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Singing the Church Together: Black History Month

by Rev. Debra Tyree

Beams of Heavan and Steal Away to Jesus are Global Praise resources suitable for use in worship as we celebrate Black History Month.

Image by: Evangelization and Church Growth
For Everyone Born is a music resource available from Global Praise.

As you consider ways to celebrate Black History Month in your worship services, explore the rich diversity of hymnody and song that has been born out of the African American experience. Consider the themes and scriptures that will be used during the month of February. Explore the many African American resources in your own denominational songbooks and hymnals that will enhance these themes and scriptures.

Always consider the song texts for use beyond singing. Many hymns can be used as prayers, responsive reading, and so on. An internet search will help you discover the background of a song or hymn as well as information about the author or composer. You may want to include this information in your worship bulletin or as part of your introduction to the song. You will want share the background of the song as you teach it to the choir or music leaders.

Be creative! Invite a team of persons to consider all the ways you can celebrate Black History Month though the arts. Perhaps a dancer will want to choreograph one of the hymns or songs suggested below. For Everyone Born, Beams of Heaven, and Steal Away to Jesus each have a companion CD. Invite persons in your church of all ages to draw a picture or take a photo of how the texts speak to them.

For Everyone Born

The infectious melody composed by Mark Miller beautifully fits the text of the hymn "Welcome." Found in For Everyone Born (#7), the refrain will quickly become a favorite gathering song of your congregation. The refrain also works well as a call to the Eucharist. Consider dividing the stanzas into solos sung by persons of different ages, abilities, and cultural and ethnic identities.

"There's a Spirit of Love in This Place"
This song boldly declares that the Holy Spirit is present and working with and within us as we gather together in worship. "There's a Spirit of Love in This Place" (For Everyone Born, #22) is most effective when begun softly and builds as the musicians move into the final stanza. Consider this song when choosing music for special occasions in the life of your congregation: homecomings, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and so on.

Beams of Heaven

The collection, Beams of Heaven, containing 46 hymns of Charles Tindley, is a treasure for you to share with your congregation as part of Black History Month. You may want to share with your congregation the life story of Charles Tindley in your newsletter or worship bulletins. James Abbington, DMA, has written an excellent introduction to Beams of Heaven that can be used as a reference to create articles for your publications.

"Christ Is the Way"
Consider using Charles Tindley's hymn "Christ Is the Way" (Beams of Heaven, #16) as a theme song this Lent. The text of stanza 1 will certainly enhance worship on Transfiguration Sunday. Consider singing the refrain as a response to the reading of the Gospel lesson each week in Lent.

"Come, Whosoever Feels the Need"
"Come, Whosoever Feels the Need" (Beams of Heaven, #22) contains the image of faith making us whole again. This would also be a wonderful addition to a healing service.

"Go, Ye Humble Pilgrim Stranger"
Tindley's texts are filled with powerful images of the many ways a life can be changed when it is filled with faith. He personalizes the images in ways that are still applicable today. Consider singing "Go, Ye Humble Pilgrim Stranger" (Beams of Heaven, #2), which begins imploring us to remember that God is with us whatever our current lot and moves to our responsibility to tell strangers and others we meet about Jesus.

"If Your Life in Days Gone By"
"If Your Life In Days Gone By" (Beams of Heaven, #30) has a wonderful phrase that appears at the end of each stanza and the refrain. We can sing with faith that "he will fix it for you." Use the refrain as a response to your time of prayer.

"I'm on My Way"
"No funeral train we there shall meet, for death is there cast out" is the refrain of stanza 3 of "I'm On My Way" (Beams of Heaven, #23). The repetition in the text and the very singable melody line make this an easy-to-learn hymn.

"When the Storms of Life are Raging"
This hymn is printed in several denominational hymnals (United Methodist Hymnal #512) as well as Beams of Heaven (#3). This song can also be used as a spoken liturgy with a reader reading the stanzas and the congregation saying together "stand by me" as it appears in the text. Alternatively, consider asking a soloist to sing the primary text, with the choir and congregation joining on the phrase "stand by me" each it time it appears. This treatment of the song will highlight the text.

"Ye Pilgrims Though This Vale of Tears"
"Ye Pilgrims Through This Vale of Tears" (Beams of Heaven, #1) reminds us "our way is dark and hard, temptations all around us." Consider using this hymn as a response to the word proclaimed or as a hymn of dedication.

Steal Away to Jesus

Several solos in the collection Steal Away to Jesus would be appropriate for your celebration of Black History Month and Lent. The companion CD also includes instrumental tracks for those who desire pre-recorded accompaniment for practice and/or leadership in worship.

"Way to Canaan" (solo for medium voice)
While the score is set for voice and piano, churches with praise teams my want to listen to the recording to hear one possible way to accompany this spiritual with a band/praise team.

"What Wondrous Love Is This" (solo for medium voice)
Employing interesting harmonies, the beauty of this song shines through in this arrangement. An arrangement for SSATBB a cappella choir with baritone or mezzo-soprano solo is also available from GBGMusik resources through Cokesbury (#CS1004.)

"Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" (solo for medium voice)
Use this beautiful solo on Ash Wednesday or any Sunday in Lent as a response or call to prayer. If liturgical dancers are a part of your church ministry, ask the dance team to interpret the song.

"Saw Ye My Savior" (duet for soprano/baritone or bass)
This arrangement can be sung with the printed piano accompaniment or consider arranging the accompaniment for a small acoustic ensemble of guitar, keyboard, and hand drum as performed on the CD. The use of the instruments creates a more contemporary sound often used in emerging or contemporary services. Learn this during Black History Month and then use it again during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. Consider singing stanzas 1-4 interspersed with the crucifixion scripture on Good Friday and stanza 5 as the opening of your Easter worship. Churches with projection capabilities may want to explore the visual images available that will help tell the story of the crucifixion on Good Friday and the resurrection on Easter.

"I Am a Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow" (solo for high voice)
With a text of Charles Tindley matched to a traditional spiritual tune, the beauty of the text shines through this solo. Soloists will want to spend time prior to singing this in worship in order to be able to comfortably meet the challenge of singing the legato phrases with musicality.

Global Praise resources, including these collections, are available from the Cokesbury Music Service (toll-free 1-877-877-8674), Cokesbury (toll-free 1-800-672-1789), or your local music dealer.

Rev. Debra Tyree serves as Business Manager for Global Praise Program at Global Ministries. She has served in music ministry in local churches for over 30 years and currently serves Bellevue UMC in Nashville, Tennessee, as Minister of Music. Debi is nationally recognized as a clinician and leader in the areas of worship and church music.

See Also...
Topic: Civil rights Global connections Globalization Lent Martin Luther King Day Music
Geographic Region: United States
Source: Mission Education

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Date posted: Jan 30, 2009