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Retaining youths a focus at National Lectureship


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Minister W.C. Edwards walked through the convention halls with a Bluetooth wireless headphone in his ear and people flagging him down to say thanks.
At the recent 64th annual National Lectureship, it seemed everyone knew the director who organized the six-day meeting at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
More than 2,600 church members from across the nation registered, but attendance may have been as high as 4,000, said Edwards, minister of the Powderly church.
“What ministries are we going to come up with for young people?” Edwards said of his plan for the Lectureship, the largest annual gathering of predominantly black congregations. “There is a great exodus of young people from the church. What’s worked in the past sometimes just doesn’t work anymore. We are sharpening our tools.”
In particular, the Lectureship emphasized music — vocal music, that is.
“Music is so appealing to young people,” Edwards said. “We are a very conservative church. Hip hop has had such an effect on young people. We are strictly a cappella, no instrumental music. So we have workshops on how to make our music appeal to youth.”
Dorian Paul Williams of the Trinity Gardens church in Houston — a former backup singer for The Gap Band who did studio work on five of their successful pop albums — conducted a song leader workshop.
Even simple hymns feature complex harmonies with bass, lead and choral response to the lead, he noted.
“Anyone who has been in a Church of Christ has heard all those voices blending to make one beautiful sound,” he said.
Williams has released an a cappella album, “For Him to You,” and has been shifting away from secular recording to embrace church music.
“Where there would be drums, bass, guitar, horns, I’m simulating that with my voice,” Williams said. “It’s a genre that can compete with instruments.”
Studio gimmickry can hide bad voices in instrumental music, but that’s not the case with a cappella singing, he said.
“It really goes back to the purity of music,” Williams said.
Chris Turner, a youth minister at the Southside church in Durham, N.C., also helped conduct song leader workshops. Turner, considered one of the top song leaders in Churches of Christ, said he doesn’t view a cappella singing as a limitation.
“We use an instrument,” he said. “It’s the vocal cords. You’ll find some of the most beautiful harmonies in the world in the Church of Christ.”
Vocal creativity can make a cappella music as appealing as the hip-hop music that youth are so attracted to, he said. “A note with a tone can have the same percussive effect as a drum,” Turner said. “Except my grandmother won’t slap me for it. You can sing it and get the same effect.”
Mapping out the future of Churches of Christ was a common Lectureship theme.
“The workshops are to inform, enrich and encourage us,” said Lester Busby of Philadelphia.
“It gives you an opportunity to refuel,” said Abraham Jones of Greenville, Miss.
Fred Gray, the civil rights attorney from Tuskegee, Ala., who represented Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, led a workshop on social activism.
Lectureship organizers recommended that participants make side trips to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, across the street from Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls were killed in a 1963 bombing perpetrated by Ku Klux Klan members.
 At least 325 Lectureship participants joined organized tours of the civil rights district, Edwards said.
“Many of them were moved to tears,” he said.
While in Birmingham for the conference, Gray visited former Baptist pastor Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil rights leader who was undergoing rehabilitation for a stroke.
“He is really the pioneer,” said Gray, an elder at the Tuskegee church.
Shuttlesworth has some trouble speaking and walking without assistance, but he instantly recognized Gray when he dropped by the HealthSouth Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital.
“You’ve been around since before things got hot,” said Shuttlesworth, sitting in a wheelchair, as Gray walked up to shake his hand.
“You made it hot,” Gray said.
“We all stayed honest to our calling,” Shuttlesworth said.
Back at the convention center, Edwards tried to address a wide variety of issues through the workshops.
Psychologist David Lane of the Marsalis Avenue church in Dallas and therapist Thomas Jackson of the Ferguson Heights church in St. Louis — who have a ministry to ministers called Wounded Healers — stopped by to talk with Edwards about their sessions.
“Our goal is to help restore ministers,” Lane said. “That’s always been a challenge.
“When people are in positions of authority in the church, they are subject to addictions, a lust for power, sex and money,” he added. “That’s true in every profession. Clergy is not exempt. We have retreats for clergy. If a minister gets in trouble, he may need to resign his post or be reprimanded. We work with the church to force him into accountability with a structured plan.”
An emphasis on biblical interpretation and preaching permeated the conference.
“We ought to plant our feet firmly on the word of God,” said Ray Peterson of the South Parkway East church in Memphis, Tenn., a featured preacher on the last day of the Lectureship. “We need to learn how to wait on God. If you’ve got a problem that some man can solve, you really don’t have a problem.”

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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