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Rev. Dr. Cynthia A. Wilson

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary 2013

Former Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students; Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Current Director of the Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience; Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and current Associate General Secretary at Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

In her role as Dean of Students, Rev. Dr. Cynthia A. Wilson served as advocate, mediator, guide, resource, pastor, counselor, and campus chaplain—primarily to the students at Garrett-Evangelical, but also to staff members. In addition to her contributions as Dean, Dr. Wilson brings the gift of music to the academy, the church, and the world: she is the director and founder of the newly formed Center for Music and Worship in the Black Church Experience.

An ordained deacon in the UMC and a member of the Kansas West Annual Conference, Dr. Wilson grew up the child of a Baptist minister. Because she was encouraged to play the piano in church from an early age, she has always felt the profound importance of music in worship. Early in her career, as she began to listen carefully to the powerful messages music carried in the liturgy, she also began to see that the Black church was in danger of losing its rich traditions as people of color were increasingly influenced about the “right way” to practice liturgy.

Her work as a consultant to local churches and ministries in the areas of liturgy and sacred music has helped produce the Songs of Zion (1981) and Zion Still Sings! For Every Generation (2007) hymnbooks. These worship resources of gospels, spirituals, and songs that reflect the Black experience are widely used throughout the United States. Having answered the call to music ministry, Dr. Wilson is committed to the task of keeping God’s Word alive through biblically and theologically sound music that raises awareness of issues of justice, love, and liberation.

Dr. Wilson’s task is informed by a hermeneutic of “not-yet”: “I believe that what held our ancestors together is eschatological hope of what was to come, always that sense of the ‘not-yet’ that is gospel ministry.” For her, liturgical music has carried this hope across many generations. From the earliest days of the Black experience in America and throughout the world, Dr. Wilson notes, people of color have done as their biblical ancestors did in unfamiliar settings: “We sang the songs of Zion in many strange lands.”

Dr. Wilson believes that faithfulness in ministry is being obedient to the call on her life, true to the gifts she has been given, and responsible in stewarding those gifts. She is the embodiment of someone who has been true to her gifts, using them for the good of the church. As the only African-American Womanist theologian working in music and liturgy, Dr. Wilson is a bridge between the academy and the church, a bridge between liberation theology and the liturgy—the work of the people. She has created a legacy for future generations of liturgists, church musicians, and worship leaders, a way to keep alive and vibrant the rich practices of music and worship of the Black church.

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