I’ve searched high and low for the “bulletin” or programme for that Jazz Vespers at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Maybe I should have looked somewhere in between.) I would love to recover the order of the service, the list of musical selections accompanied by the Paul Kirby Trio, and the name of the minister who dreamed up the service. I suspect that I will one day open a folder or move a stack of papers and there it will be. Until then, I have only these memories of the occasion.

First, there was indeed an order of worship. It was, after all, a service of music, scripture, prayers, and sermon. And an offering, of course. Some may have come only to hear the trio, or the vocalist Christel Meijer. They saw the notice in some secular listing of local jazz events. But St. Giles was making this service a part of its regular Sunday night schedule of “Evening Services.”  So many of us were there to hear the Word read and preached, but also to experience worship with a jazz motif.

We gathered there in “The High Kirk of Edinburgh” and occupied only a modest corner of the huge sanctuary. The massive communion table, still covered with a tie-dyed altar cloth (!) as it had been for the main morning service, stood as an elaborate backdrop for the less formal vespers. There were maybe sixty of us there, from a few young adults to many graying seniors. Paul Kirby at the piano, a drummer, bassist, vocalist Christel Meijer, and an added guest on sax, John Burgess (yes, on the “masthead” above). [Thanks to Christel Meijer for the quick response to my query about John’s name. The Internet is truly amazing, and often helpful! Now I’m looking for that pastor’s name.]

Without a written record of the flow of the service, I have to depend on fading memory. While a local jazz vesper service in my neighborhood is little more than a short jazz concert with religious “commercials” tossed in now and then, St. Giles took a more traditional approach thankfully. There was liturgical integrity to the service, though finding a theme might have been problematic. We prayed, we listened to scriptures read from the lectern, and the minister, standing in the historic St. Giles pulpit, offered a solid homily on the place of jazz in worship. The trio played both familiar and original jazz compositions, and Christel added her stunning voice to at least two songs. (You can check out her music on her FaceBook page.)

Two particular songs stood out, probably because I had videotaped portions of them. John Burgess tackled the John Coltrane meditation “A Love Supreme” with courageous passion. It’s a challenging piece to be sure, but Burgess rocked the Cathedral with its prayerful power. And the service ended with Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Love,” with the minister himself sounding a lot like Stevie, as the whole band improvised a kind of musical benediction.

We in the congregation did sing at one point, but the hymn didn’t go all that well. It was called “When in Our Music God Is Glorified,” and its text goes back only 35 years or so. I suspect that the minister had used it because of its words by Fred Pratt Green. But few folks that night knew the tune or text, so the congregational singing fell flat. At the end of the service, an older man who was exuberant about  jazz echoing through the heights of the Cathedral asked the young minister why he had chosen an unknown hymn. The minister knew the hymn well from home (the U. S.), and assumed it was sung in Scotland too. Nope.

One odd bit: for all the joyful improvisation we experienced in the service — for all the joy and passion of the music — when it came time for the offering, the formally-dressed ushers marched forward in dignified lock-step as they had at the main morning service. Just struck me a little odd, that’s all.

As we left the sanctuary to go back out into the madness of the Fringe Festival’s cacophony of acrobats, roving bagpipers, and pamphleteers, I told the pastor how much I had appreciated the service and his meditation, and I asked how often St. Giles offered a jazz service. “Oh, this is our first one,” he replied.

I hope it wasn’t the last.

[Addendum: I have received word from the secretary to the minister at St. Giles that the pastor who inspired and led the Jazz Vespers service at St. Giles that evening is named William Young. If he contacts me, I’m sure I will have more to add to this account.]