Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Charles A. Tindley

Composer, hymnwriter, and pastor Charles Albert Tindley was born in Berlin, Maryland in 1851, the child of a slave father. He taught himself to read and write, finally as a young adult attending night school while working as a janitor. One of his janitor positions was at the Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia; at the same time he was taking correspondence courses in Hebrew, Greek, and theology from Boston University.

After receiving his degree and becoming ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he became an itinerant preacher, serving in several locations and then for three years as a district elder in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1902 he returned to Calvary Methodist in Philadelphia as its pastor. It was a small church at the time, but his dynamic preaching. commitment to music as well as to humanitarian ideals helped the church to grow. More than twenty years later they built a new church and named it the Tindley Temple Methodist Church, reportedly over his objections.

He published forty-seven gospel songs in his lifetime, many in a collection called New Songs of Paradise (1916), and all of which were more recently collected in the book Beams of Heaven (2006). One of his lesser-known songs, I'll Overcome Some Day, is considered by some to be the basis, or at least some part of the inspiration for the civil rights anthem We shall overcome.

This song by Tindley is remembered and sung today, and still appears in some newer hymnals.

When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea
Thou who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the hosts of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou who knowest all about me,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my foes in battle array
Undertake to stop my way,
Thou who sav├Ęd Paul and Silas,
Stand by me (stand by me).

When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O thou Lily of the Valley,
Stand by me (stand by me).

Charles A. Tindley, 1905
STAND BY ME (Irregular)

At the time of Tindley's death in 1933, his church had grown into a multi-racial congregation of over 12,000 menbers. It was a large church, but not a wealthy one, and at the height of the Depression a headstone for their pastor was not a priority. In 1999 a coalition of Methodist pastors in Phildelphia began to raise money for a memorial. Three years later on September 14th, a service of remembrance was celebrated at the Tindley Temple, including several of his songs and his favorite readings. Following the service, the assembly moved to the cemetery in Collingdale, about ten miles away, where a large stone marker for Tindley was finally unveiled.

2 comments:

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Jimmie Abbington did a Sectional on Tindley in Birmingham, which made it into the Encore Sectionals in which guise I experienced it. We sang quite a few of his (mostly less well known) songs, including the enjoyable "Naaman the Leper" with its humorously racially charged line "His disease had made him white!" which I can imagine Tindley enjoyed writing and singing.

Great singer. Of all the lacunae in Celebrating Grace, I think the most glaring to me is the lack of even one Tindley song.

C.W.S. said...

One of my larger regrets at not going this year was missing the showcase for Celebrating Grace (and not just because of the free copy). I probably would have gone to the Tindley sectional too.