Performance in Preaching (Engaging Worship): Bringing the Sermon to Life

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Having given her heart to Jesus at the young age of six, Tracie has always felt called to some form of ministry, and writing fulfills that mission field. She's a much requested speaker and teaches writing workshops. Tracie enjoys spending time with family in her home in Montana. This site requires the use of cookies By clicking YES below, you are giving us consent to set cookies on your web browser.

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Ornaments: View More. Kim Lawrence. Tracie Peterson. Tracie Peterson , Kimberley Woodhouse. Did you know we carry? As many students of religion have pointed out, the African American "folk church" has historically represented the single cultural institution through which African Americans have been able to express themselves freely and without constraint Mays and Nicholson ; Lincoln and Mamiya ; Frazier ; Lincoln Since the church is the most conservative institution in the African American community, it is logical to assume that ritual services, including the mode of worship and style and function of music, would be most likely to be preserved in their least changed form.

Many cultural ties of the African ancestral lineage have been maintained within the enclave of the African American folk church.

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Pearl Williams-Jones characterizes the folk church as:. We may consider the Black folk church as being an institution controlled by Blacks which exists principally within the Black community and which reflects its attitudes, values and lifestyle.

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It is a church of everyday people and one of any denomination. Many of the ritual practices that we commonly associate with the African American folk church—such as freely structured services, dance, improvisational music, the emotional and musical style of delivery of some preachers' sermons and prayers, and spontaneous verbal and non-verbal responses by preachers and congregations—have clearly emerged from African values and aesthetics.

The Great Awakening seems to have provided African American preachers with their first significant public exposure. It was also during this era that the camp meeting proved to be a powerful instrument for accelerating the pace of slave conversions as well as providing a certain degree of freedom for those charismatic enslaved men who could preach.

The evangelical cast of this religious form stressed the conversion experience rather than the process of religious instruction, which made Christianity more accessible to illiterate enslaved people and often barely literate slaveholders alike. In this form of Christianity, a converted heart and a gifted tongue were more important than the amount of theological training received. Accordingly, if a converted slave showed talent for preaching, he or she was able to preach, and not only to Black congregations.

The tendency of religion to level the playing ground—the focus on "the souls of all men before God"—became manifest when the awakened or converted Blacks preached to unconverted Whites during this era in the South. In many cases, preachers operated, still, as the property of their owners. But there were also numerous examples of enslaved preachers who were purchased and set free to preach. For example:. After the resignation in of their pastor, the mixed congregation of the Portsmouth, Virginia, Baptist Church "employed Josiah or Jacob Bishop, a black man of considerable talents to preach for them.

In that same year the Roanoke Virginia Association purchased a slave named Simon and set him free to exercise his gifts because they thought "him ordained by God to preach the Gospel" Raboteau This preaching style and long, colorful narrative prayers had been developed earlier during the institution of slavery. The chanted sermon style—once held to be altogether European in origin—actually has historic precedent in several groups in West, Central, East, and southern Africa. Because many African cultures emphasize oral traditions, the artful manipulations of "the word"—from the precolonial epics of the West African griot to contemporary playing the dozens or rapping in the streets—is a highly prized skill among people of African descent.

Although both African American and Anglo Americans perform the folk chanted sermon—and may go beyond chanting to actually singing—the tradition has been most fully developed in the African-American community. I strategically planned to interview preachers from four different denominations in the Black community in Baton Rouge. Although each has a somewhat different type of seminary-trained background, they all share the traditional style of Black folk preaching that has similar threads of continuity with African roots, including rhetorical structures, vernacular language, vocal musicality, antiphonal aspects, and hermeneutics of Black preaching.

This study centers on previous ethnographic interviews with preachers; participant observations of worship services; and a review of published literature related to Black religion, preachers, and religious ritual in Africa and the diaspora. Participants were interviewed about their background, their "call" to preach, their style of preaching, and their awareness of the African cultural performance aesthetic that shapes the tradition of Black preaching.

I did not give them a definition of preaching style because it was also my intent to understand what each of them considered to be a preaching style. Smith: I don't know if I have a certain style. My personal take on this is everyone who has been called has something unique to offer and different ways of offering it. Some that are called are not called to be in the pulpit.

I try not to be judgmental.


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God tells me to tell his stories. For last Sunday, "Beware, Buyer, Beware" was my topic. Be careful what you buy into. An example coming from the Bible, when Esau bought into the plan he was hungry and he sold himself for a meal, a bowl of soup. Another example—the first buyer beware when Eve tempted Adam, and Eve bought into the serpent's plan. Bread—Jesus said I am the bread of life. When he fed the 5,, He basically said, I am led by the spirit.

Whatever He offers, it has already been done, it's in the plan. Self's biggest problem is "self. Just tell the stories. People understand the stories. My calling was teaching by telling the stories. In viewing preaching style, Pastor Smith looks at several factors: what you wear, how long you preach, and what you use to bring the message.

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Smith: Your outer appearance carries a lot of weight. You want your congregation to listen to what you are saying and not pay attention to what you are wearing, so I wear a robe when I enter the pulpit. Also, you have to pay attention to the length of time you present yourself. You have to captivate, not bore people; they have a short attention span. I also use song to bring the message.

Songs—sacred and secular—have powerful messages. Everybody understands what is being said here and it is a very powerful, but simple message.

Look at " Rock of Ages. Look at " Amazing Grace ," where the lyrics were written by [John] Newton, the captain of a slave ship. Wow, you talking about a turn-a-round! God's grace is amazing and what a message! Pastor Inita Smith has a close relationship with her congregants.

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Rubenstein Department Store—a voice spoke to me twice. My interviews with and observations of preachers attest to the tenacity of certain traditional belief structures, among them the continuing importance of "the call," the concept that one has been "chosen" by God as His intermediary or messenger. The nature of the call manifests itself in a mysterious way through a "sign," through healing powers, through conversion, or just by hearing the "voice of God.

Most Black preachers remember the day, date, place, and what they were doing at the time. Some ministers try to fight the call, ignore it, or deny that it is God calling them for many years, but eventually most comply. Getting the call is the beginning of a long journey. Herman Kelly, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal for 17 years, is extremely active in his community. He comes from a line of preachers: His great uncle was a United Methodist pastor and missionary, and some other uncles were preachers.

Kelly: God called me while a senior in high school, but I fought the call for 10 years. I was in Springfield, Massachusetts, where I finally gave into my struggle with God. Jackson: How long have you been preaching and when did you get your first church?

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How long have you been at Bethel? Kelly: I have been preaching since My first assignment was in Newport, Rhode Island, at Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. I have the longest tenure of any pastor at Bethel. The Biblical text.


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  • I want to enhance reason and faith informs my preaching, and I give the congregants a mind and spirit encounter or as Howard Thurman said, "Head and Heart. Kelly: We have expository preaching, storytelling, and social gospel. I do some social gospel preaching.

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