Photo by United Studios

Photo by United Studios

The Melva W. Costen Institute

The Melva W. Costen Institute of Worship, Preaching, and Sacred Arts at Johnson C. Smith Seminary offers premier learning opportunities for persons interested in the distinguishing and historic practices of the African-American religious experience. The Institute is creating a collaborative learning environment where clergy, liturgists, musicians, scholars, and lay people of all races and backgrounds can refresh their understanding of Reformed worship; expand their liturgical, homiletical, and musical repertoires; and explore the intersectionality of worship and justice. The Institute also will graduate its first class of certificate students during this same September 17th ceremony.

Dr. Melva W. Costen is a renowned scholar of African American church music and worship. She has published numerous books and articles on the subject. She is widely recognized for providing a lifetime of educational and artistic leadership in church music, liturgy, and curriculum development, with a particular emphasis on African-American congregational song. Dr. Costen has been a trusted advisor to untold hundreds of church musicians, organists, pastors and church leaders throughout the United States and across the globe.

Dr. Costen holds degrees from Johnson C. Smith University, University of North Carolina, and Georgia State University. She holds two honorary degrees – one of which comes from a university where she was refused admission because of the time’s racial tensions. She is Helmar Emil Nielsen Professor Emeritus of Worship and Music at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. She was also Visiting Professor of Liturgical Studies at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale Divinity School. She chaired the committee that produced the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and served on the Advisory Committee for the African American Heritage Hymnal. She is the author of In Spirit and in Truth: Music in African American Worship, African American Christian Worship, A Workshop Manual on Worship, The Black Christian Worship Experience and numerous articles in journals and edited volumes.

Dr. Costen’s work and leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, alongside her late husband, Dr. James Costen, brought great hope and inspiration to many, especially those in the African American community. She and her husband have been in concert over the years in their ministries and strong advocates for African American investment in African American education.

Dr. Costen is mother, grandmother, great grandmother – a true leader in her family.