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Call and Response in the Whooping Celebrative Sermon Close

Last night while listening to sermons on youtube and other places, I found a preacher who was “whooping.” As we know, the whoop is one type of sermonic close used by some preachers in the African American preaching tradition. The preacher was summarizing and celebrating the truth of the message. The call and the response, which is an important component of the African American Preaching tradition was in full effect. Then the sermon almost came to a standstill and never fully recovered. The preacher broke the call and response by encroaching on the “response” time by changing the length of the phrases. Once the preacher has come to the close and has established a set number of syllables in his or her phrases, the preacher should not break this with a particularly long, or particularly short phrase.

Keep the Length of the Phrases

The Call and Response requires that there is give and take in the close of the sermon. If the people are to celebrate the message, they need to experience it. And to experience it, we must foster it with the call and response.

However, this preacher was in a form where he would preach 5-8 syllable phrases and then allow the people to respond. Then 5-8 more syllables and allow the people to respond. But then he attempted something close to 16 syllables. And the moment dissapated. The number of syllables is immaterial. The important point is that once the number of syllables are established in the close that you do not deviate drastically from that number.

Two Things Went Wrong

Two things went wrong here. First the preacher attempted to introduce something that should have been introduced in the body of the sermon. The whooping celebrative close requires that there should not be an introduction of new material. We are simply celebrating the truth that was revealed in the sermon.

Next, the preacher did not keep the phrases of generally the same length. Let us assume that you are at the very end of a sermon and you are using phrases of 3-4 syllables like this:

Preacher: And God Said,
Congregation: Yeah
P: Let there be Light,
C:Yeah
P: somebody
C: yeah
P: is in darkness
C: yeah
P: and needs light
C: yeah
P: is there anybody in here
C: yeah
….

Now let us say that you want to add a longer sentence you can do a few things. One thing you can do is simply split up the sentence.

And somebody might know of a problem they are fighting with.”
Becomes
P: somebody knows
C: yeah
P: of a problem
C: yeah
P: that they are fighting

Sometimes repetition is used to tie these short phrases together like:

P: Somebody knows
c: yeah
P: you got a problem
C: yeah
P: unsolved problem

Now if your phrase is too short, you might add in some fillers. I have heard preachers use words like “yeah” or “Hear me?”

Conclusion

In short, once the call and response has been set up in the close of the sermon, then we do not break that give and take by adding phrases that are either too long or too short

Whooping and Sermonic Complexity


I have written on the topic of Celebration in preaching in other posts. This is the time of the sermon where the reality of the Gospel hits the congregation in such a real way that the congregation experiences the Gospel. Frank Thomas notes that the people will only remember that which they celebrate.

Whooping and Cluster-Term Analysis

I have begun a study of the sermons of C. L. Franklin. What is interesting about some of these sermons is what happens in the celebration or the whooping component of the sermon. One of the most striking things is the reduction of sermonic complexity in the celebration. One of the rhetorical tools I used to analyze the sermon is “Cluster Criticism.” In cluster Criticism we find the important terms and synonyms of these important terms and chart them throughout the sermon.

For example, in the sermon “Pressing On” which can be found in the book Give Me This Mountain: Life History and Selected Sermons and the audio cassette Legendary Sermons, Franklin uses “fighting a good fight,” “Keeping the faith,” and “finishing” to encode the idea of “pressing on” in the sermon. When one is “pressing on,” according to Franklin, one is “joining the army” and “pressing towards the mark.” one is “pressing on” to many “good things” including “higher ground”, “upward way” and “new heights.”

Multiple Synonyms for Key Term

Franklin uses many terms during the sermon to help the congregation to understand what he means by “Pressing on.” However when it is time for the whoop. When it is time for celebration, Franklin eliminates all of these added words and only uses one term “running the race” to encapsulate all of those ideas. He celebrates the truth of “pressing on” and the complexity of the idea of “pressing on” but zeros in on one term “running” and hammers that one term home.

Reduce Complexity in the Whoop

When we are preaching, we must include complexity in our sermons. We must describe and define the idea we are presenting in many different ways. We even must consider possible objections to the idea, but when it is time to celebrate, you should have already laid a solid ground work and thus should just take one term to encapsulate it all.

When you do this, you provide a hook for the people to remember the whole sermon. In addition, you eliminate a lot of things that might detract from the core gospel theme in the “celebration” if you do not hammer this one point. So in this sermon, Franklin eliminates rhetorical complexity in the celebration and thus provides a strong finish to a solid sermon.

Jasper Williams Whooping System

Can one learn to whoop? Is there a system to help anybody whoop? Rev. Jasper Williams answers this question with an unequivocal yes. He states that anyone who has been called to preach has been given by God the ability to whoop.

This system is meant to help one learn how. Needless to say I was a little skeptical. But I went ahead and looked at this tape, video 10, in Jasper Williams Pastor and Preaching System. You can purchase the system at this link.

Background on Whooping

There is very little on the subject of “whooping” available on the web or in book form to preachers at the present time. You might be interested in looking at my series of posts on the subject at this link. Also you should look forward to Rev. Martha Simmons forthcoming book on the subject.

Like any good presenter, Rev. Williams defines whooping. His definition includes anything that God gives to you individually as a preacher to help you celebrate the gospel in your sermons. this definition is a little broader than what many of us think of when we think of whooping. But that very broadness is why he can make the statement that “anyone can whoop.”

I would add that usually whooping is seen as the introduction of musicality to the preaching moment.

Your Sermonic Whoop is Individual

At any rate, A very valuable component of Williams’ system is that he shows you a wide variety of very different whoopers. This emphasizes his major point that one preacher’s whoop is different from another preacher’s whoop.

Williams even goes so far as to say that in his early years he “copied” C. L. Franklin’s whoop too much instead of trying to find his own whoop. This point, namely that we should find our own whoop, is emphasized over and over again by Williams in the video.

Whooping Theory

In the video Rev Williams gives whooping theory which he calls “whoopology.” I gleaned the following fundamental components of Williams’ understanding of whooping from the video.

  • Anyone can whoop. – As noted above, whooping is that element that God has given to each preacher that allows that preacher to celebrate the gospel.
  • Unique to You – Related to the above point, no one else has your whoop. You are the only one who can do what you do
  • Whooping is Gravy and not Meat – Here Williams emphasizes that preachers must give some solid content before one whoops. The whoop can not cover up the lack of a full sermonic meal.
  • Do Not Strain in the Whoop – You should not yell or strain in whooping. Williams notes that you can do much more with your voice when your voice is at a natural pitch and volume. Williams states that the whoop is sweeter when it is more mellow. Volume is not the point. Yelling almost kills a whoop, according to Williams.
  • The Whooping Curve – Sermons that end in “whooping” should drop in intensity when entering the whoop. More below.


What is the “whooping curve?” That is the fact that many sermons that use a whoop make sure that they are not at the height of their vocal intensity when entering the whoop of the sermon.

Rev. William’s understanding of preaching begins the sermon at a lower intensity then slowly builds up to a climax before the whoop section of the sermon. Then there is a drop in intensity. This is to make sure that your voice will not be strained in the whoop section which will ensure that you can continue to raise the intensity level through the whoop.

You must not go into the whoop at too high a level of intensity, you must have a drop in intensity as you go into the whoop. Then you build back up. If you go into your whoop at too high an intensity there is no place to go. I was listening to C. L. Franklin in the sermon entitled “Press on.” You find him at a high level of intensity. Then there is a drop in intensity right before the whoop. Then inside the whoop he builds to the final climax.

Steps to Implementing Whooping in Your Preaching

Rev. Williams does not just give theory, but he also gives some steps that a preacher should follow if that preacher wishes to introduce whooping into his or her preaching.

The first and perhaps most important thing one should do is practice. Practice in your car, practice in your shower. Also folks practice in the bathroom. Williams notes that practicing on the toilet is where many have done a lot of practicing. You want to practice. As you practice you must listen to yourself critically. Williams notes that when it sounds good to you it is ready for use.

Second, one should listen to other whoopers. This is akin to the jazz musician who listens to others. You do not copy but you emulate others. This is kind of a sticky thing. But you must preach your own style of Whoop. Seeing different styles helps a preacher find onesself.

And that is step three, you must find your own whoop. What is natural to you. God has built you physically and spiritually for a certain type of proclamation. Williams notes that we must preach in that way.

Finally, we should look for opportunities to incorporate “whooping” into our preaching. Because, in Williams thought, whooping is meant to articulate the joy of the Gospel, we must as preachers do it. Joy in the Gospel is an important component of our preaching ministry.

Conclusion

I think that the whooping system could spend a little more time in “step by step” instructions. But I began implementing elements of musicality into my preaching after looking at this video so it was helpful. The drastically different approaches to whooping also opens ones eyes to different takes on whooping.

However, I think that preachers who are in Whooping traditions probably already know most of what you will find on this video. And those of us who are not from those traditions probably could glean alot just from listening to great whoopers.

Be that as it may, Williams’ system can help to at least point you in the right direction and it is relatively inexpensive at 30 dollars. So I would encourage you to go and look at the video.


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