Description: Reimaging Howard Thurman’s Use of Negro Spirituals in Worship

Howard Washington Thurman (1899-1981) was of the world’s most renowned and acclaimed authors, philosophers, theologians, educators, and civil rights leaders. As a prominent religious figure, he played a leading role in many social and human justice movements and organizations of the twentieth century.  This lecture will explore ways  in which Thurman imaged and used Negro Spirituals in worship. He constructed these services that were faithful to Scripture, historically conscious and relevant, relevant to God, Christ-centered, inclusive of all people, and provided full, active, and conscious participation for the worshiper. First, it will examine his imaging of the ministry of the church and essential consideration in worship through his experiences at The Church for the Fellowship of All People in San Francisco and Marsh Chapel at Boston University.  Second, it will lift two examples of his use of the Negro Spiritual – “Deep River” and “Balm in Gilead” –  to reimagine worship from his Deep River and the Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death which is a compilation of reflections on selected spirituals. Third, it will illustrate his use of hymnody and the centering Negro Spiritual “Were You There? in his April 20, 1962 Good Friday service at Marsh Chapel at Boston University. This annual service was often referred to as the “Good Friday Experiment” that attracted audiences from all over the city and the world. At the conclusion of the service, Thurman exhorted the congregants to leave the sanctuary and tell everyone that they encountered that “There’s a man on the cross!”  Finally, it will offer ways that Thurman’s imaging of these musical elements can serve as instructional and inspirational guidelines for creative ways of reimaging worship and the use of Negro Spirituals in worship today.

About the Speaker: One of the nation’s most respected choir directors, musicians, and authors, Dr. Abbington is a popular speaker, performer and conductor at universities, conferences, symposiums, and churches around the world. From 2000 to 2010, he served as co-director of music for the Hampton University Ministers’ and Musicians’ Conference, and as the national director of music for both the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the NAACP. In 2010, Hampton’s Choir Directors and Organists Guild honored Dr. Abbington by naming their Church Music Academy after him, and in 2015, he became the second African American to be named a Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Currently, Dr. Abbington is Associate Professor of Church Music and Worship at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

Location: Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University – Waco, TX.