It was during the Great Awakening which was during the 1700’s when many slaves converted to Christianity. Most of them had witnessed white church services but didn’t agree with the way they saw white people worshiping and also felt they weren’t able to express the way they liked to worship either. So during slavery in the United States some of the slaves decided they would sneak away without their masters knowing and form small church groups. In these groups they’d be able to pray and worship their religious beliefs the way they wanted to and felt most comfortable. This religious group they formed for themselves was referred to as the invisible church. They’d sing and pray the way they liked rather than the way they saw white church services did.
In the invisible church black people were now able to worship the way they wanted. In the invisible church their way of worship was very expressive and ecstatic. Meaning there was a lot of hand clapping, singing, jumping, shouting, and religious dancing involved. This type of worship in the invisible church is something that carried on to black churches now to present day. Most black church services today will also involve this type of activity such as shouting and religious dancing. This is very much seen in most Baptist and Pentecostal black churches today.
The ring shout was a form of folk spiritual that was done in the invisible church. The ring shout was first done by the slaves, it was a way for them to express their spiritual emotions they were feeling. To do the ring shout they’d all form a circle and perform actions like shuffle, stomp their feet, and clap their hands. During this they’d also be singing and praying aloud as a group. Usually there’d be a leader in this circle, meaning one person might be calling out while the others all respond. So a call and response or leader-chorus type situation. Below are two videos that demonstrate this.
In conclusion the invisible church is very important part of Spirituals in African American history by how it was the beginning of the first black church being formed. The invisible church was a way for African Americans to express their selves they wanted to when it came to how they worshiped. They were able to sing the songs they wanted and act in the dances they wanted while worshiping. They formed their own way of worship that was different from how they seen white people do it. Now the way they worshiped fit their beliefs and cultural experiences.
Resources: African American Music, An Introduction 2nd Edition (2015) ISBN 9780415881814