Just like its motto says, New Covenant United Methodist Church is “Doing Church Differently.”
In September, the downtown Savannah church’s Joyful Noise Jazz Café will turn one year old. On the first and third Thursdays of each month, this unique ministry transcends typical race and age barriers by showcasing local jazz musicians and poets.
During his initial visit to the church, New Covenant UMC pastor Dr. Andrew Young saw possibilities for the church’s lower level. It was being used as a storage area, but he recognized the ministry potential in the 1900-era stone walls and realized immediately that the “very cool, eclectic space” could be used for much more than just storage.
Located in Savannah’s downtown area and nestled among numerous Savannah College of Art and Design buildings, thousands of students pass by the church each day. The basement space of New Covenant was the perfect venue to reach out to them, thought Dr. Young.
Volunteers cleaned out the space, which was piled floor to ceiling with unused items. Five truckloads of goods were donated to neighborhood thrift stores and homeless shelters. The walls were painted, furniture from other areas of the church was refurbished and moved to the basement, and in September 2009 New Covenant’s Joyful Noise Jazz Café opened.
“Our goal is to reach across racial lines,” Dr. Young said. “Jazz and poetry reach across racial barriers. We want to reach college-age students and give them an end-of-the-week activity where there’s no drinking – no alcohol – but it’s still a club-like atmosphere.”
SCAD students don’t have classes on Fridays, so the decision was made to host live entertainment on Thursday nights. Admission is only five dollars, and attendees can pay an additional three dollars to eat unlimited appetizers.
“We’ve had a great response,” said Virlinda Holmes, Joyful Noise’s ministry leader. “Whenever someone comes in they can’t believe it’s a church within a church. It’s so outside the box.”
Holmes, a 24 -year-old Savannah native, first got involved with Joyful Noise when she moved back to town after graduating from Columbus State University. She was looking for a church home when she heard Dr. Young make an announcement about a new jazz and poetry café the church was planning to start.
“Poetry has always been a passion of mine,” she said. “I thought it was a great opportunity for me to continue to practice something that I enjoy doing – writing poetry and presenting poetry – but it also gave me the opportunity to serve within a church and combine the two worlds.”
According to Holmes, the goal of Joyful Noise Jazz Café is to be a positive environment where people can enjoy live entertainment, relax, and express themselves.
Joyful Noise is a live entertainment venue, but it’s an outreach, first and foremost.
“We want to reach people who are unchurched,” Holmes said. “We definitely want to grow the ones in the church and make sure they’re growing and continuing on their path, but he (Dr. Young) has a strong passion for those who have not been in church and don’t know anything about church, about the Bible or even Jesus.”
Traditional jazz music with local jazz musicians is the typical fare, but the message of the Gospel is never far away. One regular poet always performs an evangelistic-type poem.
“This is a subtle way to offer Christ,” Dr. Young said. “It’s an attempt to use music and reach communities and create a place where they can meet and gather in the church around the shared commonalities of music and poetry. While they’re there, we always interject Christ.”
One Thursday evening a young woman who recently moved from the Washington, D.C. area made her way to the Joyful Noise Jazz Café. The ministry reminded her of the jazz café her former church had hosted, and she is now a member of New Covenant UMC and sings in the church’s praise band.
“This isn’t a church talent show,” said Holmes, who credits the success of the ministry to her dedicated team of volunteers. “We announce that we have a service on Sunday and have materials available, but it’s subtle, not overt. I believe that’s how God does a lot of things. He’s not really forceful, but He gives a lot of hints and clues about just how He wants you to act and the meanings for your life.”
Find out more about New Covenant UMC at www.newcovenantsavannah.com. Click here to view additional photos.
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
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