking garage at North Avenue Presbyterian when the two congregations celebrate Easter together with music not often heard in that location at that hour.
“I think it will be neat!” said Andrews. “We’ve both done sunrise services before, but we’ve never had an urban or jazz service like this. It’s new for both of us.”
But it won’t be the first time Andrews has incorporated his favorite style of music into a service. As an Emory professor of music theory with a speciality in early 20th Century music and jazz, Andrews often finds his day job overlapping with his ministry, and it’s not unusual for his 500-member church to hear jazz on Sunday mornings.
“Jazz is a part of my personality and background,” said Andrews, who received a master’s in music from the University of Michigan before earning both a Ph.D. in music theory and a master of divinity from Yale in the early 1990s. “As a seminary student, I often went to the Cathedral of John the Divine in New York because it had a jazz ministry. When I was struggling with where my music fit into my seminary studies, the minister there encouraged me to bring it right into the church.”
Andrews grew up in Detroit, where he dreamed of being a band director or musician. As a teen, his encounter with an inspiring minister got him thinking about the clergy.
“My mentor had a grassroots ministry that centered on urban renewal, and I was drawn to a dynamic minister who was trying to make the world change,” recalled Andrews. “But after graduating from seminary, Emory lured me here to continue my creative work. I expected once I established my academic career, I’d go to a church, but I wasn’t actively looking.”
Andrews was drawn to First Congregational for its ties to the denomination he grew up in and its history, which dates back to 1867. “Many Congregational churches were started as freedman schools for slaves and were some of the first communities of educated blacks,” he said. “A focus on arts, music and education has long been a part of the culture of the church.”
The Easter jazz service will bring some of that culture to Andrews’ neighbors at North Avenue Presbyterian.
“The idea came from [North Avenue minister] Scott Weimer, who thought it would be a great way to strengthen the relationship between our two congregations,” said Andrews “So we’re combining our musicians and singing talents and will do some jazz works that fit the spirit of the sunrise service and celebration. And that’s a great way to begin.”
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