Traditional hymns and contemporary Christian music fill the sanctuary on Sunday mornings at West Des Moines Christian Church, but on Monday nights the church’s music and fine arts director, Scott Stilwell, encourages congregation members and visitors alike to walk to the beat of their own drum on the road to God.
Stilwell and a handful of parishioners recently gathered on a Monday night to play hand drums and other percussion instruments to form the church’s first drum circle. The improvised jam, which Stilwell says is more communal than it is conducted, is held on the third Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the church. Its founder says that the event is in its infancy, and he hopes it will find a larger and wider groove as more people participate in the months ahead.
“It’s a group of people playing a uniformed rhythm for 10 minutes or more at a time and it becomes more of a prayerful time when you get into a groove,” says Stilwell, who led the former Lighthouse concert series at the church from 2000 to 2007 and 2011 to 2012. “We want to let the drums talk and let the spirit move through the beat and connect with God. It’s a powerful thing.”
Group drumming with a spiritual focus is nothing new. For centuries, Native Americans, Africans and other cultures have formed drum circles as a form of prayer or method of trance induction. The time honored sounds of drum circles can even be traced to the origins of popular music in America. During the 1960s, the term “drum circle” became fashionable for counterculture groups and today drum circles live on in forms of neotribalism in which the focus is for a group of people to create a positive, unified consciousness.
“We don’t talk, sing or chant. We let the rhythm take control so that people can let their guard down and get into the spirit. It’s very meditative,” says Stilwell. “At the end we hold hands and have a prayer, but we want the music to do most of the talking.”West Des Moines Christian Church
4501 Mills Civic Parkway
223-1639 • www.wdmcc.orgSunday worship services
Summer: 10 a.m.
Regular: 8:45 and 11 a.m.
Church school for all ages: