One of the richest contributions to church music in America has undoubtedly come from the heritage of the African-Americans who came to America as slaves. Their hymns and spirituals, which are sung today across the world, give evidence of both the extreme hardships and the fervent faith that was a part of their experience in America.
African-American theology of worship arises out of a deep sense of oppression and a high anticipation of liberation. In worship, African-Americans experience the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, which liberates them from sin and the power of the Evil One.
We find diversity in the worship practices of African-Americans. This diversity results from differences in points of entry into and acceptance of the Christian faith, as well as denominational distinctions. However, there is a common history and heritage rooted in the religious life of Africans enslaved in America. There is sufficient documentation for the genesis of unique African-American worship styles in the imposed marginalization of Africans in America. For a people whose slave existence was partially supported by Scripture, it was necessary for a new form of Christianity to be shaped. The “new” religion represented a fusion of a number of worldviews, beliefs, and practices: African, Judeo-Christian, Euro-American, and African-American.
Churches in the African-American community share a distinct worship culture that is the result of the integration of Christian worship forms with a worldview shaped by a traditional African ontology (understanding of being). In addition to the African heritage and religious perspective, the experience of blacks in American slavery has also helped to shape African-American worship patterns.
George Washington Carver (c. 1864-1943) was born near Carthage, Missouri of slave parents. He became one of the great educators and scientists of the early 20th century.
From its beginnings, worship in the black Baptist church centered in the sermon. The sermon was the crescendo in the worship experience. The content focused upon the hereafter and upon a God who gave his people hope in the midst of their despair and the mundane experiences of this life.