As a jazz saxophonist, Peter Woods knows that live music performances are spiritually moving events for both the performer and the audience. As an ordained minister, he has always wanted to connect his performances more overtly to faith communities and spiritual growth.

That is now happening, thanks to funding from Embracing the Spirit, a Mission & Service–funded learning network and innovation fund. The program fosters new forms of ministry—including drum circles, outdoor labyrinths, arts festivals, and community cooking classes—along with supporting existing faith communities through connection and collaboration.

When Embracing the Spirit was launched at the Skylight Festival in 2016, Woods and his Evensong Ensemble were there to perform.

They were later granted an innovation grant, allowing the group to develop professionally, combining the power found in the contemporary jazz-pop concert experience with the progressive theology of the United Church.

“Support from Embracing the Spirit is making that possible,” Woods says. “People have never stopped seeking spiritual nourishment in a musical setting. The music is a vessel and is one part of a message about love and acceptance in the world.”

He notes that Evensong also hopes to connect with other musicians as the United Church seeks to be a credible presence in the Spiritual but Not Religious world. “We want to be part of the conversation” he says, “and funding from Embracing the Spirit is making that possible.”

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