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HipHopEMass continues to spread the gospel with a beat

By Daphne Mack

Ja Rock, member of a christian rap group called The Missionary Men, performed his solo at Trinity's HipHopEMass.  

[Episcopal News Service]  "And it just don't stop" -- one of the mottos of the Hip Hop world -- seemingly sums up the ministry of HipHopEMass in the Episcopal Church.

The brainchild of the Rev. Timothy Holder, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania in the Bronx, New York, HipHopEMass made its debut on the streets of the South Bronx during the summer of 2004 with just CDs and a DJ. Growth is definitely visible with the formation of the HipHopEMass band complete with drums, bass, and keyboards playing live beats of old and new rap songs.

Holder said HipHopEMass was sparked by the young people of the community and Tupac Shakur's movie "Resurrection," in which the late rapper's question -- "Who will speak for the thugs?" -- resonated and really made him begin to search his soul for ways "to reach the children and young people of our streets." He said, "I think Hip Hop is hope; Hip Hop is brilliant."

"Over 20,000 people have worshipped the wonder, love and beauty of GodHipHop in 75 celebrations in New York and across the country. God's Love is everywhere, for everybody!" Holder said.

Now with the recent publishing of the "Hip Hop Prayer Book" and the upcoming release of their first CD titled "And the Word was Hip Hop," this fall finds the ministry continuing to spread its message of "love and hope."

"The roots of Hip Hop are in social justice, social conscience and we're looking to not only reestablish but make those ties stronger," Holder explained. "The love of God is what we are preaching. It's a simple message but it's been our one message from the very beginning."

Other events include:

  • November 10-12 - Episcopal Diocese of Vermont will host a creation-rap mass celebrating alongside workshops on the theology and practice of hip hop.
  • December 2 - HipHopEMass will be celebrated at the "Bishop's Ball" in Greensboro, North Carolina with celebrations also planned for downtown Charlotte on December 1.

"Bringing people together and uplifting each other is what we need to work on," Jahneen Otis, rap hall of famer and director of music for New York City's Saint Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, said. “It's [HipHopEMass] about making connections with everybody."

Some of those connections have resulted in Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam of New York, Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina and Bishop Julio Murray of Panama being named co-chairs of HipHopEMass.

"It's awesome what we have seen in just two years. It is just amazing that this whole thing has happened. God has supplied," Holder said.

In addition to spreading the Gospel in a unique way, the ministry is also seeking a permanent home.

"We are looking for a permanent, welcoming home to ground ourselves in weekly traditional and hip hop liturgy, to learn and practice the faith and help lead the Church into new days and new ways," Holder said.