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The black church must make sure its own artistic voices are welcomed there, said panelists at a recent workshop on the church’s relationship to media and the arts.

Music and film aren’t gifts, but “the box the gift comes in,” said Dana Reed, a long-time record producer, at the workshop held Sunday, Oct. 19 in conjunction with the International Black Film Festival of Nashville. The workshop, titled “The Changing Face of the Regular Church,” drew several dozen attendees to the Avon Williams Campus of Tennessee State University in downtown Nashville.

Reed and four other panelists emphasized the need to nurture creative voices in congregations, as well as a willingness to introduce media and the arts as a way to reach future generations. Reed is a three-time Dove Award nominee, the former music director for CeCe Winans and creator of the children’s musical experience The Reeding Room, which he demonstrated at the workshop’s beginning.

“Reed” stands for rebuke, encourage, enlighten and disciple. The CDs are designed to teach children Bible stories through song and plant positive seeds in the youngest generation.

Reed himself said Christians must get out into the community with the gospel and not expect the community to walk through the church’s doors ready to be baptized. He also stressed the importance of hard work in reaching children.

“Part-time effort, part-time result,” said Reed. “Those who are trying to destroy our children are working full time.” He then added, “Most people treat what God would have us do as a hobby.”

Joining Reed on the panel were: Tracey Moore-Marable, who runs The Spirited Actor acting workshops; comedian John Gray; Sharanda Smith, publishing coordinator of the National Baptist Convention’s Sunday School Publishing Board; and Prophetess L.L. Babb of Holy Spirit Ministries.

Smith of the NBC said her publishing work is made more challenging by a generational gap ”something that also affects how other creative voices are perceived in the church.

Of an older generation she said, “They have a boxed idea of what a Christian looks like.” She went to say that some people in the black church deal with prejudices in the workplace, so the church becomes a place where influence can be exercised.

“When you try to take that power from people,” she said, “people get scared.”

Christian comedian John Gray couldn’t resist a good-natured jab at pastors: “They don’t have a voice outside the church. That’s why they talk so long.”

Gray highlighted the history of arts in the black church and reminded the audience that Jesus was a storyteller ”who told short stories.

“He was weird,” Gray said, getting serious for a moment. “He effected change.”

Moore-Marable, who has been in show business for more than 25 years, cited Tyler Perry as a recent and effective example of what can happen when arts and faith are nurtured together. Perry is the actor, writer, producer and director behind “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and other products featuring the popular Madea character. Most of Perry’s work features real faith in some way.

The panel was moderated by Roger Cheeks, director of student life and interim director of campus ministries at Regent University. It also included a mime performance by Brandon Primm, which drew a standing ovation.

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