In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Black Seminarians Association (BSA) at Perkins School of Theology will carry on with the annual Seven Last Words service on Good Friday, April 10, beginning at 7 p.m.
The service, which has now been pre-recorded in order to follow Dallas’s shelter-in-place mandate, is sponsored by St. Paul United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas. Each speaker has recorded his or her sermon from a shelter-in-place location and the music and additional service components have been compiled by the St. Paul media and music ministry, led by Jason Ward. The online service will begin at 7 p.m. Central Time.
Seven Last Words will be available via Facebook, YouTube and live stream, accessible by way of the church’s website at www.spumcd.com.
The special Good Friday service, called “Seven Last Words,” is an African American tradition woven around the last utterances of Christ before his death on a cross. Four years ago, the 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.
“The experience is rooted in liberation theology,” said LaTasha Roberts, BSA co-president. “This year’s program will culminate the BSA’s 2019-2020 theme, Strengthened Through the Struggle, based on 1 Peter 5:10-11. The message relates to how we all struggle, and through God’s grace, restoration is available.”
The annual program serves to give voice to emerging preachers while raising funds for the programmatic needs of the BSA. Online donations are welcomed and can be designated for the Zan Wesley Holmes Fund at Perkins School of Theology.
“The tradition is giving voice to the up-and-coming generation of pastors,” Roberts said. “It’s another platform and another ministry opportunity to prophetically proclaim hope to oppressed peoples.”
This year’s worship celebration is coordinated by Roberts (M.Div. ‘20) along with BSA co-president Jeremiah Johns (M.Div. ‘20) and advocacy chair Samuel Spraggins (M.Div. ’21). The service will contain somber elements – such as a stripping of the altar, followed by the exit of worshipers, 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. Paul UMC, St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church of the Disciple will participate in the event.
The Rev. Bryant Phelps (D.Min. ’17), a Perkins grad and now senior pastor of Church of the Disciple in DeSoto, was the visionary behind the original event, and will serve as one of this year’s speakers. Tamara Lewis is the Perkins faculty advisor.
While the 2017 and 2018 events were held at nearby United Methodist churches, “This year’s location was selected to return home to the oldest and most historic Black/African American United Methodist church in the UMC denomination,” said Roberts. St. Paul’s senior pastor, Richie Butler, is a member of Perkins’ Executive Board.
Seven preachers, all Perkins students or alumni, will each offer a seven-minute sermon on each of the Seven Last Words. They are:
Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Minister Wallace Wyatt III, Christ Dominion International Fellowship, Perkins student
Luke 23:43: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Amy Canon, Perkins student
John 19:26–27: “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” – Minister Christian Watkins, Perkins alumnus (M.Div. ’19) and Wendland Fellow for Faith and Justice with the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS)
Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Rev. Bryant Phelps (M. Div. ’17)
John 19:28: “I thirst.” – Rev. Dr. Shazetta Thompson-Hill, Perkins alumna (D.Min. ‘19), Christian Chapel Temple of Faith Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
John 19:30: “It is finished.” – Cheryl Roseborough, NFIM/Self-Esteemed Elevated, Perkins student
Luke 23:46: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” – Rev. Dr. Rochelle Carr, Perkins alumna (M.Div. ’01), Path Forward Empowerment