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Garrett-Evangelical Announces New Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church

January 12, 2016

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary is pleased to announce the founding of The Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience (CMWBCE), a one-of-a-kind in North America. The mission of the center is to provide training in the sacred music of the Black church and beyond to musicians and worship leaders for the enrichment of congregational worship in diverse contexts. Courses will be specific to the following objectives: the re-creation and revitalization of the distinctive musical and liturgical heritage found in Black church contexts; strengthening the spiritual formation and leadership skills of full-time and volunteer worship staff in Black churches, as well as other faith communities; and the recovery and preservation of the rich musical and liturgical heritage found in Black church worship contexts.

Many programs have closed that have historically stood as the vanguard for the training of musicians (vocal and instrumental), worship leaders, choral directors, pastors, audio/visual personnel, and others for the Black church. With these closures, Black churches have lost primary places of spiritual formation and transformation for their communities of faith, and the unique worship celebration in this context has begun to lose its liberating, transformational edge. Currently, there are no significant training programs in the nation dedicated to the particularities of this rich tradition. The Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience seeks to fill that void.

Additionally, the center will partner with organizations and individuals to create an archive or repository of music and scholarship that will preserve and promote the rich history of Black church music. “I speak as a musician but also as a historian who knows how the passage of time often erases or permanently deletes the familiar things of the present,” said Garrett-Evangelical professor Dr. Charles Cosgrove, who serves on the advisory board for the center. “Here at Garrett-Evangelical, this center is our devotion to preserving and keeping vibrant the precious gifts and practices of music and worship of the Black church and beyond, as a living legacy for future generations.”

Rev. Dr. Cynthia A. Wilson, assistant vice president of student life, dean of students, and PhD alumna of Garrett-Evangelical, will serve as director of the center. “While the primary focal point will be music and worship practices that reflect the ethos and pathos of Africana church music and worship, the course offerings, and performance opportunities, the center will stand as a place of preparation and learning for all peoples,” said Wilson.

Wilson, an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church, brings a wealth of experience and gifts in sacred music. She is a popular lecturer, preacher, teacher, conductor, and concert artist and has provided benefit concerts across the United States, including Carnegie Hall (New York), and abroad (Africa, Asia, South America and Europe). Wilson served as co-director for the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church and was selected as the first female and first person of color to serve as director of music for The United Methodist Church’s 2000 General Conference. She was also a member of the national task force that produced the Songs of Zion, and in 2005 she co-chaired with Dr. William McClain, professor emeritus of Wesley Theological Seminary, the task force that produced its sequel, Zion Still Sings! For Every Generation.

McClain, who is serving as board chair for the center, enthusiastically said, “The Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience continues my effort of Songs of Zion and the church's commitment to the importance of African American sacred music to the whole church. It will also enable the entire congregation to become worshippers again as church musicians become theologically trained as worship partners and leaders, and pastors are a part of the experience, too. This is a new and exciting future for our church to gather in worship!”

The Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience will partner with The Center for the Church and the Black Experience, an academic initiative at Garrett-Evangelical focusing on church life as experienced by Black people, as well as United Methodist Discipleship Resources: Strengthening the Black Church for the Twenty-First Century (SBC-21). More information on the center and its programs will be available in late Spring 2016.