The ministers at the St. John Coltrane Church in San Francisco’s Fillmore District started an online petition last week to pressure city officials into helping the church stay in the city, where it’s been since 1969.
The church, which bills itself as “the oldest and only church born out of the music of John Coltrane,” reports that its lease is up at its current location on 1286 Fillmore St. According to the petition, the church’s landlords — the owners of the West Bay Conference Center — want to double the church’s rent, leaving ministers with their “backs against the wall.”
“The present political climate of profit over people continues to devastate the African American population of the Fillmore, leaving the ‘Coltrane Church’ to stand alone as the sole historic proprietors of the music and culture of jazz as a means to enlighten,” the church’s ministers wrote in their petition.
“The San Francisco Fillmore district, formerly known as the ‘Harlem of the West,’ and the African American population in the district of ‘The Fillmore’ contributed to the culture of blues, jazz and gospel music. Presently the population and culture of the African American community has all been but destroyed, along with its learning institutions, churches and venues of musical expression. The Coltrane Church has and will continue its stance against this kind of injustice.”
Started by Franzo and Marina King, the Saint John Will I Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church was originally called the Yardbird Temple after the couple turned their jazz club into a religious organization following the saxophone legend’s death (or “Ascension”) in 1967. The couple say they had an “effectual transference of the Holy Ghost through sound” when watching Coltrane perform for the first time in San Francisco back in 1965 and have been preaching the power of his music ever since.
After meeting Coltrane’s wife, Alice, in 1974, the Kings “began to think of John Coltrane’s message in the context of spiritual universalism and to understand how John Coltrane was trying to reach souls even outside of western Christian context,” according to the church’s website.
Changing its name to One Mind Temple in 1971 and later to the Vendantic Center, the church became the Saint John Will I Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church after the Kings joined the African Orthodox Church in 1982. Two years later, Franco King would become an archbishop of the church and Marina would become the supreme mother reverend.
The church ends every Sunday mass with a meditation on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and provides food and clothing to the needy.