This spring, Candler continues a yearlong celebration of the 30th anniversary of the school’s Black Church Studies Program (BCS) with public events honoring the program’s ongoing impact and legacy. The year’s events carry the theme “Celebrating the Black Church Tradition of Sankofa: Looking Back, Moving Forward.” All events are free and will be held online.

“For over 30 years, the BCS program has not only attracted students but also leading pastors and scholars who take the study and practices of the institutional Black church seriously,” says Associate Professor in the Practice of Sociology of Religion and Culture and Director of Black Church Studies Nichole R. Phillips.

Phillips notes that the spring slate of events, which includes four panel discussions, widens the conversation around the question of “What is Black church in America?” while simultaneously addressing more specific topics connected to the Black church in the U.S. context.

“The story of the Black church in America cannot be told without considering the richness of the culture,” she says. “That is, the ways in which the music, women’s contributions, and the role of religion and politics play into community change, and into an ever-evolving social justice narrative. The Black church in America also emerges at the intersection of Black and Christian—concepts that must be questioned and unpacked in today’s national climate and context.”

A listing of upcoming events and registration information is below.

Panel Discussion: “The Black Church and Sacred Music”
February 18, 5:00—7:00 p.m.

Moderated by Assistant Dean of Worship and Music and Assistant Professor in the Practice of Worship Khalia J. Williams, this panel discussion will consider the historical development of Black sacred music, the ways it adds to or shifts renditions of Black church music in contemporary times, and how such shifts influence or impact Black congregational life.

Panelists will include:

  • James Abbington, associate professor of church music and worship at Candler and executive editor of the African American Church Music Series (GIA Publications)
  • Alisha Lola Jones, assistant professor of folklore and ethnomusicology and faculty director of the Global Pop Music Initiative at Indiana State University, Bloomington
  • T. Renée Crutcher 01T, classically trained performing artist with stage, screen, and recording credits and founder of The Armelia Project, interfaith ministries dedicated to forwarding social justice via the arts
  • Rylan Harris 22T, professional gospel recording artist, minister of worship and arts at Ray of Hope Christian Church and interim director of chapel music at Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Erica DeLoney 13T, classical pianist and organist and pastor of worship and arts and director of music ministries.

Black Church Studies Worship
February 23 • 11:30 a.m.

This service is presented by Candler’s Black Church Studies program, celebrating its 30th anniversary. Teresa L. Fry Brown, Bandy Professor of Preaching, will preach. Watch live on FacebookYouTube, or the Candler website.

Panel Discussion: “Black Women, Community, and Black Church”
March 11 • 5:00—7:00 p.m.

Moderated by Bandy Professor of Preaching Teresa L. Fry Brown, this panel discussion will discuss Black female leadership in church settings and how such leadership affects and precipitates institutional Black church and societal change.

Panelists will include:

  • Judy Fentress Williams, professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary and senior assistant to the pastor for teaching and preaching at Alfred Street Baptist Church
  • Shively Smith 06T 15G, assistant professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology, ordained itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and resident scholar at the historic Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC
  • Stacey Floyd-Thomas 93T, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair and associate professor of ethics and society at Vanderbilt University and executive director of the Black Religious Scholars Group (BRSG)
  • Sheri Smith Clayborn 01T, itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and minister for women, congregational and community care at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore
  • Sharma D. Lewis, resident bishop of the Richmond episcopal area and the first African-American woman to be elected bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church in 2016
  • Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of African-American Studies and Sociology at Colby College, assistant pastor at Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and author of If it Wasn’t for the Women…: Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community (Orbis Books, 2000)

Anna Julia Cooper Lecture: “We Build on Foundations We Did Not Lay: The Emergence of Womanist (Biblical) Scholarship in the ’70s and ’80s”
March 17 • 4:00-6:00 p.m.

This year’s distinguished guest speaker for the annual Anna Julia Cooper Lecture will be the Rev. Dr. Renita J. Weems, biblical scholar, author, public intellectual, and co-pastor of Nashville’s Ray of Hope Community Church.

Panel Discussion: “Being Black and Christian in America: The Black Church and New Vistas of Race in the U.S.”
April 8 • 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Co-sponsored by Candler’s Black Church Studies and World Christianity Programs, this panel discussion will explore the complex issues and new possibilities generated by the intersection of Black identity and Christian witness in a new era.

The event will be co-moderated by Associate Professor in the Practice of Sociology of Religion and Culture and Director of the Black Church Studies program Nichole R. Phillips and D.W. and Ruth Brooks Professor of World Christianity and Director of the World Christianity program Jehu J. Hanciles.

Panelists will include:

  • Church historian David Daniels III of McCormick Theological Seminary
  • Caribbean-American scholar Janice McLean-Farrell of New Brunswick Theological Seminary
  • Brazilian scholar João Chaves of the Hispanic Theological Initiative


Panel Discussion: “Black Church, Religion, and Politics”
April 15 • 6:00—8:00 p.m.

Moderated by Associate Professor in the Practice of Sociology of Religion and Culture and Director of Black Church Studies Nichole R. Phillips, this panel discussion will consider the historical reality of an institution designed to resist intractable social forces by way of its racial justice orientation and involvement with political activism which spawned social moments and movements from its invisible inception in America—then and now.

Panelists will include:

  • Gregory C. Ellison II 99C, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling at Candler and co-founder of Fearless Dialogues
  • Ray A. Hammond, founder and pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston, chairman and co-founder of the Ten Point Coalition
  • Reginald Thomas Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, former chairman of the Social Action Commission, and current chairman of the Commission on Colleges, Universities and Seminaries
  • R. Drew Smith, professor of urban ministry and Metro-Urban Institute director at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, co-convener of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race
  • Traci de Von Blackmon, associate general minister of justice and local church ministries for The United Church of Church, appointee to the Ferguson Commission, and board member of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • Kyndra Frazier 10T, ordained Baptist clergywoman, licensed clinician, and founder and CEO of KYND Consulting, Inc.
  • Jamal Harrison-Bryant, third generation minister, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, and former national youth and college director of the NAACP.