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Daily Readings with George MacLeod. Ron Ferguson. Introduction to the Practice of African American Preaching. Frank A. Animating Liturgy. Stephen Platten. Missional Worship. Cathy Townley. God Warriors. Bruce J. James A. Carl S. Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism. David S. Christmas Play. Gary Neal Hansen. How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon. S Joseph Kidder. Although languages, religions, customs, and institutions were diverse, many African societies shared certain virtues, ideals, cultural expressions, and outlooks on past, present, and future, which provided spiritual armor capable of surviving the impact of slavery.

Some branches of the African heritage include direct involvement in the shaping of Judeo-Christian worship traditions. From the time Abraham came out of Ur and settled in Egypt, through the time when the church wrestled with the formulation of theological statements and the shaping of significant creeds, Africa has played a critical role. A third common particularity of African Americans gathered for worship is their history of struggle for survival as African people in America.


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In a strange and alien land, they were enslaved, marginalized, denied respect, and oppressed by the very people who introduced them to Christianity! This unique history allows the gathered Christian community to freely call itself by whatever name it chooses. This history also served to deepen the need for communities of refuge, which happen naturally when people gather around a common cause.

The gathered community, first in secrecy as "invisible communities of faith," found that the separate environments were conducive to authentic communication with God and with one another. There was little if any concern during this early period for adherence to denominational polity, recitation of creeds, or "acceptable" employment of superimposed, predetermined liturgical actions.

There was concern for the exposition and hearing of biblical truths that had meaning for an enslaved people. Since the Word of God was heard in their particular contexts, responses were very often spontaneous reflections of the primal world views still very much alive. Symbols and ritual actions were gradually shaped around socially shared patterns, customs, and forms, with an apparent awareness of the human need to respond with one's whole being!

The "invisible" environment allowed free space, God's space, where enslaved worshipers could hear an anticipated message of hope in God's word. The personhood of each worshiper could be affirmed. The community could experience freedom—divine freedom—in Christ. Each time a member of the community of faith experienced freedom from bondage or a physical healing moment, the total community would vicariously experience a newfound freedom.

Conversion experiences and baptisms were important times for the communal sharing of faith. The spiritual gifts and artistic talents of individuals that edified the community were acknowledged and encouraged in worship. In separate, sacred spaces, gifts and talents were not subjected to evaluation and scrutiny by Europeans and Americans. Worship gatherings, especially where elements of the oral tradition are at work, are opportunities for the community of faith to continually reconstitute and reinforce the spiritual bond within and between congregations.

Under the power of the Holy Spirit, a new theology was forged and flamed while the church worshiped. The methodology used was honed from "folk methods" common to Africans and transported wherever Africans are in diaspora. Music, song, and storytelling by the griot a West African term for "one who is gifted in the art of communicating wisdom, ideas, historical events, morals, etc. This common heritage continues to be a channel through which the Spirit of God edifies and empowers the body of Christ. Gathered and scattered as African American Christians in the present age, believers are provided sustenance by this rich heritage that propels believers, with hope, into the future.

From the African taproot, the early shapers of Black folk religion forged a Christian world view, or "sacred cosmos," that permeates all of life. Everyday living is not separate from worship. The reality of human corruption, oppression, and inequality anywhere in the world provides a hermeneutical principle, a lens through which the Word of God is seen, heard, understood, felt, and interpreted in worship.

Although African Americans share many common worship practices, one should not assume that all African American congregations will or should exhibit homogeneous styles of worship. Different situations and circumstances under which exposure to Christianity took place for each congregation, denomination history and theological orientation , geography, and social lifestyles are significant determinants of worship.

The traditional manner of "labeling" denominational differences among African American worshipers has not always been accurate, nor has it been helpful. The stereotyping of ritual action has not always taken into consideration the sociological factors of cross-ritual assimilation between denominations, especially in small communities in the South. There are also differences in ritual action within denominations. To assume, for instance, that all African American Presbyterians should be numbered among the "frozen-chosen" is to ignore the dynamics of "Spirit-filled" churches such as those in rural sections of North and South Carolina and Georgia.

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Vondey The Making of a Black Liturgy The formal liturgies of the established churches seemed disconnected from the needs and demands of the African American faith community. As George C. Cummings has shown, the thematic framework was shaped decidedly by two key theological loci that I have highlighted as significant elements of the Pente- costal imagination: the presence of the Holy Spirit pneumatology and the expectation of the kingdom of God eschatology.

Some slaves had visions, others shouted and walked, and still others bore witness to the creative power of the Spirit. Work, for the African slaves, meant forced labor. As Joan Martin observes, This made the nature of the work they were required to do evil. It was evil because it grew out of the sinful human will to subjugate and exploit others … Their lives demonstrated that the result of such evil was unwarranted, unearned, and undeserved suffering …33 This work ethic stood in contrast to the freedom and justice associated with God.

The often- coded opposition to forced labor could be seen and heard over and over again in the Negro spirituals and slave songs during monotonous and hard labor. George C. Worship meant enthusiasm, life, and freedom—liturgy as play. The worship of the slaves was dominated by prayer, preaching, and singing, and although oriented along the lines of the European rituals, these liturgical aspects were transformed by the imagination and rhythm of their African roots.

While these practices were often inherited from African religious tradition, they found new meaning in the African American context. Conversion was the climax of a James Weldon Johnson and J. Johnson, ed.


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See John S. The pneumatological and eschatological setting of African American worship provided a refuge from the harsh realities of everyday life and offered a sense of empowerment and freedom. The Camp Meeting Roots of the American South The integration of the freed slaves into the established ecclesiastical and litur- gical structures presented one of the greatest challenges after the Civil War.

Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion, Dale P. See Charles A. Raboteau, Slave Religion, Participants arrived at the camp meetings prepared to engage in not only a religious but also a social event. The rapidly growing Methodists and Baptists, and the Holiness Movement in particular, carried the camp meetings to the twentieth century and into the arms of the emerging Pentecostal movement.

The comparative dimensions of the liturgy, however, allow for an integration of camp meetings into a heuristic framework that takes account of both liturgical and dramatic theory.

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Hesser and Weigert suggest that such an analysis can be divided into an actional and an interactional level. The most detailed documentation still comes from Brown, Holy Ground Too, 26— Eslinger, Citizens of Zion, — For a critique of a formal definition, see Brown, Holy Ground Too, Karen B. Garry Hesser and Andrew J. Vondey The Making of a Black Liturgy we adopt this distinction, then the camp meetings clearly reshaped the involvement of place, time, actors, gestures, objects, vestments, and language that defined the traditional liturgical setting on the actional level.

The language was that of the people, not of liturgical manuals. Physical structures reflected simplicity of construction rather than symbolic character. This ranged from the dissolving of formal pro- cedures, and a lack of definition of the situation, to spontaneous participation and unrehearsed responses to whatever the situation seemed to demand. Camp meetings were ordered not by formal liturgical structures but by opportunities to respond to an imagination that envisioned the camp ground as a sacred outdoor temple.

The Holiness movement adopted the camp meetings not only for their effectiveness in evangelism and church growth but for the particular purpose of propagating the message of the holiness imagination. The Presbyterian and Steven D. Baer and Singer, African American Religion, Adherents to the Holiness Movement frequently contrasted the ritualism of established liturgical structures with the spiritual freedom experienced at the revival meetings.

Church buildings were replaced by tents and rough-hewn timber structures. The altar was not a place of sacramental action but of repentance and sanctification, often represented only roughly by a pulpit or the area where the Word of God was preached. Gestures were generally not visible from afar, but the spoken word traveled well in the otherwise quiet valleys and hills. Traditional liturgical vestments were avoided since they were not only impractical in the rural environment but their meaning was interpreted differently by those attending.

The language was usually plain and outspoken. The celebration of the sacraments presented a particular difficulty in the camp meeting environment. As the meeting places became established and more solid structures were built, little emphasis was placed on sacramental per- formance. The construction of the camp shed was influenced more heavily by the demands and potential of the moment.

Central within such structures, the pulpit replaced the altar of the traditional liturgical setting. Bibliolife, Westerfield Tucker, North America, — Vondey The Making of a Black Liturgy not to a sacrificial or sacramental place of worship. Rather, it denoted a com- munal response to an invitation or challenge given in the sermon for the purpose of seeking salvation, repentance, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Considerations of performance did not influence the participation and response of the participants at these occasions. A Pentecostal camp meeting publication illustrates the event: As we pulled into the camp ground, which is shaded by a large grove of beautiful trees, carpeted with blue grass, surrounded by large fields of corn and alfalfa … we were soon overjoyed to see the tents that were up … The campers increased until the tents numbered and several house cars and trucks on top of that. The estimation of the people camping is from to throughout the camp meeting … People were surely getting through in every morning service.

Many were being slain under the power, at one time I counted 22 lying under the mighty power, being filled with the Holy Ghost and power. At various times it seemed that the power just came like sheets of rain and great shouts of praise would sweep over the whole congregation … A number fell under the hand of the Lord.

The Urbanization of the Pentecostal Liturgy While the rural adherents of the camp meetings were exposed to the African American liturgy, two main factors influenced the expansion of this mixed heritage among Pentecostals. On the one hand, the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Christian Holiness contributed to the rapid expansion of camp meetings and to the transfer of the meetings from their original rural environment to larger urban areas.

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Vondey, Beyond Pentecostalism, — Dieter, The Holiness Revival, 81— On the rural—urban transition see Timothy L. As a result of this process of urbanization, the traditional organization of the African American community was changed significantly: the cities demanded a reorganization of life and religion. In the cities, the liturgy was exposed to utilitarianism, eco- nomic progress, population growth, social mobility, radical individualism, anonymity, the separation of work and residence, the emancipation of religion, as well as racial, ethnic, and religious diversity.

The urban character of the Azusa Street Mission revival, for example, was markedly different from the roots of the Pentecostal liturgy in the camp meetings of the rural South. None- theless, under the leadership of William J. Seymour, the pastor of the Azusa Street Mission, together with his predominantly African American congrega- tion, the liturgical framework of the camp meetings was kept alive in the urban environment. The difference between urban and rural revivalism in North America is one of the central arguments in Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform.

Most significantly, the open, outdoor sanctuary was replaced by the limitations of a city structure, a tight, hot, and sparsely illuminated enclosure. Cecil M.

It was nothing to look at—little more than a poorly whitewashed, burned-out shell with makeshift essentials. On its sawdust- covered dirt floor sat a collection of nail kegs and boards, and an assortment of discarded chairs. Because it lacked insulation and air-conditioning, and its ground floor was built of rough-sawn studs with only the outside lumber as walls, during the summer months the building grew intensely hot… In spite of these problems—the substandard facilities, intense heat, lack of ventilation, and swarms of flies—people came by the thousands.

In addition, the Azusa Street congregation provided interracial impulses and a multicultural environment for liturgical celebration that soon spread to other parts of the country. The uniqueness of clas- sical Pentecostalism is that its liturgical experience differed from the Anglo- European religious and cultural arrangements, crafting a new, and often radi- cally different, ritual arrangement on the American religious scene.

The new practices were often rejected by outsiders to the movement and encountered criticism even within Pentecostal ranks. Parham, for example, vividly illustrate the situation: There was a beautiful outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles … Then they pulled off all the stunts common in old camp meetings among colored folks … That is the way they worship God, but what makes my soul sick … is to see white people imitating unintelligent crude negroisms of the Southland, and laying it on the Holy Ghost. Robeck, Jr.

Charles F. Instead, the altar service established itself as the heart of the urban liturgy, including oppor- tunities for singing, testimony, conversion, deliverance, sanctification, and Spirit baptism. There were those who … broke into dance. Others jumped, or stood with hands outstretched, or sang or shouted with all the gusto they could muster. The American heartland had experienced an unprecedented religious Spittler, ed. Vondey The Making of a Black Liturgy transition from the established and organized churches, particularly Baptist and Methodist, but also Mennonite, Quaker, and Presbyterian, to radical new fel- lowships with very different, often unprecedented, liturgical settings.

Their liturgy had been shaped by African roots that were confronted with the sociocultural context of slavery in North America. These, in turn, were exposed to the religious impulses of camp meetings and the Holiness Movement. Both were subsequently transformed in the multicul- tural contexts of migration and urbanization.

In this regard, the emergence of Pentecostalism represented the emergence of distinct liturgical sensitivities shaped by the diverse American contexts that contributed to their formation. Conclusion This article has charted the initial development of a Black liturgy that is both American and Pentecostal.

The making of this liturgy indicates that Pentecostalism is a liturgical movement based on spirituality and worship experience rather than doctrinal consensus. The Black liturgy therefore functions as a basis of resemblance and unity, at least among North American Pentecostals. The shared and pervasive experience of spirituality and worship forms the basis for ecumenism and reconciliation in the Pentecostal movement.

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The implications of this argument reach beyond the African American com- munity and the make-up of North American Pentecostalism. If Pentecostalism is fundamentally a liturgical movement with Black spirituality and worship at its heart, then neither the African American community nor Pentecostal Bobby C. The isolation of the making of a Black liturgy from the dominant Anglo- European liturgical structures and its exposure to the North American cultural and ecclesiastical contexts has contributed to a destructuralization of the tradi- tional conceptual framework that usually constitutes liturgical action.

In contrast to the structural Anglo-European liturgy to which many of the established American churches adhered, with its conceptually fixed, written, priest-centered, and performance-oriented framework of sacramental celebra- tion, Pentecostalism offers a distinct alternative. By the time the liturgical movement took hold on the American continent, classical Pentecostal denominations had already been formally organized and remained largely unaffected by the problems that concerned liturgical renewal in the established churches. If this assessment is correct, this all has been incorrectly interpreted as an indication that Pentecostalism possesses no liturgy at all; a judgment uncriti- cally accepted by many Pentecostals.

At the same time, Pentecostals hold the structural framework of the institutional churches responsible for the lack of freedom, openness, and flexibility in contemporary Christian worship and spirituality. This potential impasse demands a shared investigation of liturgical sensitivities by both Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal communities. More work needs to be done in order to understand the dispersion of the Black liturgy through mass media and technology among Pentecostals, beyond the African American community.