by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
The Saint John Coltrane Church is a historical fixture in the San Francisco Black community and a direct descendant of the work of the late great Marcus Mosiah Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association. One reason the Coltrane Church is important is that it defines for itself who are the saints that are worthy of our praise, instead of basing its doctrine on the philosophy and understanding of god that came out of the Council of Nicea.
I believe there is a real connection between spirituality and music, especially for African people. And I know that I have profited greatly from the musical prophets of our times, like St. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Tupac Shakur, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone, the Last Poets, Sade, Marvin Gaye, Fela Kuti, Earth Wind and Fire, and more.
I salute the Coltrane Church for liberating Black people spiritually. It is unfortunate that the landlord, who owns the building that houses the church, wants this cultural gem out and wants to do something else with the property. The real question remains, how will we, the community, respond to this attack on the community? Time will tell. Check out Rev. Deacon Marlee-I Mystic as she talks about the church she was raised in.
M.O.I. JR: Can you give a brief history of how the John Coltrane Church started and your family’s relationship to it?
Marlee-I Mystic: The history of the St. John Will I Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church is the story of two roads becoming one. The first road begins in 1921 with Archbishop George Alexander McGuire, the chaplin general for the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) founded by the Honorable Marcus Garvey.
McGuire served as an Episcopal priest for many years, but the church had drawn a circle to exclude people of color from the bishopric. God granted Archbishop McGuire the vision to create a larger circle that would include all people. This was the beginning of the African Orthodox Church (AOC).
The other road is the one of my father, Archbishop Franzo W. King, D.D., who witnessed John Coltrane live in San Francisco in 1965. He and Supreme Mother Marina experienced a sound baptism of the effectual transference of the Holy Ghost through sound.
This experience was the catalyst for a transformation of thoughts, words, deeds and aspiration. With much repeated listening and study, a community of listeners and believers was formed.
This body took various forms over the years, but the teachings of Archbishop King continuously proclaim that John Coltrane’s music is “the anointed sound that leapt from the throne of heaven, out of the very mind of God, and incarnated in one Saint John Coltrane.”
These two roads came together in 1982 when His Eminence Archbishop Hinkson from the African Orthodox Church sent his emissary, Bishop Ajari, to San Francisco to invite the congregation to join the AOC. At this time Archbishop King would study in Chicago under Archbishop Hinkson and be consecrated as a bishop.
With this union between the congregation and the AOC, John Coltrane was granted sainthood, and we became the Saint John Will I Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church Jurisdiction of the West, affectionately known as the Coltrane Church.
The teachings of Archbishop King continuously proclaim that John Coltrane’s music is “the anointed sound that leapt from the throne of heaven, out of the very mind of God, and incarnated in one Saint John Coltrane.”
M.O.I. JR: What does the St. John Coltrane Church believe? What makes it different from other churches in belief?
Marlee-I Mystic: In terms of lifestyle and morals, we believe in truth. John Coltrane said: “I’ve always felt that even though a man was not a Christian, he could know the truth – or he could not. It’s according to whether he knew the truth and the truth itself doesn’t have any name on it … and each man has to find it for himself.”
He also said, “Labels I don’t bother with.” For us, it is not about what label you wear or how you pray to the God you serve. It’s about knowing that God is and doing all you can to be worthy of God.
We believe that it is about your practice and the way in which you continue to grow into the full you. We believe in living clean and doing right, in being a force which is truly for good.
We believe that when there is something we think could be better, we must make an effort to try and make it better. These are the words and wisdom that our Patron Saint John Coltrane gave to us as guidance.
What truly distinguishes us from other churches is our understanding and practical application of St. John Coltrane’s music. Especially the revelation given to our Archbishop King in regards to the album, “A Love Supreme.” I believe this is best explained in our A Love Supreme Creed:
“I believe that the album ‘A Love Supreme’ is anointed sound, and as such it is the musical icon of the Godhead and represents the Divine Trinity of Melody, Harmony and Rhythm.
“I believe in the teaching of the church, “Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance to reach A Love Supreme,” that was introduced on the liner note of the album is a divine formula to achieve full God realization.
“I believe in the effectual transference of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Praise, even the Sound Baptism, and that Coltrane Consciousness is sanctified awareness and even reflects the very mind of God.
“I believe in A Love Supreme.”
What truly distinguishes us from other churches is our understanding and practical application of St. John Coltrane’s music. Especially the revelation given to our Archbishop King in regards to the album, “A Love Supreme.”
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about the San Francisco community, political and social movements that the church has been involved in?
Marlee-I Mystic: The SJCC has been around for more than 48 years. During this time we have had the opportunity to participate in various aspects of community life.
Our human outreach programs served free hot vegetarian meals, offered clothing, shelter, and counseling to those in need. The Sisters of Compassion provided guidance, counsel and child care for many young women and mothers. Our children’s programs have brought lessons in the history of African American music, music theory, instruments and voice.
In the area of social justice, the SJCC can be found standing on the side of justice. We have been and remain a force in fighting against rogue police and police murder, from the formation of the African American Community Relations Police Board to the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition.
We have fought against environmental racism against greedy developers in the Bayview Hunters Point. And we remain a voice in the fight against illegal foreclosures and forced serial displacement.
We continue to evolve as a spiritual, cultural and political force in the community in spite of our location. For as John Coltrane said, “Everywhere, you know, I want to be a force for real good.”
M.O.I. JR: Why is the church moving?
Marlee-I Mystic: The Coltrane Church is moving because we must. The landlord wants us out, so what can we do? Fight to stay in an unwelcoming environment that values profit over people? Continue to operate in a space that cannot guarantee us any security in the form of a lease? No. We must let go and let God.
I truly believe that God is in it, and we must move so that we can receive the greater blessing that is in store. Truthfully I’m looking forward to the move, because with change comes opportunity.
Now, do I want to be forced out on other peoples terms, with no secure place to land? No. But the current space is too small and does not give us capacity to provide many of the services for the people that are so much a part of this work.
We don’t have a fellowship hall, a classroom for the children or a kitchen to feed the hungry. I believe that our next move will be a giant step.
M.O.I. JR: What have Supervisors Malia Cohen and London Breed said about this? Are they aware of this?
Marlee-I Mystic: I know that both of the supervisors mentioned are aware of our circumstance. The most I have gotten from London Breed was an unfavorable quote in a newspaper and a sense of being generally powerless to assist.
I’m not sure what communication, if any, Malia Cohen has had with the church. I don’t believe that either supervisor nor SF city officials as a whole realize the value of the Coltrane Church largely due to our firm political stance of justice for the people.
M.O.I. JR: What can the community do to help fight against the St. Coltrane Church being gentrified out of San Francisco?
Marlee-I Mystic: Right now what we need most is donations. You can go to Generosity.com Help Save the Coltrane Church to donate and share our campaign. Your donation will assist with our moving costs.
We must vacate by April 30 and we must find a temporary space immediately. If any of the readers are aware of affordable and accommodating spaces that are available in the city, please let us know via our website coltranechurch.org.
As we make this temporary move, we are also keeping the long term goals in sight, and that is ownership. As a San Francisco native institution, we strongly desire to remain in the city. We are looking in all districts for a permanent home and welcome the assistance of community members who have an understanding of property and the San Francisco market.
M.O.I. JR: In 30 years, San Francisco has gone from 30 percent Black to 3 percent. What do you think about this trend?
Marlee-I Mystic: I think it is a shame. It is forced serial displacement and it tears down communities and families. It’s a problem that reverberates for generations and is swept under the rug.
It goes back to my statement about SF city officials not understanding the value of certain communities. It’s a reflection of greed and man serving money instead of God. It’s a destructive force that I’m sure Coltrane would have described as “bring[ing] suffering and misery to the world.”
M.O.I. JR: How can people stay in touch with the struggle to keep the St. Coltrane Church in San Francisco?
Marlee-I Mystic: Right now social media is the best way to stay in the know. We will be at 1286 Fillmore until our last service on April 24, but as of now we have no forwarding address.
Follow us on Twitter: @ColtraneAOC. Like us on Facebook: Saint John Will I Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church Jurisdiction of the West.
As we go through this transition, information on fundraisers, events, services and more will be posted online. And you can always reach out via our website, coltranechurch.org.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.