Black Preaching in the Black

The Scriptures also speak of dreams and prophesies which come through Gods servant, delivering words of Gods will to the people Though the preacher may not want to preach these words, like Jonah, he or she is commissioned to do so or he or she is no preacher. The Holy Spirit also is the comforter (John 14:16) and through the words of a preacher, Gods people find relief and comfort for their anguished souls. The Spirit is also described as bringing Truth to Gods people (John 16:13-14) and speaks the truth on Gods authority.

When the listener he or shears the Word of God from the preachers mouth, he or she is receiving a personal communication from God, but that is only if the preacher has become Gods vessel and delivers the Word received through the Holy Spirit. Henry Heywood Mitchell asks us to understand the culture from which the styles of preaching come, particularly the idiom, the imagery, the style and world view presented. In Black preaching, the culture is seen in the language and the techniques of the sermon. Black preachers come from a rich tradition of Black history, where slavery, trouble, toils and traps surrounded them at key points in history. As slaves the Black people were brought to the United States and therefore they draw from that experience in paralleling the people of Moses experience. They come from a heritage which is close to the Holy Land, the same one from which the Bible came; Paul encountered a Black and converted him, sending him back to his native land to spread the gospel. That is how close the Black heritage is to Jesus. The result is a strong history of oratory and leadership.

Today, Black preachers are asked to “teach homiletics in seminaries all over the nation. It is increasingly clear that this Black tradition has much to offer all cultures” (Mitchell, 1990, 12).

Prayer, song, and preaching are the agents through which God feeds and nourishes the believers faith. The worship service is under the control of the Holy Spirit and the believers receive the gift through the act of worshipping. Prayer is an important aspect of the worship service, as all partake in the communication with God. Not only are petitions delivered to Gods ear, but thanks for all the blessing which the believers have received.

Song is extremely important in the service, as all members raise their voices, repeating sacred words and raising their voices, whether gifted or not, to an act of worship in a very real way. Song and poetry are even utilized in the sermon at times.

Preaching is the means through God speaks to His people and the sermon is often considered the center of the service, as it provokes thoughts of God and invokes God to enter the hearts of the listeners. In the early days of the United States, Blacks gathered together in clandestine meetings, much as the early Christians did, to worship in their own way. Even though their white masters tried to change their religion and their way of worshiping, they held meetings in brush arbors, with their own leaders, who spoke to them in their own powerful way. There was no gender domination, no restrictions as to dancing, no “witches” and their own rituals. The language did not recognize gender, the religion was their life and a rich culture guided the Black religious tradition to the forefront of oratorical genius (Mitchell, 1990, 13).

Skill in preaching, in delivering the message in a vivid, artistic way is the way the story is told and the message is delivered to Gods people. Using logic and coherent, concise sermon texts brings the message into focus. When a sermon is vague and aimless, the message is lost to the people. While prayer and song are important aspects of the worship service, the delivery of Gods Word by means of a sermon is often central to the worship experience. While the English tradition makes a church-goer thinking of the homily want to groan, in the Black tradition, it is the most exciting part of the service. Using action, a compelling story, sometimes music or a choir in the background, and audience participation, a preacher can create a desirable and inviting aspect of worship.

5. Sticking close to the sermon text. When the authority of the speaker is in mind, the preacher must be focused and coherent.

Although it appears to convey seemingly straightforward and easy to understand ideas, the basic Black sermon rides on a more complex set of abstract ideas conveyed through everyday, concrete imagery. Therefore, the abstract idea becomes memorable and utilitarian. Jesus used parables to teach the ideas he wanted the disciples to remember. More discussion of parallelism in the techniques of Black preaching style will follow in a discussion of techniques of preaching.

Focusing on the Scripture is central to the purpose of a sermon, which is feeding the children of God from His Word. Focusing involves being brief and choosing a text which relates to the listener.

It also involves creating a framework through which the biblical text can be experienced by the listener. Highly descriptive explanations of the story are most listened to and remembered. This means that the preacher feels, hears and sees the story to tell to the listener. The framework of a sermon may be just as important as the text which is delivered, for if the framework is not built clearly and strongly, the text will not be understood.

7. The final factor is feeling. Emotion is a vital part of the sermon. The Black sermon deliberately uses emotion which appeals to the entire brain of the listener, or as Henry H. Mitchell put it, “the entirety of human consciousness – intuitive, emotive and cognitive,” while the Western tradition has emphasized the cognitive aspect of the sermon with philosophical, ideological and theological content. When a preacher is sensitive to the true emotions of his or her congregation and relates the passion of the story, then the listener can feel what the Bible is saying to them (Day, 200).

In the early days of the nineteenth century when the Second Great Awakening took place in the United States, renegade preachers held camp meetings all over the South and Southeast U.S. Unschooled in traditional styles and theology, the itinerant evangelists found audiences flocked to them for their “fire and brimstone” topics and their anything-but-staid form of oratory. The people came to see the show, were “saved” and formed both Black and White and mixed congregations of Baptist and Presbyterian churches throughout the Southeast. As Blacks left the South and spread north, east and west, they brought their music, their churches, traditions and preaching styles with them.

As the movement spread, newspapers reported “acrobatics,” such as “jerks, falling, dancing and barking” among the newly converted or by those “backsliders” just called back to glory (Bruce 53). Miraculous healing, great singing and the antics of the “traveling show” personnel added to the excitement of the camp meeting. Needless to say, the greatest orators were those who drew the biggest crowds and certain preachers became famous for their spectacular deliveries. In the early days of Billy Grahams career, he, too, was a fiery preacher who used the techniques mentioned to draw huge crowds. Other famous preachers, such as Martin Luther King and, more recently, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, are well-known for hypnotic, entrancing speaking techniques and styles which can raise the emotions of a crowd up to an intense, almost frightening, fervor.

The Black preacher uses a variety of techniques to rouse his or her audience to passion. One of these is the use of music during the sermon. “Originally, black church music was composed of vocals accompanied by handclaps, and much later pianos and band instruments such as trombones were added” (Alexander 1). In some churches a pianist or organist sits at the piano or organ during the sermon and accompanies it by playing music at a low volume, raising the tempo and volume as the subject demands. In others, the choir sways and hums and shouts in harmony as the preacher calls out for response.

Recently made famous by “O Brother Where Art Thou,” the chain-gang work song was a staple of and drew from early American slave music. In Frederick Douglass biography, he explains that the early slave music was anything but happy, but that the people sang to relieve their pain and to pass along information. This secular use of call-and-response, and of rhythmical rants is both derived from and has added to religious and sacred music and preaching styles. Similarities in rhythm, cadence, tone and melodies are not happenstance, but carry-overs from one to the other,.


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