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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

Chapter 3 - North America


African American historian David D. Daniels III and I arrive late at the Church of God in Christ in March 1999, as snowstorms in Missouri had delayed our flight to Chicago from the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. At his gracious invitation I am visiting his home church in downtown Chicago, a congregation of the largest African American Pentecostal denomination in the USA, founded in 1897 by Charles H. Mason, who remained its presiding bishop until 1961. The church is packed with some 200 people all dressed in their Sunday best, men in suits and women in modestly conservative dresses with hats. Somebody makes room for us and we sit in the front row; the preacher is in full swing. His preaching is dialogical, punctuated with exclamations from members of the congregation, ‘Yes, Lord!’, ‘Thank you Jesus!’, ‘Hallelujah!’, ‘Glory!’, ‘Amen!’, and other similar expressions of appreciation. The organist sounds arpeggios at appropriate times during the sermon. The preaching is not just a sermon – it is a spontaneous poem, a vivid illustration and a hymn of praise at the same time. Towards the close of his message the preacher begins to sing an exhortation and the congregation are taken up with the elation. When the congregation sings, it is an intensely soul-like chant in harmonious unity with bodily movements like exuberant dancing, rhythmic clapping and uplifted hands. People are invited to come to the altar at the front to respond to the preacher’s invitation for prayer. After a benediction the service ends and the congregation melts into groups for social interaction and communion.