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Cathedral's Unique Good Friday Service Merges The Gospel And The Blues

Mary Delach Leonard|St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon

The blues will spill out the open front doors of Christ Church Cathedralin downtown St. Louis on Good Friday evening as local performers join in a service that blends religion with music rooted in city tradition.

The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of the Episcopal cathedral, says blues will be incorporated throughout the program. The service will begin with a dramatic reading of gospel accounts of the passion of Jesus Christ and will conclude with a live concert.

Kinman says Good Friday is all about the blues because it’s a day when Christians recognize deep pain and deep love.

“We want people to experience the depth of the passion through music that really is its equal in depth,’’ he said. “It’s the perfect St. Louis thing to do because we have such a rich tradition of the blues here. This really is St. Louis’ music.’’

This is the second year for Good Friday Blues, a concept Kinman developed with Dave Beardsley who is working to open a National Blues Museum in the city. Performers include Eliza Lynn,Beth Tuttle, Kingdom Brothersand Matt Lesch. Thirteenth Street will be closed between Olive and Locust streets for the event, and organizers have arranged for food trucks to sell refreshments outside the church. The event is free; donations will be collected to benefit the National Blues Museum and Magdalene St. Louis, a two-year residential program that will help women escape prostitution, violence and drug abuse.

“You’ll be able to hear the music from out in the street,'' Kinman said. "We’re hoping it draws people in.’’

Bob Walther of Kingdom Brothers performed at the inaugural event and will return this year.

“We integrate a lot of gospel music in our sets and we’re very vocal about our faith,’’ he said. “It was a very fun service. Very uplifting. Very fulfilling not only to be involved in raising money for a great charitable organization but also to celebrate one of the holiest days on the religious calendar.’’

About 300 people attended Good Friday Blues last year at the cathedral, a national historic landmark that opened in 1867. The structure is regarded for its stained glass windows and 35-foot altarpiece sculpted from imported cream-colored stone. The intricate carvings illustrate religious scenes and figures.

The setting might seem an unlikely site for a blues concert on Good Friday, but Kinman said that’s not the case.

“What we’ve found is it’s not about whether what we’re doing in the space is contemporary or traditional. The space sets a high bar for excellence. Why Good Friday Blues works is because the quality level is good,’’ he said. “It’s not about whether this is a style that you would normally put with Gothic Revival architecture. It’s ‘Does the quality of the experience match the excellence of the space?’ "

Kinman said the service was well-received, though the concept initially raised a few eyebrows.

“We had a couple of people who said, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this. This is sacrilegious,’ ’’ he said. “Frankly, most of that feedback was from people who didn’t come and they were just opposed to the idea of it. And that’s OK. The people who came were really blown away by it.’’

Kinman said one of the goals is to reach people who aren’t interested in attending a traditional church service but are searching to make a spiritual connection.

“There’s so much power in the sharing of our lives that happens through the vehicle of the blues. It connects us with a Christ who was willing to suffer great pain for the love of the world,’’ he said.

Tuttle said she was happy to participate in the event because of her faith -- and because it is a way to support causes she believes in.

“The feeling in the church was solemnity. There was celebration. There was community because blues really brings people together,’’ she said.

Good Friday Blues

When: 7-9 p.m. Friday; doors open at 6 p.m.

Where: Christ Church Cathedral, 210 Locust St.; Thirteenth Street will be closed in front of the cathedral for the event.

What: Live performances of blues music will be incorporated into the service that begins with a dramatic reading of the gospel. Performers include Beth Tuttle, Kingdom Brothers, Matt Lesch and Eliza Lynn.

How much: Free. Donations will be collected to benefit the National Blues Museum and Magdalene St. Louis, a new two-year residential program that will help women escape prostitution, violence and drug abuse.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.