That African American preaching reflects an oral heritage is well documented (Abrahams 1970, 1976, Mitchell 1970, Smitherman 1986, 2000, Dundes 1981, Kochman 1981, Erickson 1984, Pitts 1986, 1989). African American preaching, the most prominent and longstanding discourse event (performance) in traditional African American churches, generally can be evaluated according to how well the performers (preacher and congregation) meet the criteria of oral tradition. Smitherman 1977 says that the dialogue between preacher and congregation (“call-response”), which begins with the preacher responding to a prior call from God to preach, serves to unify the preacher with his or her audience. In fact, personal communication and observation suggest that Black preachers who do not get congregational responses (e.g. Amen, Das right, you sho’ ’nuff preachin’), will feel a sense of separation from the audience.
Either they have “lost” the congregation by speaking “above their heads” or by boring them, or they are presenting material with which the audience totally disagrees. Silence in traditional Black churches is generally not viewed as indicative of a mesmerized or attentive audience; instead, it typically carries negative connotations.
This call-response format used to unify participants is evident not only in the preaching event but also in most other African American Vernacular English (AAVE) speech events. Informal observations and personal interviews with Black preachers show that many traditional African American preachers, when speaking to audiences who do not use call-response, do not feel “at home” and may be uncomfortable with delivering sermons in those contexts. This discomfort exists because, in most Black churches, the audience’s responses actually assist in the formation of spontaneous sermons, a combined effort of preacher and congregation.
Call-response function also exists in the sermons that were studied in this paper, ultimately sermons that yearn for support and responses from the audience. Both sermons by Minister Edmund Loo from the Central Christian Church of Malaysia (CCCMY), proves to possess certain qualities that is similar to African American sermons.