October 19, 1998 12:00 PM

Franzo Wayne King was a 22-year-old hairdresser back in 1965 when he found himself in a San Francisco music club listening to the venerated jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. “It was a baptism in sound,” says King, who reports that the experience inspired a “very serious and earnest journey to seek out God.”

That quest led King to found the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. Now every Sunday morning some 70 congregants pack into a modest San Francisco storefront to hear Bishop King conduct a three-hour service that is part worship, part jam session. “Music is a big reservoir that we all dip out of,” says King, quoting Coltrane. “And,” he adds, “so is spirituality.”

The renowned musician demonstrated his own strength of spirit, overcoming heroin addiction a decade before he died from liver failure in 1967 at the age of 40. He once said that he hoped to show people “the divine in a musical language that transcends words…to speak to their soul.”

An image of Coltrane—in a white robe, with a halo and playing a sax emitting fire—is emblazoned on a mural at King’s church, which has become such a fixture in the Western Addition district of the city that tourists from all over the world find their way each week to the church’s seven small pews. “Sometimes folks come in here,” says King, “and the music’s so loud it scares the devil out of them.”

You May Like