Reparation Royalties Proposal – Good Shepherd

The Worship and Music Committee of Good Shepherd proposes that we create a budget line for sustained giving that would be a form of reparations given for the historical and future use of “Negro Spirituals” as part of our weekly services. This proposal takes its cue from the Reparations Royalties Pilot Program set forth by the Center for Congregational Song, and is structured off of their work which can be found here. They have provided guidance for “faith communities who would like to find a way to pay reparations by way of their music ministry or larger church body’s congregational song,” and their goals and recommendations will be referenced throughout. 

Proposal in Brief

“What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt. What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.” ~Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations”


  • “Negro Sprituals” are regularly used by congregations like ours to enhance weekly services. We currently pay two annual fees for the use of the other hymns/songs and liturgical pieces we use, which are copyrighted materials. Those fees in turn reimburse songwriters, arrangers, composers, etc. for their work. Negro Spirituals cannot be attributed to a single writer, but they can be attributed broadly to enslaved black people who were not reimbursed for their labors.

  • We propose that Good Shepherd pay a form of reparations for the use of this music which has enriched our community but which we have neither paid for nor could identify a party to recompense in the way we would for other songs. This should take the form of annual budgeted giving and voluntary additional giving. We propose a line in the budget so that this is a shared commitment by the whole congregation and because budgets are moral documents that publicly express our values.

  • Good Shepherd should identify a group to make this reparation to that is engaged with the work of keeping these spirituals alive in our culture or that could otherwise be agreed on as an appropriate recipient for this giving. For 2023, we propose the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

  • This giving should be paired with regular learnings around the subjects of reparations, the legacy of slavery, and racism in the United States.

The Proposal: We propose that the community of Good Shepherd engage in the ongoing work of reparations by meaningfully engaging in the history of slavery in the United States and its lasting impact today while also making a financial contribution that could directly benefit the descendants of enslaved persons.

By acknowledging one of the ways in which our community currently benefits from the historic wrongs done to Black people within the United States, specifically through our use of “Negro Spirituals” or songs derived from them, we can open up a conversation about the lasting impacts of slavery with a specific example. We can demonstrate that our community has been enriched by this music, but that no one has been recompensed for this music in return. We can acknowledge our inability to directly pay any specific original composer or their direct descendants for these works, while also finding a way to pay reparations in a manner that benefits the ancestors of enslaved people.


  • Participants: The congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. It is important that this is a project taken up by all. The conversation about why we choose to make these reparations should be open for all. The conversion and giving should be subject to regular review.
  • Specific forums each year: We need dedicated moments to come together in community and talk about whether and why we believe that this is important to us. The work of reparations is not financial alone, that isn’t sufficient to our needs. Rather, the work calls us to come together and talk about our shared and painful history, to acknowledge historical wrongs, and to ask ourselves how to redress those wrongs. This is a topic we’ll need to come back to repeatedly if our work is to be meaningful.
  • The Music: The music which forms the heart of our particular action is that music which could fit under the broad category of “Negro Spiritual” including work written by white composers in the style of spirituals or black gospel.
  • The Administration: This ongoing work must primarily be attended to and overseen by the Worship and Music Committee. It will be the responsibility of those individuals to hold the community accountable for the long term with respect to both our giving and our ongoing learning.
  • Financial Implications: A budget line item dedicated to Reparations Royalties serves the purpose of expressing that this action is a priority for our congregation while providing a minimum annual contribution. Additional givings should be arranged and the congregation notified so that individual members can choose to contribute additional funds.
    • A budget line item termed “Reparations Royalties” for $500, evaluated annually. We determined this number by considering the two annual fees we pay for copyrighted material. We pay $405 to copyrighted hymns. We pay $429 for the ability to print and stream content from Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
    • An additional collection scheduled in conjunction with a jazz worship service and an adult forum event on topics related to reparations and the legacy of slavery and racism in the United States. 

 Implementation and Education

  • Acknowledgements: Broad credit cited in the weekly bulletin of which songs fit these categories along with a brief note about this congregation’s practice.
    • Example Text “* Reparations Royalties are voluntarily collected annually for the use of this song by our congregation. We donate those funds to ___________ as an acknowledgement that our worship services have been enriched by people who could not receive payment for their labor.”
  •  Resources: Generate an easily accessible flier that contains:
    • Our Rationale including the way in which we contribute to “reparations” in this act and why we believe this is important should be public and easily accessible knowledge.
    • The process of collection and donation including who receives our donation and why they were selected should be readily available to our community.
    • Additional resources in the form of websites or articles should be linked to Good Shepherd’s own.
  •  Persistence: Annual reevaluations should be made to ensure that our Reparation Royalties are in line with our usage of “Negro Spirituals” and associated music, and that our donation is going to the most appropriate organization.

Allocation and Learnings

  • Allocations: For each budget year, a recipient should be determined, whether or not they are the recipient of a previous year. For the coming budget, we recommend: Fisk Jubilee Singers.
  • Learnings: Forums  explaining this initiative which also gives our congregation an opportunity to ask questions, express views of support or dissent, and which draws a direct connection to the lasting effects of slavery in the United States today.