Where would Jesus Jam? Church Hosts Rock Concerts

By Jeremy Reynalds- ANS


According to a story by CNN writer John Sutter, other than that, pretty much anything goes.

“No one’s bitten the head off a bat so far,” said co-pastor Joseph Moore - testament to the fact that the minimal rules have worked out fine so far.

CNN said this is the sixth year the Central Presbyterian Church has been an official concert venue for the wild music festival in Austin, Texas, and it’s become one of the trendiest places to watch live music.

The reasons are kind of obvious when you think about it, CNN’s Sutter commented. After a week of wandering streets awash with trash water and drunks, the church lets concert goes sit down and actually listen to music for music’s sake. Few talk through performances in the sanctuary, and the vaulted ceilings and limestone walls create an amazingly clear, full sound.

It’s “one of the most pleasant places you'll ever see a show,” CNN reported Paste Magazine wrote.

Sutter commented, “Plus there’s this whole heaven-hell dichotomy thing going on. Rock and roll has the reputation for being the devil’s music. Church is Jesus’ hangout, obviously, and that’s impossible to forget at Central Presbyterian, which has a car-sized cross on the wall behind the stage. This gives shows at the church a music-video kind of effect...”

Moore, the church’s hip 33-year-old preacher, who Sutter said was wearing a Superman T-shirt and Nike sneakers when they met, sees much in common between church and music, no matter the genre.

“Music at its best … points us to something beyond ourselves,” CNN reported he said. “At it’s best, churches and religion in general point us to higher things.”

CNN said he never talks to musicians about their being in a church (and conducting themselves accordingly) before they go on stage. The church doesn’t pick the acts that play on its stage, and it doesn’t censor songs. Moore said he just wants new people to come into the church and enjoy themselves. Some musicians use words from the stage that he wouldn’t speak from the pulpit, he said, but it’s a different context and he’s generally fine with it.

“We're not this stereotypical, come-to-Jesus-or-you're-going-to-hell kind of church,” CNN reported he said.

His only real concern with the rock-the-holy-house ordeal, Sutter said, is the stained glass.

CNN said Moore is genuinely concerned that the music could get so loud that the sanctuary's stained glass windows would burst.

To prevent that, Central Presbyterian limits the number of amps a musician can hook up to six; and during especially loud shows Moore and other festival volunteers – the “church ladies,” as one church employee called them – walk up and down the aisles, putting their palms on the ornate windows to check for vibrations from the music.

On one night, Moore said, church staff told singer James Blake to turn down the bass because it was making the window panes rumble.

“If we have a hard and fast rule, it’s you can’t shake the stained glass,” he said.

One poster on the CNN website where Sutter’s story appeared wrote, “To all the naysayers, whether you agree with it or not, seeing music at the Central Presbyterian Church is a spiritual experience for believers and nonbelievers alike. The giant vaulted ceilings, the ten-foot cross, the tremendous gem-colored stained glass windows and the acoustics all contribute to a profound sense of beauty and spirituality. They don't book loud or obnoxious music– it's usually vocalists, ambient folk, alt-country, or electronic, and the music often has somber undertones.”

The writer continued, “I am not religious, but every time I see music at this church it is so beautiful that I feel a light inside of me. I may not find Jesus, but I do find meaning. Thank you Central Presbyterian Church and all the friendly badge-checking ladies for opening your doors to the public.

Published March, 2011

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