It's not every day you see a Protestant minister preaching the word alongside a jazz saxophonist.

But the Rev. James Gertmenian of Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Av. S. in Minneapolis, is not afraid to try such experimental approaches. In fact, it's the latest example of the congregation incorporating the arts into worship services -- something it's been doing for nearly 50 years.

"Plymouth has been a place where the arts have been used as an avenue to the soul," Gertmenian said. "People have always seen art as one of the languages we use to talk about things that often can't be talked about just using words alone.

"That's why at Plymouth we have an art gallery with changing shows, we have theater, we have poetry readings, we have exquisite music. All of these are not just decoration or art for art's sake. They are considered to be a way in which we deepen our spiritual life."

At Sunday's 10:30 a.m. service, Gertmenian and jazz saxophonist Nathan Hanson will present an improvised sermon, blending spoken word and music. Gertmenian says he will speak about a reading from Isaiah for a few minutes, then Hanson will respond with a musical interpretation for a couple of minutes. The two of them will go back and forth in this manner for the length of the sermon, about 20 minutes.

A few years ago, Gertmenian tried something similar with a musician, who played an American Indian cedar flute in an interpretative response to his sermon.

"It was very effective in a kind of meditative way and yet involving some preaching at the same time," he said.

Though more and more churches are turning to the arts in their worship services, Gertmenian says he's not aware of any doing such improvised spoken-word/music sermons.

"It is improv, so we'll have to let it be what it is," he said. "I hope it will draw people into the spirit of the text and give them space to deal with it in themselves rather than just listen to me speak."

Rose French • 612-673-4352