In older times, praise houses were the center of a Gullah community. They provided a place where people could safely come together to worship, celebrate, or make important decisions. During antebellum times, slaves were rarely allowed to worship with whites or in large groups together, due to fear they might start a rebellion. Praise houses were an accepted and unintimidating presence on a plantation, born out of a need to congregate and celebrate.
A bit of history- Decades ago, African and Christian rituals came together in simple, small, one-room buildings. Often, these praise houses might be a mere 10 feet by 15 feet, and several times a week would host groups of 30 or more people, clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and otherwise extoling Jesus in whatever way they saw fit. Occasionally, white ministers were employed to deliver the word, but more often than not, slaves were left to their own devices.
The sermon- Traditional praise houses might have only boasted one hymnal or one Bible. Many slaves were unable to read, and the status associated with being literate was a distinguished one. The call-response method of sermon delivery was common, with a leader singing the words and the congregation repeating them. Walking sticks might have been beaten on the floor of the little house to help keep rhythm.
Praise houses today- Modern times have brought larger congregations and more lavish church facilities, but there are still praise houses out there. Unfortunately, many are in poor conditions although there are people working to protect the remaining Praise Houses in Gullah communities. For those folks who still remember the gusto and energy evident within the walls of praise houses, small but mighty certainly continues to ring true.