Word

Traditional and liturgical church services get a music makeover as Jesus (and the 23rd Psalm) go hip hop.

BY: Patton Dodd and Lilit Marcus

 
Originally published in Newsweek , reprinted with permission.

Trinity Church-St. Paul's Chapel
Photo by Leo Sorel

Popular Christian music styles have always paralleled the sound of secular hits, from grunge to techno. Now hip hop is finding its way into the liturgies of traditional churches. The white, middle-aged Rev. Timothy (Poppa T) Holder doesn't look like someone who would shout "Holla back!" in his priestly blessing. But, noticing the power and ubiquity of rap in his South Bronx neighborhood, Holder created a hip hop Mass in his Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania. Now he wants to help other churches get in the act, and has devised a hip hop service for the more buttoned-up St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church.

Hip hop services are popping up all over. Lawndale Community Church in Chicago packs the house with its rap-inspired version. The leaders of Minneapolis's Sanctuary Covenant Church do hip hop services six times a year to boost youth attendance.

The Rev. James H. Cooper,
Rector of Trinity
Church-St. Paul's Chapel.
Photo by Leo Sorel
In Tampa, the Rev. Tommy Kyllonen's Crossover Community Church gained 10 times as many congregants when it started using hip hop in youth outreach programs. Holder has developed "The Hip Hop Prayer Book," inspired by the Book of Common Prayer, which he wrote with help from dozens of rappers, musicians and poets. Here's their version of the 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 shout outs 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 He has me /covered allows me to chill. / He provides me with back-up/In front of 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.

Not surprisingly, plenty of bloggers, columnists and fellow priests have criticized the approach. Eric Turner, the assistant pastor at Bible Baptist Church in Creedmoor, N.C., says that when you alter Biblical passages, "you take the author of those writings down. God is completely different from us, and trying to make him like us is incorrect ... Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever." But proponents argue that using vernacular language in services is a way to draw young people to church. Everyone's down with that.



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