Charles Albert Tindley (was born in the year 1851 and passed away in the year 1933) was one of the renowned preachers of Methodism at the turn of the twentieth century. In a collection of Tindley songs of praises, Beams of Heaven (General Board of Global Ministries, year 2006) Emory University hymnologist James Abbington calls Tindley a “clergyman, speaker, poet, writer, theologian, social activist, ‘father of African American Hymnody,’ ‘progenitor of African American gospel melody’ and ‘prince of churchmen.’”
The “Beams of Heaven as I Go,” one of 47 songs of praises by Tindley, was initially titled the “Some Day.” It first appeared in his collection New Songs of Paradise, No. 6 (year 1916).
The Reverend Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, cites African-American scholars C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya in illustrating the social conditions of the day surrounding this song of praise: “Tindley wrote melodies incorporating the black folk imagery which tried to expound the oppression African Americans faced as they resolved in the cities of the North, an experience not significantly different from that which produced the spirituals. The Tindley songs of praises (which are congregational songs) encourage those who suffer the storms of life to stand fast in Christ. . . . They are also addressed to supporting the oppressed to remain alive in this world.”
With this background, one can sing the song of praise with deeper comprehension.
In stanza one, Tindley differentiates existence to a “wilderness below” in which we “search” in “darkness.” The scriptural roots of this stanza can undoubtedly be found in the Exodus narrative that illustrates Israel’s flight from Egypt through the wilderness and into Canaan. Excitingly, the 2nd half of the stanza switches to a New Testament image: A “star of dream” occurs in the “darkness,” possibly a connection with the Magi in Matthew 2. The refrain then explains who supervises us through this wilderness. We may feel astray, but “if Jesus guides me, I shall get home someday.”
The second stanza pursues the image of light introduced by the star in the 1st stanza. Even when the “sky is translucent” and “a day is so dazzling,” “clouds may conceal tomorrow’s sun.” Nevertheless, Tindley notes that “someday” we “shall behold” a place where “day never yields to night.”
The third stanza names evil and the power of Satan directly. The phrase —“Right may commonly yield to might”— are words of honesty for any age. Then Tindley prompts the singer that even in this situation, “God . . . Commands above, with hand of power and heart of love.” These texts are possibly the most poetic and strong of the entire song of praise.
One of Tindley’s presents as a song of praise writer is to name the pain and hardship boldly and then, using the poetic device of antithesis, provide an alternative vision of the dream. The final stanza is a good example of this, prompting us that we carry “problems that crush me down . . . And we see sadness all around.” Then Tindley provides hope: “There is a world where contentment governs. . . .” Our objective is “to that land of calmness and honor.”
The song of praise writer’s theology is centered on existence as a journey with a clear objective. While the purpose is eschatological, this does not mean that Tindley did not want glances of heaven on earth. His songs of praises express a typical Methodist theology of heaven as the setting of Christian perfection. Nevertheless, existence is a journey toward that perfection and John Wesley’s call to social holiness undergirds this journey—a concern for and participation in the social matters and the hardships of the day.
While the works are commonly written in the first-person singular, the “I” of the individual singer became “we” in the voicing of the song by the people. The hardships may have been felt individually by each person present, but they were shared by all as the congregation sang these songs of praises.
Doctor Abbington at Emory denotes that Tindley usually interpolated his songs of praises into his sermons. One can be certain that the message of the sermon labeled the inequity faced by the congregation and the dream that the gospel provides.
Tindley’s melodies do not adopt a “pie in the sky by and by” theology, but instead they connect the hardships in the wilderness with a dream. As we move toward our objective, we can also be optimistic that the injustices of this world will be addressed now.
His songs of praises were an addition of the spirituals, giving voice to the deep emotions of this earlier form and placing these feelings into the social context of the day. In turn, Tindley, usually called the “father of gospel song,” influenced the next generation of songwriters including, as Doctor Abbington notes, Thomas A. Dorsey, Lucie Campbell, Roberta Martin, William Brewster, and Kenneth Morris.
Never able to go to the educational institution, Tindley learned independently and by asking people to teach him. He enlisted the support of a Philadelphia synagogue on North Broad St. to study Hebrew and studied Greek by taking a correspondence course through the Boston Theological School.* Without any degree, Tindley was certified for ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church by examination, with high ranking grades. He was ordained as a Deacon in the Delaware Conference in the year 1887 and as an elder in the year 1889. As was the practice of the ME Church, Tindley was appointed by his bishop to serve as an itinerant clergyman who is staying in a relatively short time at every charge: in the year 1885 to Cape May, New Jersey, in the year 1887 in South Wilmington, Delaware, in the year 1889 in Odessa, Delaware. In the year 1891 to Pocomoke, Maryland, in the year 1894 to Fairmount, Maryland, and in the year 1897 in Wilmington Delaware at Ezion Methodist Church. In the year 1900, he became the Presiding Elder of the Wilmington District.
Tindley then began to be the pastor of the similar church at which he had been a janitor. Under his leadership, the church grew quickly from the 130 members it had when he came. In the year 1906, the congregation moved from Bainbridge St. to Broad and Fitzwater Streets and was called East Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church. The property was bought from the Westminster Presbyterian church and seated 900, however, it was soon filled to overflowing. The congregation over time grew to a multiracial congregation of 10,000. After his demise, the church was called "Tindley Temple." The Tindley Temple United Methodist Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the year 2011.