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Richmond band uses call and response to kickstart diversity convo

By Carolina Lumetta


This semester’s Special Service Chapels, held from Jan. 27-29, featured Arrabon Ministries, a organization based in Richmond, Va. that helps Christian communities with racial reconciliation, and its worship band, Urban Doxology. The band hosted three chapel services, a worship workshop and an evening service at Edman. Founder David Bailey started Urban Doxology to promote racial reconciliation through worship. The band tours the country hosting worship workshops, training programs and services to expose believers to a more diverse range of worship styles.

This mission attracted vocalist Kimberly Williams, who was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when she heard about the program. Before interning with Urban Doxology, Williams struggled to find her place among a predominantly white and male student body.

“God laid on my heart this discontentment in the way the church was handling race and class and women in ministry,” Williams told the Record. “In Urban Doxology, we want to be the body of Christ and handle the tensions of race and class in a way that honors God and unifies us.”

“It’s a lot easier if you’re white to believe that we live in a post-racial society,” Elena Aronson (‘13) said in a Q&A session with students on Monday night. “But we actually have a reduced view of sin if we don’t believe that sin has impacted systems and structures in our world.” Aronson interned with Arrabon Ministries during her sophomore year at Wheaton, and she currently works as the pianist and choir director at First Baptist Church in Ashland, Va.

Senior Delaney Young, who participated in Urban Doxology’s songwriting internship this past summer, described racial confrontation as a common fear among young people in general and at Wheaton specifically. “A culture that’s steeped into our generation is this fear of sounding ignorant and encountering ignorance,” Young said. “Those two build up into this big, toxic tension that keeps us from conversation.”

Urban Doxology uses their music to kickstart difficult conversations and present the gospel in a multicultural way. Young noted that music can often reach a wider audience than sermons or political speeches.

“When music talks, we listen,” she said. “As David likes to say, ‘We sing and solidify our theologies through music.’”

Young was one of seven interns who participated in the program, developing close friendships over eight weeks of composing and performing in a variety of worship styles. The program selects students from different racial and religious experiences, encouraging unity in order to form a cohesive band.

“The foundation of reconciliation is being willing to come out of your comfort zone to understand someone else better,” Young said. “Honestly, Wheaton’s lack of diversity and hush hush culture about race and identity didn’t prepare me for the internship, but that’s the point. The internship is meant to shock you into learning.”

Prior to her internship, Aronson was frustrated at the lack of non-Western music in the Conservatory curriculum, and she felt alone in her desire to discuss racial issues. After graduation, she returned to work for Urban Doxology as their director of training. In this capacity, she recruits and trains summer interns and provides churches and ministry organizations with materials aimed at racial reconciliation.

“I’m still surprised that Urban Doxology is here,” Aronson said. “My perceptions when I was here was that a group like this would not have been welcome in chapel, not because they’re people of color but because of the type of music they make.”

Williams suggests that different musical styles should be included more regularly in worship as unique witnesses to God’s character. During chapel services last week, she noticed students looking confused at the new styles of music they were hearing, such as gospel and calland-response.

“That’s okay,” Williams said. “We don’t have to like people’s expressions in order to love them well. As we are all image-bearers of Christ, we know that worship of God is going to take on different forms and expressions.”

Bailey, although encouraged by increased diversity on campus as compared to previous visits, added that the student body should celebrate that success while still working toward greater reconciliation.

“People overestimate what can happen in one year and underestimate what can happen in 10 years,” Bailey said. “Students should have a long view of what it means to be a reconciling community.”

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