Music that's authentic, not awkward


By Natalie Bannon

Originally published on

Music of all genres floats (and rocks and grooves) throughout the sanctuary of Cokesbury West in Knoxville, Tenn. The newest campus of Cokesbury United Methodist Church is crossing cultural lines and breaking musical barriers with a roster of musicians that includes a former “American Idol” contestant, a touring singer/songwriter and a film/TV composer.

Launched in the fall of 2009, Cokesbury West built its worship team from scratch. Paul Jones, director of worship, hit Facebook, Twitter and the phones searching for the best musicians in Knoxville. “We were able to have individual interviews and auditions to pick the team we thought would connect best to our newest worship community,” said Jones. Most are paid musicians.

That connection was the priority from the start. Cokesbury West often hosts visitors who are new to church or looking for a new church home. “Many of those people love to go to local concerts and are local music fans,” explained Jones. “When they come on Sunday morning and see their favorite local songwriter, jazz musician or rock guitar player, it says that this is a safe environment to come and reconnect with God.”

Some of the musicians were not previously involved in church. Now, they are building their own relationships with God, while helping others worship. “Some are joining the church as members, having their children baptized and forming life groups. Other new-to-church members are asking for prayer requests for the first time in their lives,” said Jones.

The group’s requirements are simple — “a positive spirit, willingness to grow and a desire to lead a community worship.” Oh, and of course, incredible talent.

Jones’ musical compositions can currently be heard on TV shows such as TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” and A&E’s “Biography.” Erick Baker, a singer/songwriter, has toured with artists like John Legend and Goo Goo Dolls. Amy Catherine Flynn is recognizable to “American Idol” fans who saw her advance to the Hollywood round during the show’s seventh season. Gospel recording artist Kenny Moore is part of the group, as well as singer/songwriter Brent Thompson and Nakia Davis, a singer for a popular Knoxville-based band. And there are jazz musicians, a rotating team of saxophone, violin, harmonica and banjo players, a self-taught guitarist and a self-taught keyboard player.

“A rock song needs a rock singer. A gospel song needs a gospel worship leader. A jazz song needs a solo shredder,” said Jones. “With the team we have in place, the music sounds authentic and not awkward, and that gets us out of the way for God to do his work.”