The Singing and Praying Bands of Delaware and Maryland (Eastern & Western Shore) practice a form of religious worship that encompasses one of the oldest and most historic African-American performance traditions that is still active today, predating gospel, blues, and jazz. Our calling is to provide opportunities to a listening audience to witness “band societies” that were inspired by John Wesley in the 19th century with the purpose of winning souls to Christ.
Our ministry is a devotional/musical tradition that is unique and probably the oldest in existence to the Delmarva region. With origins in West African religion, Christianity and African American ring shout traditions; our singing and praying was developed during slavery. Later, this tradition became a part of Methodist prayer meetings which began with lined-out hymns (a way of singing initiated by a leader who would chant a line of a song and the congregation would sing it back) and concluded with a form of ring shout that blended West African traditions of song and movement in a circle. Currently, the singing and praying band tradition is found only in the tidewater area of Maryland and Delaware.
During worship, men and women face each other with a long bench – “mourners’ bench,” or a row of chairs between them. The singing begins slowly with each verse gaining momentum and becoming more spirited with prayers interspersed with the hymns. Eventually the group begins to move in a circle around the bench while repeating the refrain of a song.
Until the late 1950s, thousands took part in singing and praying bands at Methodist churches in Maryland and Delaware. Currently, due to a decrease in membership, on any given Sunday’s in which a service is held, all the band members come together and hold their service as one ensemble. At our strongest, today there are 35 participants.
Sarah Ervin’s of New Revised Group says, “You got to know something about the Lord in order to really enjoy the Singing & Praying Band.” “Our music is our hands.” “We sing with our lips and clap with our hands, stomp with our feet and when the “Spirit” GET ON US, WE SHOUT, and it’s just a joy.”
No matter where the new found fame leads us, Reverend Colbert is focused on keeping tradition alive. We are not an entity that entertains, we minister to the gathered community and I don’t want to ever lose that. There is freedom in singing, it releases you and it becomes a part of you. It takes you from where you are to another spiritual realm. In our ministry, if we just reach one person, “that’s powerful.”
We will continue the Camp-Meeting movement within the walls of the African American churches and beyond with our “Prayer Band Services.” Our mission is to continue a relentless pursuit to reach one more soul for Jesus Christ by taking our circle outside the walls of our sanctuaries; to reach the masses beyond United Methodism and the African Methodist Episcopal Churches to a broader field of opportunities.