After Lisa Allen-McLaurin earned her doctorate in music education from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1993, she said, “I never intended to go back to school.” She was engaged in “my utmost passion,” serving as a school music teacher for K-12 students and a musician in a United Methodist church.
“But God called me into ordained ministry in church while I was at the organ,” she said. “And so I got up under the unction of the Holy Spirit and preached that Sunday. I mean, it was a surreal experience.”
“But I knew that I needed theological education. I told my then husband, ‘I’m going to have to go back to school.’ And he was very supportive. I quit my job and enrolled in Candler School of Theology at Emory University.”
Allen-McLaurin’s Master of Divinity degree from Candler followed her Ph.D., a Master of Music Education from Southern Mississippi, and bachelor’s degrees in piano performance and music education from Millsaps College. Initially ordained in the United Methodist Church, she transferred her orders to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 2014. She is married to Thomas McLaurin.
In August, Allen-McLaurin was appointed professor of music, worship and spirituality at MTSO. She arrives after 18 years at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, where she served as the Helmar Emil Nielsen Professor of Church Music and Worship.
“We are enriched by Dr. Allen-McLaurin’s expertise and energy throughout our learning community,” said MTSO President Jay Rundell. “Her classroom teaching and her contributions to our weekly chapel services are elevating the way we learn about and practice worship.”
Allen-McLaurin spent the first half of 2023 living and working on the left bank of the Seine River as music scholar and director-in-residence at the American Church in Paris.
“They wanted to diversify their music and their worship,” she said. “I was able to teach the choir and teach the congregation some different traditions out of African-American worship. We did some things out of Caribbean traditions. We did some things out of South American traditions. It was wonderful.”
A composer and author, Allen-McLaurin premiered Christmas Is Waiting to Be Born: An Advent Cantata Inspired by the Works of Howard Thurman in 2019. Her most recent book, published in September, is The OneWord Worship Model: A New Paradigm for Church Worship Planning.
“The model begins with the biblical text,” she said. “In a lot of worship services I’ve observed, there are a lot of different messages that go forth, and they’re not all connected. It’s kind of like the old joke where the pastor gets up and preaches, ‘I wish we could take drugs and crime and whatever, and dump them in the river.’ And then the choir gets up to sing the invitational hymn and sings, ‘Shall We Gather at the River?’”
“If I’ve got to keep together four separate messages in my mind as an attendee, I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to do in response to that. So rather than that, if we have one message, one word that is going forth, then nobody’s confused.”
Speaking as a musician, she adds, “There are messages that can be communicated in music, but is it serving the larger message? Or is it just a way to showcase our wondrous choir, our liturgical dance team, our great orchestra?”
MTSO’s Tuesday afternoon chapel services provide Allen- McLaurin an opportunity to encourage OneWord thinking. She consults with Chapel Coordinator Richard Hinkelman and the student members of the planning team in shaping a service that differs in a number of ways from a Sunday morning in church.
“The main difference would be that the worshiping body is primarily constituted of scholars,” she said. “So in a chapel service, not only are we facilitating encounters with the divine, but we’re also trying to teach students and show the community best practices for putting worship together.”
Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in public theology, social justice and theological studies, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.
Danny Russell, communications director