Death of IWS Trustee Emerita Dr. Melva Costen

Dr. Melva Costen was a leading voice in church music and worship, with a particular emphasis on African-American music and liturgy. She was a good friend of IWS founder Robert Webber and served faithfully on the IWS Board of Trustees for a number of years, stepping down in 2015 due to poor health.

She earned a B.A. in Education from Johnson C. Smith University, an M.A.T.M. in Teaching Music from the University of North Carolina, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Georgia State University.

Dr. Costen retired as the Helmar Emil Nielsen Professor of Music and Worship at the Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta, where she had served with her late husband and seminary president, the Rev. Dr. James Costen.

Dr. Costen was a widely recognized authority on music and worship. She retired as the Helmar Emil Nielsen Professor of Music and Worship at the Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta. She authored several books, including African American Christian Worship, which is widely used by theological seminaries. Dr. Costen chaired the committee that created the 1990 PC (USA) hymnal.

Preceding Melva Costen’s passing were husband James and son James Jr. She is survived by son Craig and daughter Cheryl Hibbler (Melvin), as well as grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended family, and friends. Her funeral will be on Saturday, September 16 at 1:00 PM at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

We will miss Dr. Costen deeply. Let us weep with those who weep, and let us join with Dr. Costen’s family and friends in releasing and commending this woman of God to the God of all peace and comfort:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Melva. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

About the author

Dr. James R. Hart served as President of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies from 2007-2024. Dr. Hart was a member of the first IWS doctoral class, the Alpha class, and served as Dean of Students during his matriculation. After graduating from IWS, Dr. Webber appointed him as the Dean of Administration, and then Provost in 2006. In June of 2007, he was inaugurated as the second president of IWS. Dr. Hart holds a B.M. in Sacred Music from Oral Roberts University, an M.M. in Trumpet Performance from the University of Tulsa, and a D.W.S. from the Institute for Worship Studies. He was critical to the formation of IWS in Florida and has held administrative responsibilities since its inception in 1999. He is a professional trumpeter, choral director, and worship leader, and a published composer/arranger, songwriter, and author. He has been involved in worship leadership in various contexts around the globe for over 40 years and has taught in the areas of worship, theology, and music in various conferences, colleges, and seminaries. Dr. Hart and his wife, Carol, have three daughters and three grandchildren.