Roundup: RIP Edwin Hawkins; why Christians should read poetry (and who to read); new Reconciliation Window; global song in white churches

Grammy-winning gospel pioneer Edwin Hawkins dies at 74: African American gospel musician, pianist, choir master, composer, and arranger Edwin Hawkins passed away on January 15. He’s best known for his 1967 R&B arrangement of the eighteenth-century hymn “Oh Happy Day,” which became an unexpected international hit and Grammy winner and is now a gospel standard. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

“Oh Happy Day” was one of eight arrangements Hawkins put together for his Northern California State Youth Choir, made up of forty-six singers ages 17 to 25, to record, planning to sell the album to finance a trip to a church youth conference in Washington, DC. They recorded the songs live at Hawkins’s church, the Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California, on a primitive two-track recorder. After hearing the self-published record, Buddah Records signed the group, helping to launch “Oh Happy Day” to the top of the pop charts in the US, UK, France, Germany, and the Netherlands and bringing attention to lead vocalist Dorothy Combs Morrison, 22. At the time, denomination officials did not approve of Christian singers crossing over into secular markets, and they refused to let Hawkins use the name of the choir on the Buddah reissue—hence the “Edwin Hawkins Singers” were born.

Check out the Christianity Today article “How ‘Oh Happy Day’ Gave Gospel a New Beat,” and this clip of the show-stopping performance of the song in the movie Sister Act 2, featuring a young Ryan Toby.


“Ten poets every pastor should know” by Kolby Kerr (+ Part 2): “Preachers need poetry if for no other reason than to be reminded of the palpable weight of language,” writes Kolby Kerr for LeaderWorks, whose vision is “to provide the tools, training, and support to strengthen the church and its leaders to fulfill their God-given mission.” I love this ten-poet “mixtape” Kerr has put together as an entry point for those who have told him they want to “get into poetry.” An ordained minister with a BA in English and an MFA in creative writing, he offers a wise disclaimer: “I point you toward these poets so that you would read them, not strip mine their work for a quick sermon illustration. Before any of this shows up in your preaching, heed Thomas Cranmer: read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” [HT: David Taylor]

I recently wrote about one of Kerr’s recommendations, Richard Wilbur, here.


“The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry” by Mark Oakley: “Poetry is what we reach for when we are falling in love, when we are grieving and when we search the great mysteries. It’s easy to think the language of faith is in creeds, sermons and certainties, but Mark Oakley says that it is poetry that is the person of faith’s native language. In this talk he will invite us on an adventure into poetry’s power to startle, challenge and reframe our vision: like throwing a pebble into water, the words of a poem cause a splash whose ripples can, if we let them, transform the way we see the world, ourselves, and God.”

I mentioned Mark Oakley in a previous roundup. This lecture, given at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in November 2016, is based on Oakley’s latest book The Splash of Words, which he says he wrote as a way of celebrating the truth that God is in this world. The first half of the video comprises his talk; the second half, Q&A. I was so enthralled by what he had to say that I immediately bought a copy of the book. It contains a twenty-two-page introduction on the value of poetry, but its bulk consists of twenty-nine poems, carefully selected, with commentary. Love it!


New stained-glass window by Thomas Denny: My friend Paul Neeley tipped me off to this new Reconciliation Window by contemporary stained-glass artist Tom Denny, whose distinctive style, characterized by blazing color, is achieved by acid etching and silver staining. Installed at St. John’s Church in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, in October 2017, the window depicts, in its central light, the Return of the Prodigal Son. The right panel shows Jesus reading from the book of Isaiah, and the left panel shows John the Baptist, the church’s patron saint. Throughout are names and vignettes from Traelee’s history and landscape. Bloggers Finola Finlay and Robert Harris have just visited St. John’s and have taken many beautiful detail shots of the window; have a look! For more on Denny, see the recently published book Glory, Azure and Gold: The Stained-Glass Windows of Thomas Denny or the article “Walking Man: The Art of Thomas Denny” from issue 86 of Image journal.

Reconciliation Window by Thomas Denny
Thomas Denny (British, 1956–), Reconciliation Window, 2017. Stained glass, 5 × 3 m. St. John’s Church, Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland.


“Appropriation or Activism? Reflections on ‘Global Song’” by Marissa Glynias Moore: This article was posted this week in the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network Facebook group I’m a part of, addressing a question I’ve pondered a lot. A doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at Yale University, Moore is wrapping up her dissertation on the use of “global songs” in the worship services of white, North American mainline Protestant congregations. She recounts her initial skepticism:

Within my first weeks at Battell [the University Church in Yale], I began to notice a shift in congregational repertoire compared to that of my college church. We rarely sang the hymns that had become dear to me; instead, we were more likely to be singing an Alleluia from Peru or a South African anti-apartheid “freedom song.” While I was curious about this unfamiliar genre of congregational music, the practice itself made me decidedly uncomfortable as I looked around the space: why were we, a bunch of predominantly white American college and graduate students, singing world music? Did we have the right to sing this music? Hadn’t my training as an ethnomusicologist prepared me to vehemently critique such a practice as a manifestation of appropriation?

But as her research developed she has been led to see that singing global song can actually be a gesture of hospitality and solidarity. (Update, 9/4/18: Listen to Moore on episode 24 of Sarah Bereza’s Music and the Church podcast, “Global Song and the Universal Church.”)

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