Lumberton resident Gwen Ricks-Spencer is chair of the jazz vespers service at Bethel Ame Church in Moorestown, something she introduced after moving to South Jersey.
“I’ve always been interested in every form of the arts and trying to find ways to integrate that into worship in appropriate fashion,” said Ricks-Spencer, who handles much of the creative arts at Bethel.
Vespers is a traditional evening prayer service that has been in churches for centuries, but the idea of combining it with jazz gives it a more modern form, according to Ricks-Spencer.
“It crosses denominations, and so it’s become something that’s much more popular these days, and it happens at churches around the country,” she explained.
Bethel celebrated its seventh anniversary on Dec. 11 with a vespers service called ‘Make a Joyful Noise!’ Last year’s event was canceled because of COVID.
“It’s typically held just as the sun is going down; it’s like an evening kind of service,” said Ricks-Spencer.
Services include four parts: praise, song, proclamation and prayer. The Diane Monroe and Tony Miceli duo were the musical guest artists on Dec. 11, with Monroe on jazz violin and Miceli on the vibraphone.
“I was always interested in getting a jazz violinist, and she’s really well known and has played all over the place, and happens to be a Philadelphia resident,” Ricks-Spencer said of Monroe.
The duo played songs throughout the service that were interspersed with poetry.
“I’ll have different people read poems that I find that are appropriate for the season,” noted Ricks-Spencer.
COVID safety protocols were enforced at the service, but Ricks-Spencer was happy to see the community come together.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to get people back together again to enjoy the music,” she said.
Donations from residents supported activities of the 2022 Women’s Day Committee at Bethel, and Ricks-Spencer praised Moorestown residents for that support.
“In the ensuing years,” she said, “we’ve had more and more people come to the service.”