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Why Black Gospel Music Is on the Decline in African American Churches

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Overview: A Black church congregation singing hymns like, “Father, I Stretch My Hands To Thee” was once a regular feature of worship. But the rise of megachurches, contemporary Gospel and modernized worship could mean singing hymns could soon disappear.

Father, I stretch my hands to thee, no other help I know. If thou withdraw thyself from me, Lord whither shall I go.

Part prayer, part poem, the gospel hymn, “Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee” by Charles Wesley, an 18th-century Christian theologian, is a staple of Black church liturgy, yet easily transcends race and creed to make praying easier in troublesome times. And it’s been a part of  Marco Merrick’s life since childhood.

“Before I heard it sung, I heard it quoted,” says Merrick, a music teacher, music historian and founding director of the Community Concert Choir of Baltimore. “Because in the 1960’s church in which I grew up, all too often when someone stood or knelt to pray, they would usually start with the text of a hymn,” often that one.

But Merrick worries that “Father I Stretch My Hands to Thee,” and other traditional hymns could go the way of funeral-home fans and women in fancy hats. The collective Black church doesn’t sing that hymn, or other traditional Gospel songs from eras past, all that much anymore.

In a modern technological era, in which megachurches that can seat thousands have bands as well as stage and sound systems that rival what you’d find at a rock concert, the simple act of a Black congregation singing together from a hymnal is becoming a lost part of worship.

Even smaller churches have “praise bands” playing hymns to an audience rather than accompanying a congregation singing together from a hymnal. And when traditional choirs perform, they are as likely to sing songs written by modern-gospel superstars like Kirk Franklin or Donnie McClurkin than a hymn written two or three centuries ago.

Continue reading at Word in Black

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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