Unlike church services where a principal focus of gathering was to listen to the message
of the preacher, Gullah praise services followed a structure based in the collective worship
and contribution of members of the congregation. Praise houses (also called prays houses) were
small song and meeting houses that dotted the plantations upon which they were built.
Praise houses allowed community members to meet more frequently throughout the week, and only make
the long journey to church on Sundays. Saint Helena Island was once home to more than twenty
of these praise houses. Today, only three are still standing.
As Gracie talks about in "Praise House," Gullah style praise house worship began with the
lining of the hymn, call-and-response singing that depended upon memory and that required the
initiation of a given
hymn or spiritual
by a song leader. In the place of a piano or organ, bodily percussion was the
main accompaniment. Clapping or stomping, with the aid of a large walking stick occasionally,
kept a main floor beat for a song. This distributed and interactive form of worship allowed
for the congregation to "feel the spirit" of the moment through
the musical influence of multiple participants.