Reginald Charlestin at Drew Theological School: Learning and Singing
Master of divinity student is also a powerful musical force.
December 2016 – Music is like air to Reginald Charlestin, a master of divinity student at Drew Theological School and powerful singer whose solos during school services reverberate throughout Craig Chapel.
Growing up in East Orange, N.J., Charlestin heard music both at home and in church. His mother, Leaise, sang, and his father, Schubert, played six instruments, composed songs and directed a church choir—all as a hobby, no less—leaving a big impression on Reggie.
“He came home with a keyboard one night and I was asleep when I heard the sound of the keys playing. I got up and got out of the bed,” Charlestin recalled. “He would play a key and I would hum to it. While others had first words like ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad,’ mine were singing what I heard.”
By age 6, Charlestin was a soloist in a Christmas concert, and in time he developed his music and ministry at The Love of Jesus Family Church in Orange, where he led praise and worship and directed a church band. Charlestin also sang in community choirs and eventually became minister of music at Truth Ministry International in Newark.
“Church has been the driving force in my life,” he said. “But music has always been the launch pad for anything that I’ve done.”
For him, faith and music are intertwined. As one of his professors, Dr. Nancy Lynne Westfield, put it, “He works at his craft. He is a theologian. I think he enjoys the art of theology and doing the music.”
Academics brought the theologian to Drew in January 2014 but soon he was singing again, in the chapel. Charlestin, who became an ordained minister at age 22, explained that “there are some things that I cannot say that I express through music.”
A soul force is how the school’s director of music, Mark Miller, describes Charlestin’s voice. “The energy he brings when he begins to lead a song or sing, it’s so much pain, joy and depth in his voice,” Miller said. “It kind of brings people into a holy presence.”
Charlestin performed Donnie McClurkin’s “Stand” during a fall Black Lives Matter service, once again making a powerful impression. Reflecting on the event, he said, “It reminded me of how connected we all are. We feel and cry just like our brothers and sisters cry. But even in darkness, there is light.”
Indeed, “Stand” delivered hope on a day that recognized the staggering impact of police violence on black men and women. As Charlestin sang, he was surrounded by photos of those who have died young, all at the hands of police.
“The song reminds us that chaos, frustration and confusion will come, but how we conduct ourselves and stand through adversity is what we should focus on,” he said. “We will stand through this because God is faithful.”