Update: As of March 2016 after a long and contentious fight the church was given an eviction notice. They have since moved to 2097 Turk Street, San Francisco CA 94115.
In 1966, a journalist asked John Coltrane what he’d like to be in five years. His response proved to be prophetic: “A saint.” Thanks to the Reverend Franzo Wayne King and the African Orthodox Church, Coltrane can rest easy. Founded in 1982, the Church of Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane encourages its followers to know God through weekly “sound baptisms” focusing on their patron saint’s later albums.
Keeping with the Church’s stated mission to, “help followers recognize sound as the preexisting wisdom of God,” Coltrane has been incorporated into the beliefs of African Orthodox Christianity not through worshiping the man himself, but rather through studying, “the divine nature of John Coltrane as he ascended to oneness with God through sound.”
At the church, where a sign outside reads “Coltrane Lives!”, congregants pay witness to the “Risen Trane,” Rev. King’s shorthand for Coltrane and his creations from 1957 onward. Prior to that time, the legendary saxophonist had been severely addicted to heroin. Coltrane managed to kick his drug habits cold turkey, and claimed to hear the voice of God during the depths of his withdrawal. Ultimately, the church has used the musician and his musical work as testimony incarnate of the power and empowerment God bestows on each person.
Being equal parts house of jazz and House of God, the Church of Saint John caters to musicians and all those who understand that noon on a Sunday still counts as morning, and isn’t too late for a spiritual soul quenching testimony. The three-hour-long service every Sunday afternoon is a mixture of Pentecostal revival and jam session with musical stylings ranging from jazz to funk, gospel to reggae.
All are welcome at the Church of Saint John Coltrane. The usual attendees are a melting pot of locals from various creeds and races, blended with tourists and gawkers for a little spice. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own instruments to join in on the playing, and dancing is omnipresent, both by the church’s leaders and congregants.
The centerpiece of each week’s sound baptism is Coltrane’s legendary free-jazz album “A Love Supreme,” which is uniquely recreated featuring the choir reciting Psalm 23 over the track “Acknowledgment.” Meanwhile, the audience participates in call-and-response of the words “a love supreme” at appropriate moments throughout the album.
Also, every Tuesday from noon to 4pm on KPOO (the only black-owned radio station west of the Mississippi River) the Rev. Sister Wanika King hosts a live radio show called “Uplift” during which she “spins the discs” of Coltrane’s renewing sounds. The broadcast is a feast for ears, mind, and soul, punctuated by inspirational commentary and quotes from Saint John himself.
Though such spiritual enlightenment by way of Coltrane may sound appealing, the Rev. King understands not everyone can make a pilgrimage to his house of worship. In these cases, he offers the following bit of advice: “If you ain’t happy, you ain’t listening to enough Coltrane!”