Hip-Hop Holy Land

In Disciples of the Street, Eric Gutierrez weaves three storylines into a narrative about the role of hip-hop in Christian ministry. The accounts are intriguing: One examines the dynamics of introducing hip-hop music into the life of an elderly Episcopalian parish, another tells the stories of hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow and Episcopal priest Father Timothy Holder, and the last thread explores cross-cultural ministry.

The dominant narrative begins in 2001 when Father Holder, a priest with a syrupy Southern drawl, relocates to Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania in the South Bronx. The parish is in transition. Father Wendall Roberts, shepherd of Trinity for 40 years, has recently died and attendance is declining.

Trinity also suffers from an identity crisis. Trinity Avenue—a street that symbolizes the surrounding neighborhood in the book—has transitioned from a predominantly white neighborhood into an Afro-Caribbean one. The demographic shift leaves Trinity Church confused about its target audience. Furthermore, as Gutierrez writes, Trinity Church disengages from Trinity Avenue like “two rivals refusing to give each other proper respect.”

Holder steps into this situation with unexpected vigor and an equally unexpected plan. He begins outreach efforts to Forest Houses, a public housing complex across the street from the church. The rector’s plan stems from a conversation with a bishop on staff at Trinity Church. Troubled by a recent siege at Forest Houses, Holder wonders: “Are we legitimate? Are we doing any good here?” These questions lead Holder into a movie theater to watch a documentary on the late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. Holder sits perplexed as he realizes how little he knows about hip-hop—and the Trinity Avenue that is shaped by it.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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