A Charge to Keep is a research and film project focused on metered hymn singing in Southern black churches. Metered hymns are an integral part of the "devotional," the song-filled opening of a service that serves to prepare the congregation for worship. These songs illuminate the complications and contradictions of black Christianity in the United States. Metered hymns were both forced upon enslaved black people as a colonizing tool and refashioned by black worshipers as source of strength. A Charge to Keep opens a window onto how the tradition lives in the 21st century and highlights the power of collective singing to enrich communities, in churches and beyond.
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Several of the project participants discussed the importance of having a hymn of one's own. While deacons and pastors often have several to choose from, congregation members tend to have one or two they know well enough to raise. Here are examples of metered hymns and other church songs, as well as some of the variations sung in Central Georgia and the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands.
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