Hymn Society, Wednesday

Morning prayer this week has been led by the team of Rev. Lia Scholl (a pastor shepherding a Mennonite church) and Cantor Jessica Roskin, who serves the congregation of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham. Cantor Roskin has been leading us through a variety of songs in English and Hebrew — some ancient folk songs, some chants, some more recently composed pieces. I’ve been captivated by their beauty and I’m getting better at reading transliterated Hebrew.

Tuesday evening’s hymn festival took place at Sixth Avenue Baptist church in downtown Birmingham. Dr. James Abbington, associate professor at Emory University, is a scholar whose interests include spirituals and African American church music. He coordinated a festival of “unsung hymns by Black and unknown bards.”  The Sixth Avenue Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir helped lead the singing. So besides singing “Steal Away” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” we also sang songs that have been obscured by history, including a piece called “A Better Day is Coming” by Charles Tindley.  I have learned seemingly dozens of spirituals this week that are all new to me.

Our third plenary was given by Andrew Donaldson, who gave us a history of global church music. It was largely a story of the last thirty years, and it’s amazing to me how many of these songs have already entered the common repertory of many traditions. The talk also included a defense of the inclusion of global church music in a Christian church that is increasingly global. An idea that struck me was that this music is not just reaching those who are in our pews — it’s speaking to those who are not there yet.

Chris Ángel
MA Theology(Liturgy) student, Saint John’s University School of Theology·Seminary

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