SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - On Sunday mornings, the sweet strains of a saxophone and the infectious beat of a drum float from a tiny storefront on Divisadero Street. Inside, the Church of St. John Coltrane is in full swing. ``Amen!'' the congregation sings, and even indifferent visitors are caught up in the music. Toes tap, hands clap, heads bob to the syncopated beat, and, sometimes unexpectedly, a hearty ``Praise the Lord!'' sneaks out. The church is a real one, though Coltrane, the jazz icon who died of cancer in 1967, isn't an official saint. It's officially the African Orthodox Church and its services are an eclectic mix of free-form jazz and religion, in jam sessions that can last three hours.The church was founded on the music of Coltrane, an intensely spiritual man whose 1964 musical meditation, ``A Love Supreme,'' is a powerful expression of faith. But soon the music will be silenced here. After nearly 30 years at its Divisadero location, the church has fallen victim to the city's real estate crunch. Its last service at the Divisadero location is Easter Sunday. According to Bishop Franzo King, the landlord wanted a month-to-month lease, meaning the $2,500 rent can increase each month, a real possibility with lucrative technology jobs luring high-salaried workers to the San Francisco Bay area.King is determined to continue preaching in a new, $1,800-a-month space he found all the way across town, but it needs a lot of work and approval from city planners. In the meantime, he hopes to continue services temporarily at a nearby church. News of the move startled longtime congregants as well as other San Franciscans who consider the church part of the city's quirky charm. Services in the past few weeks have been packed. Sister Mary Deborah greets visitors to the church with a smile. By the time the service starts, a handful of mismatched pews are filled, many worshippers are left standing and a line snakes out the door.Buttoned-down yuppies sit with tattooed hipsters and camera-toting tourists as children frolic on the altar. A drum set and a scattering of amplifiers round the edges of the small room, where King plays the drums and leads a small group of musicians.
Looking down on the congregation is a gold-leaf portrait of Coltrane grasping a flaming saxophone; a banner quotes Coltrane's liner notes for ``A Love Supreme'' - ``Let us sing all songs to God. Let us pursue Him in the righteous path. Yes, it is true; `Seek and ye shall find.''' Before the music starts, Sister Mary Deborah extolls: ``We do need one another - and we need the Lord.'' A congregant adds: ``We need John Coltrane music, too.'' David Ellis, a goateed visitor from New York, stumbled across the church's Web site one day (it is also listed in nearly every San Francisco guide book). ``I thought it seemed like an interesting place to go,'' Ellis said. ``I wasn't expecting too much, to be honest. But the music is amazing. And there's so much spirit here.'' That's the idea, King said. For many, the music is the path toward enlightenment. It's not a gimmick to get people to listen to his sermons. ``I don't think it's an afterthought. I think it's part of the process,'' he said. ``We feel that the music has its job, and it is working in concert with everything else. We believe the spirit of the Lord is in the music.''The son of preachers, King got the idea for the church in the 1960s, when he received his ``sound baptism'' at a Coltrane performance.``I became aware that John Coltrane's music was more than highly emotional,'' he said. ``It was highly spiritual.'' Visitors often find a spark of revelation to take home, wherever home may be. At a recent service, they came from as far as Denmark and Australia. ``I don't know what's in people's minds, if they think they're going to a church or a cult or something,'' King said. ``But I do know that there are people that, once here, have a profound experience and have accepted the Lord into their lives. I talk to people who go back to their churches strengthened and encouraged in the Lord.''
King hopes to move his church within six months. The new property has room for expansion, so the church can continue a wide variety of community outreach programs, including a vegetarian soup kitchen for the poor. In the meantime, the church is holding fundraisers, and King remains characteristically upbeat about the reluctant move. ``It's a mess, what can I say?'' he said. ``But I have faith it will all work out.''