Posted: Apr 27, 2005 3:21 pm
Priest's hip hop masses 'speak for the thugs'
By James Dowd
April 27, 2005
"My sistas and brothas, all the posse of God, stay up," Rev. Timothy Holder boomed to the four dozen people packed into the Memphis Theological Seminary chapel. "Keep your head up, holla back, and go forth and tell it like it is."
The Episcopal priest from New York was in Memphis Tuesday to conduct a hip hop mass at the Midtown seminary. The message born of the streets centered on the question by late rapper Tupac Shakur, "Who will speak for the thugs?"
"It's a great experience for our students," said Rev. Bindy Snyder, the school's chaplain.
"There's something fresh about this that resonates with people."
Employing hip hop music, local rappers and a break dancer, the worship service was a far cry from typical Episcopal tradition.
Holder, who grew up in Elizabethtown and received his master of divinity degree from Harvard, is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania in the South Bronx of New York. As a white, middle-age man, he admits his image is not what most people have in mind when they consider hip hop.
"When you see me you don't see much hip hop," Holder said. "But there's isolation and imprisonment of the vanilla as well as of the chocolate."
Holder started the hip hop street masses at his church nearly a year ago in an effort to reach out to the neighborhood. Rejecting the image of the Episcopal Church as a bastion of privilege, he reworked traditional liturgy in a contemporary fashion.
"Hip hop was born in the South Bronx and what better way to speak to people in that area than by talking their language," Holder said.
"We need to take dangerous opportunities and be willing to go into the hood and speak to the thugs. Jesus is Lord with a new backbeat."
The hip hop masses are held once a month in the Bronx. Holder takes his show on the road regularly to expose the rest of the country to the liturgy.
He's writing a book on his experience and next year will publish a hip hop version of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
"This may not follow orthodoxy, but it's a valid and exciting form of worship," said Andre Johnson, who teaches hip hop theology at the seminary.
"We need to go into the hip hop culture and explore the spiritual components that are buried there and shape a theology around that."
-- James Dowd: 529-2737
Hip Hop 23rd Psalm
The Lord is all that,
I need for nothing.
He allows me to chill.
He keeps me from being heated and allows me to breathe easy.
He guides my life so that I can represent and give shouts out in His Name.
And even though I walk through the Hood of death,
I don't back down for You have my back.
The fact that You have me covered allows me to chill.
He provides me with backup in front of my player-haters and I know that I am a baller and life will be phat.
I fall back in the Lord's crib for the rest of my life.
(Adapted by Ryan Kearse)