Cliff Notes: Jazz in Worship

Ash Wednesday Jazz

By Rev. Cliff Aerie

I have been performing sacred jazz for many years. The first jazz worship service that I helped create was back in 1971. Since then, I have led jazz morning worship, evening vespers, and sacred jazz concerts as part of my ministry.

It's been a long and eventful journey, exploring the creative landscape of the soul through jazz. What keeps me going fifty years later? The sense of "Call," to be sure. The imaginative calling of the Spirit has led me deeper into the realm of sacred art. I love to re-imagine possibilities for fashioning "new wineskins" in praise to God. One new wineskin has been the creation of with my good friend and jazz colleague, Tim Osiek. Together we've produced seven volumes of jazz arrangements on traditional hymns, plus various jazz worship resources. Our next volume will not be out until January, but I offer this new arrangement to you for use in your church setting.

The hymn tune, MCKEE, is best known for "In Christ There is No East or West." I've set it to a funky, syncopated jazz beat. While you can use this arrangement with the traditional hymn text, I've composed new lyrics for Ash Wednesday based on Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21. You will notice that I did not set it in the traditional SATB hymnody. Instead, it's a lead sheet that any jazz musician will know like the back of their hand.

I hope you're able to use it. If so, let me know how folks respond. If the syncopated rhythm seems beyond your congregation, feel free to use these lyrics with the traditional hymn setting. And if you get the chance, please visit and look at what we offer.

Blessings in Jazz!


Rewarded with Holy Grace

by Rev. Cliff Aerie

A hymn for Ash Wednesday

Scripture text: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21


Arrangement & lyrics: Cliff Aerie

1. It's the Gospel truth, when you follow Christ
And share your blessings with the poor
It's the secret gift of charity that rewards you with holy grace.

2. When you pray to God, let it be alone
Away from pious praise
It's your simple words, said secretly, that reward you with holy grace.

3. And then when you fast, don't look so glum
But brighten up your face
It's the secret act you offer up, that rewards you with holy grace.

4. Don't collect the treasures of this world
Where rust and thieves hold sway
Where your treasure is, your heart will be, and reward you with holy grace.


The Rev. Clifford Aerie is the minister of imagination, creativity and the arts (MICA) at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Webster Groves, Missouri and is a regular contributor in jazz. You are welcome to contact him at


A Sunburst of Glory

By Mary Louise Bringle

Rewarded with Holy Grace

Tune By McKee

Lyrics & Arr. Reverend Cliff Aerie

Trenny Responses

By Tom Trenney

Finlandia - Hymnbook

By Jean Sibelius

Finlandia  - Piano

By Jean Sibelius

Arr. WWL

Finlandia - Organ

By Jean Sibelius

Arr. WLW


This Celtic wheel cross is a form of Christian cross that emerged in Ireland, France and Great Britain in the Early Middle Ages. It became widespread through its use in the stone high crosses erected across the islands, especially in regions evangelized by Irish missionaries.

This cross is not to be confused with a variation that was appropriated for use as a symbol of white supremacy. The symbol is vastly used by non-extremists in contexts such as Christianity, neo-Paganism, and Irish patriotism.

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