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The Spirit in Worship and
in the Spirit Presenter
Dr. Melva Costen
Melva Wilson Costen, Visiting Professor of Liturgical Studies at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Fall, 2005, retired as Helmar Emil Nielsen Professor of Worship and Music, after thirty-two years at Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta GA, in July, 2005. Prior to this tenure, she served for twenty years as music teacher and organist/choir director in North Carolina and Georgia. She earned the B.A. degree at Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, NC; the Master of Arts in Teaching Music degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC; and the Ph.D. at Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA. She holds two Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degrees, and is an Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
She chaired the committee that developed The Presbyterian Hymnal: Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1990, and served on the Advisory Committee for the African American Heritage Hymnal,(GIA: 2001. Her publications include: In Spirit and In Truth (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004, African American Christian Worship, rev. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007, The Black Christian Worship Experience, (Atlanta: ITC1992) and African American Worship: Faith Looking Forward (Atlanta: ITC 2000).
The Spirit and African American Worship Traditions
African American Christians gathered for worship, share a variety of common beliefs and resulting ritual practices that are considered to be “empowered by the Spirit.” It cannot be assumed, however, that all worship gatherings can be perceived as a unified occurrence, transferable from one place to another in order for liturgical actions to be considered typically “valid,” “bone fide” or universally reflective of the evidence of Spirit-filled worship.
This presentation will begin with a clarification of commonalities that, under the power of the Holy Spirit, have empowered and helped connect worshipers within and beyond denominations across the centuries. This will be followed by some of the characteristics within worship traditions that are reminders of the divine gift of “differences” and the importance of “uniqueness” as bonds that hold communities together.
An overview of spirit-filled worship in African American denominations and separate African American congregations, initiated and shaped in the 18,th 19th and early 20th century worship in America, will follow. Theological perspectives of spirit, and Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost conceptualized initially within the context of African spirituality and continued in the American Diaspora, will be discussed and applied to liturgical actions in African American worship traditions. Ever-evolving ritual practices, especially prevalent in congregational songs, burst out of African American worshiping spaces and are propelled into the world. A brief examination of new musical forms created by local and global encounters, a return to worship to be reworked and sent-forth again into the world, attests to the spiritual metamorphosis that is initiated in the context of African American spirit-filled worship.