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What Jools Holland Can Teach the Church?

Posted on: 24/05/2011
Jools Holland at Somerleyton Hall, Suffolk

photo: Tim Parkinson

I enjoy Jools Holland for his ability with Blues piano, and to a lesser extent his Big Band showiness. What I like even more is his signature TV show, Later… with Jools Holland, where each week he assembles an impressive breadth of different artists, drawing in some big names, veteran performers and showcasing some new talent, and manages to craft a sense of common purpose out of what often seems an odd assortment.

The relevance of this is that Music is often tribal, with most of us fixing on a relatively narrow range of genres, with which we find ourselves comfortable. With the Later show, there is an anarchic sense of juxtaposition, out of which comes an odd sense of coherence.

And here is the parallel with the church. In all honesty, we in the church also tend to gravitate to a style of worship and a group of people with whom we are comfortable. Given what St Paul wrote about the essential variety within the church this is not ideal, though at a social level this is of course natural enough. The danger is that we so easily become ‘mono-cultural’. Which makes those churches which are able to bring together diversity in community all the more impressive.

In the late 1980s I lived and worked in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. I was there to build (bricks and mortar) St Thomas’ Church. Buildings aside, as an expression of the body of Christ St Thomas’ was hugely impressive in holding together the full breadth of that society, from the illiterate street sweepers, through the educated Pakistanis – who might be cooks or drivers or engineers or military officers – to the foreign mission partners, aid workers and diplomats. The church had services in 3 languages – Panjabi, Urdu and English – each meeting at different times; but it had one PCC and events (including a church weekend away) were orgainsed that combined all three congregations. Clearly this was not all straightforward, but no other institution in Pakistani life could get close to holding together that social breadth.

St Thomas' Church, Islamabad

St Thomas’ Church, IslamabadPhoto: Peter Parish

So what sort of a building could serve such a diverse range of people? In shape the main worship space is cruciform; but the form is certainly not English neo-Gothic, which was the first thought of many in the church, on the basis that most of the churches there were built by the British. The church is of its place – using skills and a design language that draws on Moghul architecture of patterned brickwork – but also challenges its place.

I think Jools has much to teach us – in his ability to take a diverse range of performers and articulate a compelling narrative, in his case in live performance, even getting chalk and cheese to play together.