For many years, black churches have hosted a special Good Friday service called “Seven Last Words,” an African-American tradition woven around the last utterances of Christ before his death on the cross. Three years ago, the Black Seminarians Association (BSA) of Perkins School of Theology hosted its inaugural Seven Last Words service at St. Luke “Community” UMC, and now it’s quickly becoming a Perkins tradition, too.
This year’s third annual Seven Last Words service will take place on Friday, April 19 at 7 p.m. at Salem Institutional Baptist Church, 3918 Crozier Street in South Dallas. All are welcome to attend.
“It’s a way to feature and preview young preachers who don’t often get an opportunity to preach from the pulpit,” said the Rev. Bryant Phelps (D. Min. ’17), pastor of Church of the Disciple in DeSoto. “Folks will have an opportunity to hear new preachers and to be inspired, knowing that the church is moving forward in good hands.”
Seven preachers – all Perkins students or recent alumni – will each offer 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.
Phelps, who was an officer of the BSA while at Perkins, was the visionary behind the annual event. This year’s worship celebration is coordinated by Christian S. Watkins (MDiv, ‘19), 2018-19 BSA President, assisted by LaTasha Roberts (MDiv, ‘20) and Justin Carter (MDiv, ’19.) The service will contain somber elements – such as a stripping of the altar, followed by the exit of worshippers, in silence, at the end. But other 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 will participate in the event.
While the 2017 and 2018 events were held at nearby United Methodist churches, this year’s location was chosen “in consideration of the push for interdenominational support for all of our Perkins sisters and brothers as well as the desire to uplift, preach and pray in one of Dallas’ most disenfranchised parts,” said Watkins.
Watkins is the Neighborhood Relationship Intern for the North Texas Conference’s Zip Code Connection, an effort working with residents in two zip codes to help recreate vibrant, thriving communities. One of the two is South Dallas Fair Park (zip code 75215), home to Salem Institutional Baptist Church.
“We want to highlight the fact that the south of Dallas needs attention,” Watkins said. “We intentionally chose the area so that we can commiserate and commune with that community. I hope our prayers can be a springboard for new ideas and new things to happen in that area.”
The seven preachers who will be featured in the service include:
- Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – The Rev. Lisa Bozeman, an expected 2019 M.Div. graduate and an intern at Hamilton Park UMC)
- Luke 23:43: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – The Rev. Joyce Brooks (’18 M.Div., and ’20 D.Min. candidate, and senior pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Beaumont, Texas.
- John 19:26–27: “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother” – Justin Carter, an expected 2019 M.Div. graduate and intern at Light of the World Church of Christ.
- Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” –The Rev. Enid Henderson, an expected 2019 M.Div. graduate and executive pastor of Jones Memorial UMC in Houston.
- John 19:28: “I thirst.” – The Rev. Sharon Larkin, a D.Min. candidate, expected graduation 2020, and pastor of administration at St. Luke “Community” UMC.
- John 19:30: “It is finished.” – The Rev. Dr. Ervin D. Seamster, Jr. (D.Min.), senior pastor at Light of the World Church of Christ.
- Luke 23:46: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” – The Rev. Todd Atkins.