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Celebrating International Women's Month

March 2023

Photo from The Costen Institute for Worship Leadership at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary.

March is the month to celebrate women's social, cultural, economic, and political achievements in history. It is celebrated in the U.S. and other countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia. In 1987 Congress designated March as Women's Month, and this year women in every community are encouraged to celebrate and recognize the contributions of women throughout history.

"Imagine a gender-equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated…." (International Women's

According to the International Women's Day (IWD) organization, purple is historically associated with efforts to achieve gender equality. When I learned that globally, purple is recognized as the color of women, symbolizing justice and dignity, I could not help but think of Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple. In the U.S., purple, green, and white are used, colors that may have roots in England's suffrage movement.

In recognition of International Women's Month, Urban Missiology wants to do two things. First, we want to honor the women who have contributed to the ongoing life of UM since its inception. Then, we want to lift and celebrate the achievements of one woman in particular- Melva Costen.

Honoring Women of Urban Missiology

Christina Accornero Intercultural Missiologist and Life Coach (Indiana)

Phyllis Byrd Theological Educator and Justice Advocate (Kenya)

Louise Rita Dixon Political Analyst Advocate and Spiritual Growth Guide (Georgia)

Marsha Snulligan Haney Intercultural Missiologist and Founder of an

Online Community (Georgia)

Marjorie Lewis University Chaplain and Theological Educator

(Canada and the Caribbean)

Wanda Lundy Theological Educator and Congregational Pastor (New York)

Rosetta E. Ross Founder, International Journal and Religious Educator (Georgia)

Chana Shapiro Professional Writer and Family Advocate (Georgia)

Danita Snulligan Consultant for the Visually Impaired and Caregiver (Missouri)

Karen Felter Vaucanson Congregational Priest and Systematic Theologian (Denmark)

Kearni Warren Founder of a Caregivers Society and Environmental Justice

Advocate (Philadelphia)

Phyllis L. Wilson Youth Advocate and Special Education Advocate (Texas)

Honoring Dr. Melva Costen

Musician, Global Educator, Mother, Grandmother

The lead heading of a denominational magazine read, Enriching the life of the Church through global music and theological education." Crossroads Magazine, Feb. 27, 2017. Reading on were these words, "Melva Costen exudes a faith that crosses borders through the sharing of songs and the shaping of pastors." That is how Pat Cole of Crossroads Magazine described Dr. Melva Costen.

Did you know these facts about Dr. Melva?

  • Her most famous arrangement is 'There is a Balm in Gilead' (Vimeo/Music@Bell Press)

  • Another top song of hers is 'My Lord! What a Morning'

  • She is the author of two books used throughout theological schools, African American Christian Worship and In Spirit and Truth?

  • That she became the Visiting Professor of Liturgical Studies at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale Divinity School?

  • That she retired as Helmar Emil Nielson Professor of Worship and Music, choral director, and chair of the church music program at Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, GA?

  • That she remains active in the Civil Rights Movement and as a teacher and consultant in church music, liturgy, and curriculum development?

  • She dreamed that the Costen family, including their children and their families, might live and work in Kenya as needed?

  • That she and the late Dr. Costen (1931-2003), out of love for Kenya, have partnered with St. Paul's Theological College, PCEA dating back to the mid-1970s to ensure theological education for Kenyans?

If you want to learn more about this phenomenal woman, the Presbyterian Historical Society has recently announced that the James and Melva Costen Papers (call number RG 538) have been processed and are now available to researchers.

In closing, it has been said:

Melva's motivation for service is summed up with a single question: "What can I do with what God has given me to facilitate the ongoing life of others?". Her answer is leaving a legacy of good across the church and the world. (YouTube: Living History—Melva Costen, Part 2)

See also Melva Costen's unedited Living History Interview, part 1. Presbyterian Historical Society.

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