Kirk Whalum, renowned jazz musicians demonstrates the Spirituality of Jazz photo credit: Tonya Osborne

Music moves, it speaks, it drives and it soothes.  As part of the ABC Called to Purpose and Meaning Initiative, members of Cohort I focused on the Spirituality of Jazz in 2019 Summer Institute.  It was a week of daylong workshops, presentations and a full day of music with jazz greats Kirk & Kevin Whalum, and John Stoddart.

“Because jazz is rooted in creativity, freedom, trust, and joy; it is innately spiritual. Jazz hinges on listening and cooperation; it is a proven model for organizational, including church, cohesiveness and effectiveness,” said Dr. Byron Kirk Jones, Lead Faculty with the Called to Lead with Meaning and Purpose Initiative of the ABC Lilly Hub.

Brothers Kirk and Kevin Whalum, stand together as they discuss jazz. photo credit: Tonya Osborne

The Whalum brothers, along with John Stoddart talked, listened and played jazz to demonstrate the power of that genre of music to one’s spiritually. 

Jazz is music that inspires, invites and celebrates.  It improves the experience of musical gifts.  It not only honors what is prepared, it offers the world a reservoir of musical art. Kirk Whalum explained,  “Jazz fuels a spirit that loves community. It has spirituality of Freedom and the spontaneity of freedom to rid one of reckless abandonment.”

According to research, the business community opened up jazz creativity, however it is not the first organization to honor the creative value of jazz.   “The Whalums and John Stoddart were outstanding in their presentations to further validate that point.  Their jazz is a sermon,” said Dr. Phyllis D.K. Hildreth, director of the program at American Baptist College and Vice President for Strategy and Institutional Advancement

Each musical selection had a story with it; how someone was lifted, worked through pain and the soul being stirred.

Kevin Whalum, who sang with a melodious tone and a spiritual attitude serenaded the class with songs that had meaning in every word, as well as the origin of each song.  “This song is about a dear friend who seemingly had everything; a wonderful love from college, great careers, children, then the bottom fell out. Her husband lost his job, then diagnosed with cancer and died. My friend questioned reality, herself and yes, her spiritual being.  And the song I wrote lifted her and me,” he stated.

 The Summer Institute is the closing activity of the first year Cohort made up leaders of eleven congregations, five of which are located within   the 37208 zip code.

These spiritual leaders of congregations are called to minister to some of our most urgent social justice needs and doing so at ground zero.  Reports show that the 37208 zip code has among the highest rates of incarceration in the country. “Therefore, those who are called, have true meaning and purpose as they minister to uplift and guide,” said Hildreth.

During the Summer Institute, meetings too place at various sites throughout the city.  The group met at St. John A. M. E. and Beech Creek Baptist churches, as well as Room In The Inn, The Food Project and the Mill Creek Recreation Park in Antioch.

photo credit: Tonya Osborne

Dr. Hildreth stated “This Summer Institute speaks to the meaning and purpose of giving pastors and their congregations a broad spectrum on relatability within their churches, as well as the community at large.”

The event covers a gamut of activities that provides the opportunity with deep reflection and introspection regarding one’s leadership ability and vision for stretching oneself beyond the traditional habits, activities or comfortability. It allowed participants to delve into the true meaning of purpose and meaning.

“Because of the Endowment for the Lily Grant, ABC was able to offer this outstanding experience for these pastors, so that they may continue to lead their congregations with fervor, excitement, love and spirituality touched by the movement of jazz and a vision that is unimaginable,” said ABC President Forrest Harris.

As the week continued, members bonded more and had deep discussions about leadership, community organizing and ways to engage and enrich their congregations, so that the meaning of purpose could allow for a natural flow of their actions and their words.  All the participants are full time senior pastors at their various churches, from the Nashville area and Chattanooga.

On the closing day, participants were asked to describe the experience in one or two words.  They included, Wow!, Serendipitous, Refreshing, Transformative, Mind-blowing, Openness, Rubato, Refreshing Hope and Beyond Category.

When the group reflects on this week-long event, they have a clear understanding of the purpose they were called for leading with meaning,  and why there is a “Spirituality of Jazz.”

Cohort I will continue to the next level in the coming year and their congregations will become involved in the sessions.  They will further develop meaning and purpose of the work in which congregations will engage during the next phase, as well as the purpose of their calling of meaning and purpose.

Applications are now being accepted for Cohort II.  The deadline has been extended to July 30.  Please contact Joy Brunson at  If you would like information on Kirk Whalum, you may reach him at and Kevin

Members of Called to Meaning of Lives and Purpose, Cohort I, at first meeting held at St. John A. M E. Church, during the Summer Institute.
Left to right
Rev. Herbert Lester, Rev. Dr. Kirk Byron Jones, Rev. William Green, Rev. Davie Tucker, Rev. Dr.Sheila Peters, Rev. Pamela Kellar, Dr.Phyllis Sheppherd, ABC President Dr. Forrest Harris,, Rev.Lisa Hammonds, Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings, Rev. Herbert Mauberry, Joy Bronson, Rev. Dr. Chris Jackson, Rev. Timothy Careathers
photo credit: Tonya Osborne