Perkins’ Black Seminarians Association hosted the third annual Seven Last Words service on Good Friday, April 19, at Salem Institutional Baptist Church in South Dallas. Following an African-American tradition, the Good Friday worship was woven around the last utterances of Christ before his death on the cross. Many students, faculty and staff from Perkins were in attendance as well as members of the community.
Seven preachers – all Perkins students or recent alumni – each offered a seven-minute sermon on each of the Seven Last Words, concluding with a message from the Rev. Todd Atkins (’07 M.T.S.), a Perkins alum and senior pastor of Salem Institutional Baptist.
“In 2016, a few seminarians believed that it was important for black seminarians, who have been called to preach, to be given the opportunity to preach,” said the Rev. Bryant Phelps (D. Min. ’17), pastor of Church of the Disciple in DeSoto. “We figured that if no one was going to invite us into their pulpits, we were going to make a pulpit all by ourselves.”
Phelps helped initiate the event in 2017 as an officer of the BSA while at Perkins.
“And, here we are three years later, still at it,” said Phelps. “Amen!”
The service included somber moments as well as elements are rooted in the “homegoing experience” – the celebratory, sometimes revival-like funeral tradition of the African-American church. Musical groups and praise dancers from St. Luke’s “Community” United Methodist Church participated as well.
This year’s worship celebration was coordinated by Christian S. Watkins (MDiv, ‘19), 2018-19 BSA President, assisted by LaTasha Roberts (MDiv, ‘20) and Justin Carter (MDiv, ’19.) The inaugural Seven Last Words service in 2017 took place at St. Luke “Community” UMC, and the second at Hamilton Park UMC in Dallas in 2018. However, this year’s location at Salem Institutional Baptist was chosen “to highlight the fact that the south of Dallas needs attention,” Watkins said. “The venue change was strategic, because of the need for greater ecumenical support by our black non-Methodist seminarians and the recent establishment of Perkins’ Baptist House of Study.”
Worshippers responded to each of the seven preachers enthusiastically and with words of encouragement. The program featured a lively sermon by the Rev. Joyce Brooks (’18 M.Div., and ’20 D.Min. candidate), senior pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Beaumont, Texas, who preached on Jesus’ words to the criminal on an adjacent cross, in Luke 23:43: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
“Even when Jesus was nailed on the cross, God was still in control,” she said. “If we as a crucified people would come together with one kingdom focus, then perhaps we will see salvation today … in the here and now and not just in the great by-and-by.”
The Rev. Enid Henderson, an expected 2019 M.Div. graduate and executive pastor of Jones Memorial UMC in Houston, reflected on Jesus’ words in Matthew 27:46: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
“At noon, darkness came over the whole land,” she said. “For three hours, darkness filled the sky. For three hours of suffering and darkness … the crowd owned the conversation. They instigated the infliction of pain.”
But during those same hours of suffering and darkness, she said, “The light of the world consumed darkness so you and I could live in the light. Perfection consumed all the imperfections of humanity.”
Others preaching during the service included the Rev. Lisa Bozeman, an expected 2019 M.Div. graduate and an intern at Hamilton Park UMC; Justin Carter, an expected 2019 M.Div. graduate and intern at Light of the World Church of Christ; the Rev. Sharon Larkin, a D.Min. candidate, expected graduation 2020, and pastor of administration at St. Luke “Community” UMC; the Rev. Dr. Ervin D. Seamster, Jr. (D.Min.), senior pastor at Light of the World Church of Christ; and the Rev. Todd Atkins.
Dean Craig Hill spoke briefly to worshippers at the close of the service.
“What a joy,” said Dean Craig Hill. “It makes everything worthwhile to watch God raise up new people to minister the word. Thanks be to God.”
Watch a video of the service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P5PUH8LTE0