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Why I Sing Amazing Grace

A documentary and discussion exploring the topics of spirituality, rituals, powers, and leadership in the black church.


  • Amazing Grace

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    Photo: Indiana Public Media

    Why I Sing Amazing Grace: The African-American Worship Experience

  • Dr> Brown

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    Photo: Courtesy Photo

    Dr. Michael Joseph Brown, Director of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies and the Associate Dean of Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

  • Rev. Laffoon

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    Photo: Courtesy Photo

    Rev. Dennis Laffoon, Pastor, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bloomington, IN

  • Dr. Strauss

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    Photo: Courtesy Photo

    John Strauss, Journalism Instructor, Ball State University

  • Rev White

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    Photo: Courtesy Photo

    Rev. Sharon A. White, New Hope United Methodist Church, Anderson

The call to worship can vary by denomination, but many of the same spiritual traditions have lived in the black church for centuries.

WTIU-TV celebrates Black History Month this February with a panel discussion centered around a half-hour documentary entitled Why I Sing Amazing Grace: The African-American Worship Experience. The documentary and discussion will explore topics of spirituality, rituals, powers, and leadership in the black church.

Panelists include:

  • Dr. Michael Joseph Brown, Wabash College
  • Rev. Dennis Laffoon, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bloomington, IN
  • John Strauss, Ball State University
  • Rev. Sharon White, New Hope United Methodist Church, Anderson, IN

The half-hour documentary will air on WTIU-TV on Sunday, February 26th at 5:30pm with a repeat airing later that evening at 11:30pm and on Thursday, March 1st at 11pm.


Dr. Michael Joseph Brown

Michael Joseph Brown, Ph.D. is the son of the late Rev. R. Edgar Brown and Gloria Louise McCain-Brown, currently residing in Cincinnati, OH. His father served as pastor of several African Methodist Episcopal churches in Ohio and Pennsylvania. His mother currently teaches for the Cincinnati Public Schools. Dr. Brown was born in Clarksburg, WV, and spent his formative years in Cincinnati, OH.

Dr. Brown holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies and Classics from Vanderbilt University. He also holds a Master of Divinity degree as well as a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Chicago. In addition, Dr. Brown has done some additional study at Columbia University in the city of New York.

Michael Joseph Brown was ordained an Itinerant Deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1988, and was ordained an Itinerant Elder in 1990. He has served several churches including, Greater Bethel AME (Nashville, TN), First AME (Gary, IN), Greater Institutional AME (Chicago, IL), Ebenezer AME (Evanston, IL), Allen Chapel AME (Indianapolis, IN), St. John AME (Atlanta, GA), and New Bethel AME (Atlanta,
GA). He was the pastor of Bethel AME in Lafayette, IN, where he also served on the Indiana Annual Conference Board of Examiners as well as its Finance Committee.

Dr. Brown continues to preach and teach in churches across the country, and has published various essays for the African Methodist Episcopal Review, the Christian Century, Sojourners, and the African Methodist Christian Recorder. He is also member of the Society for the Study of Black Religion.

Brown authored three books, What They Don’t Tell You, Blackening of the Bible, and The Lord’s Prayer through North African Eyes.

As of September 1, 2011 Dr. Brown became Director of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies and the Associate Dean of Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Rev. Dennis Laffoon

Rev. Dennis Laffoon is pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bloomington, Indiana. A native of Gary, Indiana, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic design from Indiana University, Bloomington in 1993.

After years of serving the church, he answered his call to preach in 1999, which led him to pursue higher education, earning his Masters of Divinity degree from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis in 2007. He is a published writer with the African American Lectionary through Vanderbilt University Divinity School and is a distinguished fellow of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, sponsored by the Lilly Endowment.

He is husband to Rev. Rochelle Laffoon and together they have three wonderful children, Laurence Malik (14), Britanny Cherí (pronounced sher-ay) (12), and Aubrey Xavier (pronounced Za-vee-er)(5).

With a love of the visual and performing arts, he brings a bevy of gifts and talents to his ministry and is committed to using them as a bridge to show the world God’s love. Rev. Laffoon loves his family, he loves his church, but more than anything; he loves the Lord!

John Strauss

John Strauss teaches journalism at Ball State University and serves as adviser to the student-run Daily News. He’s a former Associated Press correspondent and editor in Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and New York City who spent his last three years in professional journalism at The Indianapolis Star as a digital-news and multimedia editor.

Strauss produced a mini-documentary entitled, “Faith Hope & Community.” Focusing on the church in the African-American community, John spent the last two years with Union Missionary Baptist Church, the largest African-American congregation in Muncie.

John’s video and an academic paper he’s done on the subject talk about the role of the black church in America, offers encouragement each week to a segment of the country that’s been hit hard by the economic downturn.

Rev. Sharon White

Rev. Sharon A. White was born in Brooklyn, New York, and at the age of four, moved to St. Albans, Queens with her family. She is the daughter and granddaughter of Baptist preachers. Roots in the church have been strong contributing factors in Sharon’s spiritual growth and musical talent. Sharon, a graduate of Clark College, Atlanta, Georgia majored in Music (vocal performance) and it was while attending Clark, Sharon joined the United Methodist Church.

Rev. White accepted God’s call on her life to enter the ministry. She received her Master of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary, Atlanta, Georgia, 1994. Upon ordination she moved to New Castle, Indiana where she served five years as pastor of Wiley United Methodist Church. She served at North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis for 6 years and then as Director of Advocacy Ministries for the South Indiana Conference where she provided leadership in Diversity Training. Rev. White has held numerous other leadership positions. In 2009, Rev. White was appointed to New Hope United Methodist Church in Anderson, Indiana where she is still serving as Senior Pastor.

In regards to Rev. White’s performance background, she has had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall for the Newport Jazz Festival with jazz great, Dizzy Gillespie, and the renowned Cynthia Wilson.

She recorded with the Clark College Jazz Orchestra, 1978 and appeared and sang in a PBS film production of James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain, 1983.