Imagine a priest, who is also a DJ for American Apparel radio station, and has played gigs in London, France and New York City. This is not the latest box office rom-com; this is Episcopal priest, John Zahl. You can find him preaching at Grace Church on Sunday mornings, or playing at the Faculty Lounge two nights earlier. Think it’s a strange combination? John doesn’t; he sees Charleston as the perfect meeting point for his love of the Church and of music.
Having spent formative years in New York City, Charleston and Europe, John is a microcosmic version of the eclectic mix he sees in Charleston, his church, and the music he likes. He says that while Charleston has a bewitching history, it’s becoming a contemporary American center “that is influenced by its past but is also now embracing positive worldly influence.”
His church is a reflection of this as well. With members from all over the area, Grace unites people coming from a variety of backgrounds and influences into a cohesive community. John focuses on the universal truths of Christianity in which old messages find contemporary relevancy, bridging the gap between past and present without straying from centric Gospel messages. “I view my role here as just helping to bring a lot of disparate elements together, much in the way that the Church has made all of the disparate elements of my own life find cohesive fullness.”
“Just like in the life of the church where everything comes together...I’m interested in the place in music where a bunch of different genres converge.” John says that magical point in music is between 1979-1984, when about 19 genres all collided. Through his radio station and monthly gig at the Faculty Lounge, John is bringing something new to the table by introducing this music to Charleston’s young people in fresh ways.
He sees Charleston shifting in an exciting direction toward urbanization, not confined by its history, but inspired by it. He hopes that Christianity can come alongside that growth as a way to “provide people [with] the freedom to really be themselves.” Keep an eye out for John Zahl as a living example of how both the Church and city of Charleston are progressing.
Words by: Charlotte Stack
Photographer: Mark Stetler