From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Shrine honors Charles Tindley as 'father of gospel music'
Mon, 23 Sep 2002 14:06:33 -0500
Sept. 23, 2002 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville,
NOTE: Photographs are available with this story.
By Linda Green and
The Rev. Dorothy Watson Tatem*
PHILADELPHIA (UMNS) - The Rev. Charles Albert Tindley died 69 years ago, but
his gift of music still speaks to Christians, especially African Americans,
with its message of overcoming obstacles.
Credited with being the "Father of Gospel Music," Tindley composed hymns
that can be found in the songbooks of every Christian denomination. His more
than 60 hymns include "Beams of Heaven," "We'll Understand It Better By and
By," "Leave It There" and "The Storm Is Passing Over." One of his best-known
songs, "I'll Overcome Someday," provided the basis for the civil rights
anthem, "We Shall Overcome." Five of Tindley's songs are included in the
United Methodist Hymnal, and others are in the Songs of Zion, a supplemental
United Methodist songbook featuring African-American music.
"All of Uncle Charley's hymns had a story behind them and came from
something he had experienced," said Sophia F. King, a great niece. "One of
his little-known hymns comes from one of his best-known sermons: 'Heaven's
Christmas Tree,' which depicts the ornaments as the fruits of the spirit."
That sermon and other artifacts are found in the church sanctuary's original
study. Additional material is housed in the Charles Albert Tindley
Institute, founded in 2001 on the third floor of the church's D.W. Henry
Building, to document, preserve and promote Tindley's legacy. He died in
"The legacy of Dr. Tindley is what we are all about," said institute
Director Doris Mack. "We recognize that he left a great legacy for all of us
- on writing, on homiletics, on how to preach - and he left a love of
nature. He could take any small thing like a rosebud and preach a sermon
about it. Some of his writings moved me to tears. I believe that his life
can inspire people."
He was well known in Philadelphia as "the people's pastor," and he lived the
life he preached about and preached the life that his congregation
experienced, said niece-in-law Geraldine Tindley. "He was also a giant of a
man who had a big, booming voice. He would select a text, close the book and
keep people magnified for a long time."
The Rev. William B. McClain, pastor of the Tindley Temple United Methodist
congregation, said Tindley's music influenced numerous people, including
many of today's great gospel singers. "He was the father of gospel music in
America, contrary to what the press and others have said.
"Thomas A. Dorsey, who also was called the "father," hailed Tindley as the
father of gospel music and said that he had been influenced by Tindley,"
McClain said. "It was Tindley's music that brought Thomas Dorsey back into
the church from the Vaudeville circuit, nightclubs and taverns." Other
gospel greats such as the Mahalia Jackson also have proclaimed Tindley as
the "father of gospel music."
"What Dr. Tindley did was to change the genre of church music," McClain
said. "His hymns dealt with life situations, problems and what people were
facing day by day. ... Here was a hymn writer who dealt with life and
everyday situations that we still struggle with today. That is why the hymns
are still relevant and we can still sing them."
Tindley was preacher, author, fighter for justice and freedom, poet, writer
and a lover of education. He taught himself Greek and Hebrew through
correspondence courses from Boston University and earned two doctor of
divinity degrees. He was born a slave in 1851 near Berlin, Md., and became
janitor and later pastor of Tindley Temple United Methodist Church. He
became pastor of the church in 1906, and the church was named in his honor
A passion for humanitarian work, staunch religious beliefs and concern for
people led Tindley to establish a soup kitchen and clothing ministry at the
church. He identified with people who were poor. Those Depression-era
ministries are still in existence at the church today.
"His faith was very strong and came through in the songs, and it was the way
he lived his life," said Carolyn Tindley Hanson, a great-great niece. An
example of his strong faith is found in a story told when Tindley was a
pastor in Cape May, N.J. "There was no food in the house, and he asked his
wife to set the table. She could not understand why because there was
nothing to eat. He said, 'Set the table, and we will pray.' When they
finished praying, there was a knock on the door, and there was a person
there claiming that they had too much food and gave the family a meal," she
said. "My uncle had an unyielding faith." Tindley also led churches in
Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
When Tindley died in 1933, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the
historic Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pa., 10 miles outside of
Philadelphia. The congregation did not have the funds for a marker. It was
during the Depression, and a marker was not a priority when the members of
the congregation were trying to survive and take care of their families.
Three years ago, African-American United Methodist pastors in Philadelphia
sought to rectify the situation. They envisioned a shrine for Tindley's
burial site, and a resolution was written and presented to the Eastern
Pennsylvania Annual Conference. The resolution was approved, and a
conference committee, including members of the Tindley family and
congregation, was formed. Many across the conference shared and worked
toward the vision. Conference Bishop Peter D. Weaver gave the first $1,000
gift and provided continuous support and encouragement.
On Sept. 14, more than 3,000 people from all walks of life converged in the
sanctuary of Tindley Temple United Methodist Church for a memorial service
honoring Tindley. The service included vocal and musical renditions of
"Dr. Tindley has been gone for 69 years, and still his gift of music speaks
to us, especially African Americans," said the Rev. Anna Steward, pastor of
Haven Memorial United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
"The hymns are an encouragement for us in our times as we strive to overcome
obstacles," noted the Rev. Amy Smith, associate pastor at Lehman Memorial
United Methodist Church in Hatboro, Pa.
Bishop Alfred Johnson of Pennington, N.J., provided the keynote sermon for
the memorial service. As a son of Tindley Temple Church, he returned to the
pulpit to preach a sermon extolling Tindley's life. The congregation has
produced 80 sons and daughters who have gone into the ordained ministry.
Johnson shared that "all he heard in the Temple of Greatness of the Rev.
Charles Albert Tindley" significantly influenced his childhood. "The world
is technicolor in reality, and the hymns of Tindley weave themselves without
flaw throughout the globe," he said.
During a pause in the service, Ernest L. Swiggett, treasurer and director of
administrative services of the New York Annual Conference, stated that
"Tindley is an example of how God invests in human beings, and through them
we see God's glory."
After the service, a caravan of limousines, buses and cars made the 10-mile
journey from Philadelphia to Tindley's gravesite in the Eden Cemetery in
Rain began to fall, and Tindley relatives, dignitaries and others squeezed
under the large blue and white canopies to share in the unveiling of the
Charles Albert Tindley shrine at the gravesite.
Bishop Johnson noted that Tindley "was a preacher of the Gospel with the
grammar of grace. He was not too high for the lowly or too low for the
high. He moved in the middle so that all could hear and respond to God."
Etched on a six-foot portion of the multilevel, highly polished granite
shrine is a large portrait of Tindley, while a four-foot section displays
the score and lyrics of the hymn "Beams of Heaven." The monument also
includes the story of Tindley's life.
"The Rev. Charles Albert Tindley is a clear example of what God can do when
we are willing vessels," said the Rev. Evelyn Clark, pastor of Upper Darby
(Pa.) New Life United Methodist Church. "His contribution continues to
reflect the core of the African-American faith for the present and future.
The United Methodist Church is blessed with a tradition of excellence."
"Dr. Tindley, in spirit and song, reached out to those on the margins in the
past, and his actions inform the present and future church," Weaver said.
"He showed us what we need to be in our tomorrows."
When the festivities concluded, great-great niece Hanson, in an awe-filled
voice, said, "I have big, big, big shoes that I have to fill. This
celebration of my great, great-uncle helps me to know who I am and what I am
# # #
*Green is news director of the Nashville, Tenn.,-based office of United
Methodist News Service. Tatem is director of Urban Ministries for the
Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
United Methodist News Service
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