Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Sources, Artistry, And Purposes Of Black Church Processions

Edited by Azizi Powell

Black church processions are much more than a way a specific church group moves from one place to another - to enter the sanctuary, or to have the group members give their monetary "offering", or to leave the sanctuary .

These Black church processions are reminiscent of the 19th ring shout and have a similar purpose as that holy dance. The link between Black church processions as the 19th century ring shout particularly can be imagined for those offering processions in which the group moves down the church aisles, encircling the entire santuary before moving to the offering plates found in the front of the church. Another early source of Black church processions may have been the Conga line, though there's no holding on to the shoulders of the person in front of you, and the processional foot movement is different from the popularized version of that dance. Less we forget, the Conga line has religious roots that extend back to West Africa & Central Africa. However, the military drill team and parade formations are the group formations that have had the most influence upon 20th century and contemporary 21st century Black church processions. Like military drill teams, Black church processions strut to a beat and usually have a marcher in front as its leader, like the parade drum major without his or her baton. Notice the way that individuals in old school Black church processions have of holding their right hand close to their back and swinging their left arm down by their waist. And check out how some Black church groups chug their arms while marching. Also, notice the way that old school marchers crisply cut corners. And notice the way that one marcher in a pair moves to the right and one to the left when they prepare to make their way up to the choir stands that are behind the ministers' rostum. All of these elements exemplify the military drill team experience. And added to that, some Black church processions also appear to me to be influenced by Black line dances like "the Stroll", "the Madison", and "the Electric Slide". Other Black church processions remind me of Black Greek lettered fraternity & sorority steppin.

Some Black church processions move single file, while other processions move in pairs. Most Black church processions have planned movements such as swaying back & forth in time with the beat, or having the pair of marchers stop and then quickly move next to each other at a certain point in their song:
[The procession moves forward to the beat]
We're going to move, move, move up
The King's highway.
As we tramp, tramp, tramp
Let us sing, and pray.

[The procession pairs stop marching, and quickly move next to each other]
Christians, close up your ranks
And let's regain the day

[The procession again moves forward to the beat]
As we move, move, move up
The King's highway.

While Black church choirs usually sing while marching in procession, church ushers, or church nurses, or other church groups march in procession to music without singing. Sometimes the choreography of the Black church choir procession calls for marchers to move double time, while repeatedly singing their assigned Gospel song. Some choir or other Black church processions move to the beat of the music and execute a planned dip in time with that beat. Sometimes as a planned choreographic move, the entire procession moves backwards before again moving forward. Or an individual member might "feel the spirit" and spontaneously move backwards.

A Black church procession is part pagentry and part spectacle. But it is much more than that. The true purpose of the church entrance procession is to help set the tone of the church service. And the true purpose of the church offerring procession is to help lift the spirits of not only the marchers, but also the spirits of the rest of the congregation. Most importantly, the purpose of the Black entrance and offering church procession is to help bring down (or bring forth) the Holy Spirit. As a result of their marching, some members of the procession and some other church members may "feel the spirit" ("get happy"). This is particularly an expected part of the church offerring processions in some Black churches. As such, in those Black churches - in contrast to more staid Black congregations - for some procession members or other congregation members to "get happy" and "do a holy dance" or otherwise become emotionally overcome, isn't frowned upon, but is welcomed.

Black church processions are much more than just a way to enter the santuary, or just a way to enable the choir members to give their monetary offering. Black church processions are much more than just a way of being seen, or showing off in front of others although that is all the processions might be to some folks. But those who experience Black church processions that way are missing the entire point of this sacred custom.

In addition to their spiritual purposes, Black church processionals help develop & reinforce group esteem and self-esteem in the marchers and the other members of the church. And that is no small accomplishment, given how corrosive racism is to Black people's self-images and self-confidence.

Video #1: Sunday Morning Baptist Church Choir Processional

Uploaded by tdavidray on Aug 20, 2008

Video #2: FUTC Mass Choir Marching (part 2)

Uploaded by futc425 on Jan 20, 2008

The FUTC Mass Choir marching during offering. The choir is well known for their march

Video #3: MCHCA Ushers & Nurses Grand March

uploaded by mchcainc on Aug 19, 2009

This is the annual International Nurses & Ushers Convention Grand March. This year's event took place at the International Headquarters of Mount Calvary Holy Church of America Inc. Washington D.C.
April 3, 2009

Video #4: Ushers Day Celebration...and they Marched for Jesus

Uploaded by GodsBlessingU on May 3, 2010

Anointed One Ministries Ushers Day Celebration ... as the Ushers Strutted during offering. Services were held at Bethel AME Church in Cambridge, MD

Video #5: Offering time @ Abiezer (View the choir in action) [Canada]

Uploaded by 1baw2009 on Apr 13, 2009

Abiezer Pentecostal Church: 96 Milvan Drive Toronto, Canada--It's offering time @ Abiezer (This is how we do it every Sunday.)

Video #6: Saint Paul Ushers March

Uploaded by abetterfoto on Jan 17, 2011

Video #7: Bethel Born Again Apostolic Church (Hold on Out)

Uploaded by BROTHERTENNYSON on Oct 22, 2010

Bethel Born Again Church of Jesus Christ Apostolic, 3 - 5 Oakland Road, Jamaica The offering is collecting and the Bethel Born Again Mass Choir is singing "Hold on Out"

RELATED LINK "Marching For Jesus - Black Church Processions Part 1"
This is Part I of a 4 part series. The links to the other posts in this series are given in Part I.

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