From The Lost Colony to the latest innovation at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina has laid claim to many great literary and technological achievements. For example, a glance at any North Carolina license plate will tell you North Carolina is the birth place of modern aviation. But make a pilgrimage to 1286 Fillmore Street in San Francisco, and you may be surprised to learn that North Carolina is also the birth place of a modern saint.
The saint in question was born in the town of Hamlet, North Carolina, on September 23, 1926, and died on July 17, 1967. Most know him from his work with the tenor sax. However, for the congregation of Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco, John William Coltrane is much more. He is their connection to oneness with the Divine.
The founders of the church are Archbishop Franzo King and Reverend Mother Marina King. Their moment of inspiration came during the mid-1960s at a live concert by Coltrane in San Francisco. Archbishop King, who was raised in the Pentecostal tradition, refers to their experience as a “sound baptism which touched their hearts and minds.” According to the website, “Seeing John Coltrane and hearing his sound that night was that familiar feeling he knew since childhood. It was the presence of God.” Eventually, this “sound baptism” would lead to the founding of Saint John Coltrane Church.
In addition to its ties with the African Orthodox Church, Saint John Coltrane Church embraces the work and experiences of “post-1957” Coltrane, otherwise known as the “Risen Trane.” Archbishop King explains this further on the Mission page of their website:
The ascension of St. John Coltrane into one-ness with God is what we refer to as the Risen Trane. In dealing with the Saint, John Coltrane, we are not dealing with St. John the man but St. John the sound and St. John the Evangelist and Sound Baptist, who attained union with God through sound. From the standpoint of the biography of John Coltrane, the Risen Trane is the post 1957 John Coltrane. He who emerged from drug addiction onto a path of spiritual awakening and who gave testimony of the power and empowerment of grace of God in his life and in his “Psalm” on A Love Supreme, and in his music thereafter.
It should be noted that “post-1957” Coltrane embraced elements of both Western and Eastern religions. For Archbishop King and the congregation, this means that the experience, philosophy, and spiritual legacy of Saint John Coltrane are universal in their ability to “touch the lives of people of many different faiths, creeds, and religions.” With this universality in mind, King recognizes a role for the Christian faith in utilizing the music of Coltrane. In this regard, he writes “in this time and place, we are grateful for the opportunity to lift up the Name of Jesus Christ through Saint John Coltrane’s music.”
So, is Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church just another tourist attraction or a place to actually encounter the Divine? The answer probably differs for each visitor. But whatever the answer may be, the church is more than just a shrine to a jazz musician from Hamlet. It is also a reminder that music can be a phenomenon that both embraces and transcends the personal experiences of the lives it touches.
For further information on the life and music of John W. Coltrane, we invite you to browse UNC Library catalog for materials held in the North Carolina Collection. For further information on Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, you can visit their website at http://www.coltranechurch.org/index.htm and The New York Times online at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/01/us/01religion.html.