Skip to content
Home » GE Patterson Sermon

GE Patterson Sermon

Our series on the book of James will help you understand how the Bible speaks to your everyday life. We’ll break down James chapter 1 verse 22: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”We all have a story. Our life journey shapes us in powerful ways and influences those we meet. We wouldn’t be who we are today without having lived through the events that make up our unique stories. Rather than retreading the familiar path of regret or excuse, take this time to reflect on how God has called you to engage with your life’s story as your own witness: as a story of redemption, grace, healing and love.

You may find it hard to access the right information on the internet, so we are here to help you in the following article, providing the best and updated information on GE Patterson Sermon. Read on to learn more. We at Churchgists have all the information that you need about GE Patterson Sermon.

GE Patterson Sermon

We are all aware of those who ask us to listen to their sermon. Some sermons are said in monotone and some sounded like the person was reciting a book. It makes people think if they want to hear any other words spoken by anyone else. However, when we listen to Dr. Patterson speak it is clear that he takes this job seriously and he is committed to sincerely speaking the Word of God with joy at every opportunity.

We all have heard the preacher who preaches without notes by stating everything that comes to her or his mind. You know what I mean—the preacher grabs and articulates at everything. 

A while ago, I heard a sermon that was just like this. The preacher had highs and lows. The preacher made some profound points. But the points had no relation to each other. Then the preacher sat down.

At the end of a sermon like this, it is very difficult to remember either the individual points or the main point of the sermon. You can imagine what went wrong. There is no main point and thus the people remember no main point! So how do we fix this?

Glad you asked, here are four points to help you fix this problem.

1. Sermons with or without notes should have a strong “gospel claim.” What are you saying about the good news of the Kingdom in your sermon? If you are not clear in your claim it will be difficult to be clear about what to put in your sermon.

2. Sermons with or without notes should have a point informed and infused by that gospel claim! By that I mean at least one point and no more than one point. Well OK …if you want more than one point go ahead but make sure that they are related to each other so that they don’t obliterate each other. I fear that sometimes our five-point masterpieces are either entirely forgotten or only one or two of the points are remembered.

3. Sermons with or without notes should proceed logically to a conclusion. And, in the Black tradition, that conclusion a lot of the time will be a celebrative conclusion. I recognize that there may be some disagreement here. But I think usually if you are not headed toward a culmination people will know it, at least subconsciously, and will begin to pay less attention to your message. Save your strongest point for the end; don’t end in a whimper.

4. Sermons with or without notes should eliminate irrelevant asides. By irrelevant, I mean that they are not connected to your sermon’s main point.

Don’t jump from thought to thought without any rhyme or reason. Preaching Without Notes is not a brain dump. Put your sermon together as you would if you had a manuscript. Be open to the Spirit’s leading. Follow the text. And ultimately, allow that Biblical truth to come through you to the people.

Scriptures: Acts 1:1-18:20

“To Speak As an Oracle of Christ”: Bishop G. E. Patterson and the Afterlives of Ecstasy

This article attends to the musical afterlife of the late Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson, a Pentecostal minister who, at the time of his death, served as presiding bishop of the largest African American Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ. In it, I theorize the nexus of faith, media, and sound that lifted Bishop Patterson to the heights of ecclesial power during his lifetime, while laying the groundwork for a pervasive posthumous presence: broadcast religion. Placing Patterson’s life-long preoccupation with various modes of technical mediation in conversation with his extremely musical approach to preaching, I will show that Bishop Patterson’s technophilic Pentecostalism takes an enchanted view of devices like microphones, radios, televisions, and cameras, understanding each as a channel through which spiritual power can flow. As Patterson’s voice and broadcasting infrastructure produce intimacy with countless scriptural scenes, they commingle mediation and immediacy, cultivating an enduring affect that I refer to as afterliveness. Transcending any single homiletic event, afterliveness depends on sermonic sound reproduction, effected by Patterson through both the practice of recording and through ecstatic acts of musical repetition, a set of recurring musical procedures that endow the bishop’s ministry with an eternal pitch.

On Sunday, November 12, 2006, the late Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson delivered his final message to the 99th Annual Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), “Jehosophat’s Prayer and God’s Answer.” Near the end of this antiphonal sermon, Patterson, who was then the denomination’s chief official, the presiding bishop, reminded “the saints”Footnote 1 of the enduring power of sacred song, calling collective attention to a treasured biblical text, 2 Chronicles 20: 4–12 (supplementary audio file 1). While this was the last message he would preach to that year’s meeting of his Holiness-Pentecostal denomination, Bishop Patterson’s emaciated frame—the visible result of a years-long battle with metastatic prostate cancer—lent the scene an even greater sense of finality. In the face of these terminal possibilities, Bishop Patterson preached about an eternal song. As he told the story of an ancient battle’s surprising solution, Patterson reminded his congregants of the unlikely battle plan that was given to Jehosophat, the king of ancient Judah:

You would think that if the army came in, you would hide the choir behind the army so that the army could protect the choir. But God did that thing the other way: he said, “appoint some singers, to go before the army.”

In other words, the army is not gon’ protect the choir, but the choir is gon’ protect the army.

Put the army in the back, put the choir in the front. “Well, Lord, what are they gon’ sing?” God said, “all they gotta do is sing these two verses.” “But, Lord, we haven’t had time to rehearse.” “But all you gotta do is go out there and say, ‘praise the Lord for his mercy endureth forever.’”

While this part of Patterson’s sermon occurred well after he undertook the customary movement from speech towards song, the words, “praise the Lord for his mercy endureth forever,” heralded yet another movement: from tuning up to tuning in. Patterson’s arrival at this well-known phrase—one that appears more than two dozen times in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible—prompted him to sing a melody of his own making, a musical fragment that is depicted in Example 1.

Example 1. Bishop Patterson’s Eternal Song in F.

Temporarily forsaking the recitational character of his sermonic conclusion, Bishop Patterson’s falling melody spanned a full octave—incarnating a musical markedness that offered his audience a gripping invitation into a distant setting. While providing convocation delegates a musical path into this biblical event, this brief musical moment necessarily foments a transcendent journey, embodying the song’s striking assertion that the Lord’s mercy endures forever.

However, the path between Memphis’s Fedex Forum and the distant scene in which these words are said to have been sung is far from the only traffic that was enacted by this music. Patterson’s sermonic articulation of the phrase in question is itself a testament to musical endurance. One week earlier, on Sunday, November 5, 2006, Bishop Patterson preached a different sermon from the same text in the pulpit of his own Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ in Memphis, TN. As Example 2 shows, near the end of that day’s message, “Focusing Our Eyes Upon the Lord,” Bishop Patterson made his way to the same moment of unexpected singing, rendering the same melody—this time in E major, that sermon’s tonal environment.

Example 2. Bishop Patterson’s Eternal Song in E Major.

Throughout the last decade of his life, virtually every time Patterson mentioned this scripture during the course of a homiletic event, this brief bit of music came into focus, suggesting that every time Bishop Patterson thought about this recorded event, this musical refrain was an essential part of what he heard. As he used this eternal song to draw his various audiences deeper into this ancient scene, he summoned a phonographic conception of scripture, implying that their act of singing could produce a palpable sonic intimacy with what literally happened on Jehosophat’s ancient battlefield. If his messages do not claim that this melody was actually sung on Jehosophat’s battlefield, what is being argued? How is this argument strengthened by this melody’s recurrence? And what, exactly, is accomplished through these acts of musical repetition?

Clearly, this brief bit of music was central to Bishop Patterson’s interpretation of this text. Even if it was not actually sung in the scene detailed in 2 Chronicles 20, it might have been. Thus, the sounding reality of Bishop Patterson’s melody lends a contemporary immediacy to that remote occasion, performing a musical kind of exegesis and producing a sonorous intimacy that exhorted multiple audiences to attune their ears to the interworldly reverberation of divine mercy.

The endurance of this musical fragment across years of Patterson’s ministry is but one thread of a much more expansive story: Patterson’s rendering of this eternal song, repeatedly offered during his musical life, continues to echo through his afterlife. While each of the aforementioned messages can still be found on YouTube, the digital circulation of “Focusing Our Eyes Upon the Lord” is especially demonstrative of Bishop Patterson’s posthumous resonance: three videos, of vastly differing lengths, were uploaded over a period of five years, over a decade after Patterson’s death. On June 11, 2015, nearly a decade after its proclamation, YouTube user adeddao uploaded a forty-three minute video titled, “GEP Focusing Our Eyes Upon the Lord” onto this online repository.Footnote 2 On July 1, 2016, a YouTube account called Official Bishop G.E. Patterson Channel, managed by Patterson’s Bountiful Blessings Ministry, uploaded a two-minute version titled “Bishop G.E. Patterson—Focusing Your Eyes Upon The Lord.”Footnote 3 On April 17, 2020, YouTube user Gordon Palmer uploaded a 64-minute video titled “GE Patterson Focusing Your Eyes Upon The Lord.”Footnote 4 Taken together, the different lengths of these videos and the order in which they were uploaded to YouTube clarify that they represent three unique contributions to the ever-expanding virtual archive of Bishop Patterson’s sermons. The earliest of these videos offers an invaluable window into their digital existence, for amid all that happens in this forty-three minute sermon, Bishop Patterson’s eternal song stands out here, too. Nestled between 31:30 and 33:10, this brief bit of music might have been easy to miss. Yet, two YouTube users call attention to its emergence, commenting on this video and repeating its lyrics. While Korsi Fenison wrote, “Praise the Lord for this mercy endures forever (three hands),” Monica Gandy put the lyrics in quotes, writing, “‘Praise The Lord, His Mercy Endures Forever.’” Who is this viewer quoting—Patterson, or the ancient choir of which he preached? This question cannot be satisfied in a single sentence. In many ways, this is the question this article sets out to answer, investigating the intercalation of Bishop Patterson’s voice and the sonic rendering of various scriptural scenes—a process that is mediated by a set of recurring musical devices that shape Bishop Patterson’s vocality on both sides of the grave.

This article listens to the still-resounding voice of this archetypical black preacher, arguing that the intimacy audiences enjoy with Patterson’s recorded messages and the proximity his sermons give to scripture’s distant events are both made possible by Patterson’s ecstatic instrumentality. More than a decade after his death, fragments of Patterson’s characteristically musical sermons circulate across radio, television, and a host of digital platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok. As they upload, comment, share, and extract pieces of Patterson’s digital archive, a host of social media users become a new kind of religious broadcaster, like radio relays. These articulations of digital participation strengthen and redirect Patterson’s homiletic signals, extending the reach of his voice and of the divine mercy about which he preached. In this way, religion is broadcast as Bishop Patterson’s message travels from telephone to radio, from television to smartphones, enlisting a convergent set of new and old media to enact enduring Christian beliefs about the eternal power of the “word of God.”

Listening to the links between Patterson’s mediated afterlife and the forms of religious mediation he practiced throughout his life, this musicological media archaeology turns the very notion of religious broadcasting on its head. In its place, I define Patterson’s “broadcast religion” as an assemblage of belief, technology, and musicality that carried Patterson to the pinnacle of religious influence while building a media infrastructure that could transmit the message long after the messenger was laid to eternal rest. Placing Patterson’s life-long preoccupation with various modes of technical mediation in conversation with his extremely musical approach to preaching, I demonstrate that Bishop Patterson’s vocality is fed by a technophilic Pentecostalism that understands machines like microphones, radios, televisions, and cameras as channels through which spiritual power can flow. However, each of these devices can only relay the homiletic signal emanating from Patterson’s sermonic broadcast—vocal transmissions that vent a phonographic conception of scripture.

As Patterson’s voice enacts mediation in order to incarnate immediacy, Patterson’s broadcast religion hinges upon what I call “afterliveness.”Footnote 5 Distinct from notions of “liveness”Footnote 6 and “virtual liveness,”Footnote 7 afterliveness is an argument about the relationship between homiletic events; it highlights the immediacy Patterson’s sermons give to various biblical events, the appeal of Patterson’s broadcasts during his period of physical animation, and the posthumous power that social media users locate in his recorded messages. Transcending any single sermon’s enactment, afterliveness depends on embodied sound reproduction, effected by Patterson through both the practice of recording and ecstatic acts of musical repetition, a set of recurring musical procedures whose homiletic reverberation endow the bishop’s ministry with an eternal pitch.

Religious Broadcasting

Gilbert Earl Patterson was born in Humboldt, Tennessee on September 22, 1939. One of five children born to Bishop William Archie Patterson, Sr. and Mary Louise Patterson, Gilbert Earl was born into a COGIC parsonage. He would not stray far from this metaphorical location. Bishop W.A. Patterson’s brother, Bishop J.O. Patterson, married the daughter of COGIC founder, Bishop Charles Mason, a union that facilitated substantial contact between the young Gilbert Patterson and the founder of his denomination. Pastored by his father, Gilbert was “saved” at the age of 11, received the “baptism of the holy ghost” at age 16, and began preaching at age 17. His family moved to Detroit when he was a teenager, and it was in Detroit that he began his preaching ministry at the New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ. Although his father, Bishop W.A. Patterson, served as pastor in Detroit, the elder Patterson also maintained oversight of Holy Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, TN. After graduating from Detroit’s Central High School and studying at the Detroit Bible Institute, Patterson returned to Memphis, TN in 1961 to attend Lemoyne Owen College, and to serve as his father’s co-pastor at Holy Temple. Patterson served as the co-pastor of Holy Temple from 1961 to 1975, developing a reputation for his ability to attract large crowds—in person and on the radio.

From beginning to end, Bishop Patterson’s media ministry was motivated by the pursuit of vocal omnipresence. In one of Patterson’s earliest documented appearances in his denomination’s archives, a greeting published in the souvenir journal for COGIC’s 1966 International Youth Congress (reproduced in Figure 1) informs delegates that then Elder Gilbert E. Patterson, “one of Memphis’s youngest and most progressive leaders,” could be heard each Sunday on WLOK (1340 AM) during two hour-long radio broadcasts.Footnote 8 The advertisement continues by noting that Patterson’s “familiar voice” could also be heard twenty-four hours a day via his church’s dial-a-prayer line. Using the mechanism of an answering machine, believers could call 901-946-9963 at any time of the day, accessing a taped supplication, whose interworldly efficacy is indicated by its this-worldly availability. As the dial-a-prayer system makes Patterson’s prayer audible well beyond the context of its articulation, two systems of communication are brought into alignment in this early technological regime. If, as Avital Ronell argues, “the telephone is a synecdoche for technology,”Footnote 9 this snapshot from a lifetime of religious broadcasting shines a light on the ever-expanding architecture that conveyed Patterson’s songs, sermons, and prayer on the phone, radio, television, and the internet during his life—an architecture that extended to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok after his death. This ongoing pursuit of vocal transcendence—a desire to give the message he preached a form whose endurance evidences the permanence and power of the eternal word—lies behind the technosocial assemblage of broadcast religion.

During the first decade of Elder G. E. Patterson’s pastoral ministry, he also began a decades-long practice of religious broadcasting, which Jonathan Walton defines as “the broad-based use of electronic media as a primary tool of proselytization.”Footnote 10 Between the aforementioned 1966 publication and the greeting disseminated in the souvenir journal for the COGICs 1969 Holy Convocation (Figure 2), Elder Patterson’s radio ministry expanded from two one-hour broadcasts each Sunday to six weekly shows, airing on two radio stations.Footnote 11 Every Sunday, Patterson appeared on WLOK at 10:30 am, 4:00 pm, and 9:00 pm. Patterson was on air at KWAM (990) from 4:00 pm to 4:30 pm every Monday through Friday. As a radio minister, Patterson used his broadcasts to share the gospel and advocate for social justice. In addition to serving as one member of a nine-person strategy committee for the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike, Patterson used his religious radio slot to distribute information and encourage participation in the collective effort; this Memphis labor movement brought Dr. Martin Luther King to town twice, the last visit being interrupted by an assassin’s bullet.Footnote 12

Religious broadcasting was an even more permanent feature of Patterson’s ministry than his formal affiliation with the COGIC. Following a years-long denominational—and indeed, familial—struggle between Patterson’s father, Bishop W. A. Patterson, and his uncle, Bishop J. O. Patterson, G. E. Patterson resigned from the pastorate of Memphis’s Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, left the denomination, and founded an independent ministry he called Bountiful Blessings Deliverance Church, Inc. In the absence of denominational affiliation, Patterson’s emerging media infrastructure organized the dissemination of his Holiness-Pentecostal message. The annual publications of the COGIC present a rich picture of the way Patterson wanted his media presence to be recognized. His thirteen-year hiatus from this denomination, therefore, obscures the transition from his use of solely audible platforms—telephone and radio—to televisual media. While the sermon catalog his ministry released after his death begins on March 6, 1983, that day’s message, “A Time To Remember,” is labeled “Tape no. 199,” inviting readers to wonder how far back the archive stretches. Willie Douglas, Bountiful Blessings’ chief media engineer, foreshadowed the perpetuation of Patterson’s television broadcasts, noting on the day of Patterson’s death that the ministry’s vault contained messages which reached back to the 1970s. In messages from 1983, Patterson often makes mention of prospective television audiences. Along with an archive that shows that he had a slot on Memphis station WMKW-TV30 as early as Sunday, February 5, 1984, this concurrence suggests that his catalog’s start date represents a meaningful nodal point in then-Apostle Patterson’s broadcasting career. In 1988, when Patterson returned to the COGIC as a jurisdictional bishop, his broadcast schedule included appearances Monday through Saturday on local station, WPTY-TV 24, alongside the five weekday slots on the aforementioned radio stations WLOK (1340 AM) and KWAM (990 AM). By 1989, Patterson had returned to WMKW-TV30, broadcasting at 9 am every Sunday through Friday, while appearing on radio station WDIA on Sunday at 10 am and WLOK at 12:15 pm from Monday through Saturday. By 1989, Patterson’s voice could be heard every day of the week on a Memphis-area radio station. That same year, Patterson’s ministry filed with the FCC for the 1480 AM radio band in Memphis, fulfilling a vision that he described “early in his ministry for a 24-hour, authentic gospel-formatted radio station.” Finally, WBBP (1480 AM) added online streaming to its reach in 1999, setting the stage for the intermedial reverberation that lies at the heart of this study.

The path Patterson travelled—his 13-year denomination hiatus from 1975 to 1988; his return as a COGIC Jurisdictional Bishop in 1988; his election to the church’s twelve-member general board in 1992; his narrow loss in the 1996 presiding bishop election; and his two overwhelming victories for the church’s highest post in 2000 and 2004—would all have been inconceivable were it not for the remarkable expansion of Patterson’s media ministry in the last two decades of the twentieth century. These developments comprised a move to local television in the 1980s, the launch of radio station WBBP AM 1480 in 1991, and the foundation of his record label in 1998. Yet, none of these was a more effective means to “garner spiritual authority” than Patterson’s expansion to national and international television in the 1990s.Footnote 13 While other prominent COGIC leaders like Detroit-based Bishop P. A. Brooks boasted robust local television ministries, reaching hundreds of thousands in their respective metropolitan areas, in 1990, Bishop Patterson became the first minister from COGIC—the largest African American Pentecostal denomination since the early twentieth century—to present a weekly, national television broadcast. Patterson continued to be COGIC’s lone national televisual representative until 1999, when Bishop Charles Blake’s West Angeles COGIC arrived on national television. Over the course of the 1990s, Bishop Patterson’s messages were disseminated to far-flung audiences via national networks including Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), and a rotating set of local stations in Chicago, IL, Decatur, IL, Los Angeles, CA, New York, NY, Orlando, FL, Philadelphia, PA, San Francisco, CA, and Shawnee, KS.Footnote 14 Thanks to this unprecedented reach, virtually every discussion of Bishop Patterson’s life in the immediate aftermath of his 2007 death hailed his media infrastructure, prominently featuring phrases like “media savvy” and “television ministry.”Footnote 15 Bishop Charles Blake, Patterson’s first assistant presiding bishop, lauded Patterson as a “media ministry pioneer,”Footnote 16 using the language often associated with the denomination’s founding generation to highlight his success at carrying the gospel and the COGIC banner into millions of homes. But aside from lifting Patterson to the heights of ecclesial authority and shining a brighter light on the COGIC in particular, I contend that Patterson’s religious imagination provided a commentary on the very relationship between broadcasting and religious experience. Patterson’s Pentecostalism, therefore, can be understood as a kind of broadcast religion.

Broadcast Religion

At COGIC’s Annual Holy Convocation in 1995, instead of a more typical sermonic presentation, Bishop Patterson delivered a lecture titled “Communication and the Media.” The mere existence of this lecture indicates that, as much as he was any other thing, Bishop Patterson was a media theorist. Bishop Patterson’s life-long preoccupation with the devices, networks, and practices that could be used to disseminate the gospel shared a formal logic with the messages themselves. Broadcasting was as central to Patterson’s ministry as was the divinity of Jesus to his faith. In his last sermon, preached on Monday, December 25, 2006, Bishop Patterson used broadcasting and the incarnation of Christ to explain each other (supplementary audio file 2). Preaching from a chair because of the physical weakness made evident by the thinness of his frame, facing the end of his preaching ministry, Patterson tied together the eternal existence of the word he had long preached and the infrastructure that would transmit his messages long after his death.

Near the end of “The Gospel According to John,” the title of the sermon Patterson delivered that day, he returned to the gospel’s opening verses: “John, in writing his gospel, said, ‘I want you to know that this is where he came from: the word, and the word was made flesh, came and dwelt among us.’ That’s the only thing that happened in Bethlehem. Only thing that happened in Bethlehem is that the word (hallelujah) became personified.” As he sought to help his congregation grasp what it might mean for the word to be made flesh, Patterson described the sonic materiality of the words he spoke to them. “You know, I’m talking, and words are all out here. You can’t see it, but the word is all out here.” Not only were they unable to see the words he spoke, words reverberating in the air they shared, but in Patterson’s words, “You don’t even know it, but all kind of things are going on here now. All of the stuff you’re gonna watch when you get home on ESPN. Yeah, you brothers that love football, you know, football game is going on right now. Right now, they’re playing football. They’re playing basketball all over this place here now, but you can’t see it.” While the congregants cannot see these things, Patterson implies, their invisibility does nothing to reduce their availability—that is, their reality. Crucially, Patterson clarifies what must happen in order for his parishioners to see these broadcasts: “You know what you got to do to see it? You got to get the right kind of receiver and turn it on the right dial. You don’t hear me! It’s going on, but you gotta have something that is capable of picking it up.” Like an antenna, translating a transmission into an audible and visible form, the incarnation of Jesus translated divinity into a discernible form. Although “Jesus, the son of the living God, the word, was always here,” the incarnation was an event of mediation: “God said, ‘I’ve gotta fix the word in such way where you can touch it. I’ve gotta fix the word in such way that you can know it’s for real.’” The twin assertions that “the word was always here” and that “you got to get the right kind of receiver and turn it on the right dial” show how the convictions he proclaimed were bound up with the infrastructure through which they traveled. As such, Patterson’s final sermon offers valuable insight into his broadcast religion.

In this way, Bishop Patterson’s broadcast religion exemplifies Anthony Reed’s “black media concept” in its combination of “aesthetic practice, communication, and its intended publics.”Footnote 17 Patterson’s theology, his various convergent congregations, and the incantatory form of his messages are mutually defining and reinforcing elements of an overarching confessional system. Thus, attending to any one feature of this religious imagination brings the others into clearer relief. Patterson’s media theory forcefully comes into view in the comments and sermon he delivered at COGIC’s 1998 presiding bishop’s leadership conference. Before beginning his message, Bishop Patterson—then a member of the church’s twelve-member general board, but not yet presiding bishop—described his television ministry as a vehicle for his denomination’s message.

I’m looking to see what God is going to do with us once we break into the twenty-first century. Things are happening for us now. I was saying to the presiding bishop today that I’ve carried this ball of being the church’s representative on national television, but, on the first Sunday in February, on TBN, Bishop Charles Blake and West Angeles will make their debut. And you’ll have two churches on national television.

Patterson continued by looking forward to the denomination having its own broadcast, viewing it as an ideal way to convey the gospel: “We have the opportunity now as never before to win the whole world. There are still areas of this world where the gospel of Jesus Christ has not been preached, but through satellite communications and new satellites… we can reach the world for Jesus.” Soon, Patterson marked a transition into an even more direct line of conversation. After urging the audience against “misunderstanding” him, he insisted that, “in those areas where previously they have only had the European American’s voice, the world now wants to hear African Americans.” To be sure that these denominational leaders did not miss his racialized assertion, Patterson dramatically uttered, “hello.” This commingling of race, voice, and technology clarifies his ministry’s contribution to what Marla Frederick calls “colored television,” the way that, alongside “the predominantly white male voices of traditional religious broadcasting…, Black Christian faith is made and unmade both in front of and behind the camera.”Footnote 18 As the first COGIC minister to appear on national television, Patterson sought to convey “this old-time Pentecostal power,” whose highest expression he located in his historically black denomination. In this way, he vents a concern with what Alexander Weheliye terms “the singularity of Black sounds as they ricochet between ‘humans’ and modern informational technologies.”Footnote 19 The Pentecostalism Patterson practiced is so Black that Ashon Crawley refuses lexical separation, suggesting, instead, that one uses the portmanteau “Blackpentecostalism” to denote its form and function.Footnote 20 A tradition defined by the sonic transmission of spiritual power, Blackpentecostalism is an ideal aesthetic framework for the emergence of broadcast religion. As otherworldly force travels into the material world, through the medium of scripture, the musical modulation of Patterson’s voice conveys a homiletic signal into the arms of his media ecosystem, transmitting spiritual power across space and time.

These musical mechanics of broadcast religion are on display in “Hold On! Help Is On The Way,” the sermon Bishop Patterson preached after making the aforementioned comments. Drawn from 1 Samuel 11: 1–11, this message recounts the improbable victory of the residents of an ancient hamlet named Jabesh Gilead against the military might of Nahash, the king of the Ammonites. Faced with the probability of disgrace and destruction, the Jabesh Gileadites were given the encouraging news paraphrased in the title of Patterson’s message. The triumphant course of this narrative’s unfolding can be gleaned by comparing the first two utterances of his message’s title. First Patterson reads his focal scripture, 1 Samuel 11:9, before announcing the title of his message in a mode of address that is indistinct from his preliminary remarks (supplementary audio file 3). Although the phrase, “hold on! help is on the way!” is the title Patterson gives to this sermon, these words are not heard again for nearly twenty minutes. In their place, Bishop Patterson crafts an expansive narrative, unfolding the narratives that lie behind the story he seeks to tell on this day. As he reconstructs the setting of a village besieged by a seemingly invincible enemy, he clarifies the problem to which his sermonic contention is the answer. When, after the intervening minutes, Patterson’s theme re-emerges, it has acquired a new urgency and immediacy (supplementary audio file 4). Chanting in Db, Patterson thunders:

…and overnight they raised an army of 300,000 Israeli soldiers and 30,000 men of Judah. And they sent word to the men of Jabesh Gilead, saying, “don’t worry about your eyes being put out: Hold on! Help is on the way!”

An audible and palpable intensity separates these two statements of the sermonic theme. And their distance is the key. Their distance proves that the message’s unfolding has brought its hearers into a different relationship with the contents of scripture. Bishop Patterson has made the customary homiletic movement from speech towards song, settling on and in Db, enacting the escalating practice that is referred to by names such as “tuning up.” For Patterson, tuning up is a musical precursor to tuning in; throughout his decades-long ministry, Patterson modulated his voice in order to produce intimacy between an ancient story and a listening audience, broadcasting its contents in order to generate immediacy.

Bishop Patterson’s broadcast religion is fueled by sermons, in which both the pervasive practice of tuning up and the distinctive, broadcast homiletic of tuning in depend on tuning itself. As Patterson settles on a reciting tone, he directs the band to the tonal environment that will sustain the musical frame of his sermon, creating a heightened, liminal space whose outsideness foments the congregation’s intimacy with a biblical scene. When all of the interpersonal and interworldly effects of an emerging tonal center are considered together, these phenomena collectively disclose a politics of key. Of course, key is always political, inasmuch as it is both derived from and sustains a set of sonic power relations. In order to illustrate the resonances between the musical structure and the technological systems that scaffold Patterson’s religious broadcasts, I extend to the present discussion David Temperley’s assertion that metrical and harmonic phenomena constitute an “‘infrastructure’ for tonal music…a network of basic structure.”Footnote 21 To elucidate this dimension of Bishop Patterson’s media concept, I follow John Durham Peters’ view of infrastructures as “the habitats and materials through which we act and are.”Footnote 22 In the indubitably musical contexts of Patterson’s sermons, keys function as “logistical media,” which are used to “organize and orient, to arrange people and property,” helping to “coordinate and subordinate, arranging relationships among people and things.”Footnote 23 During each of Patterson’s homiletic events, the palpable sense of embodied orientation that derives from being grounded in the musical system known as key plays a vital role in the experience of being taken inside the scripture. Religious ecstasy is one name for what the musical inflections of Patterson’s messages produce, not simply in the sense of getting beyond or outside oneself, but also in Lindsay V. Reckson’s notion of “being beside,” that is a kind of existence which is “necessarily constituted by what lies outside or beside it.”Footnote 24

What does it mean to be constituted by an outside? What is the exterior that gives form to both Blackpentecostalism and broadcast religion? I contend that for Patterson’s audiences, whose support sustained his media empire during his life and sustain his presence after his death, religious experience is defined by the access it provides to this otherworldly space. Believers are marked by their preoccupation with what lies beyond the reach of their senses. As Patterson’s sermons invoke immediacy with events, individuals, and groups defined in scripture, these messages are taken up by devices that are designed to carry them across boundaries of space and time. As this outside is brought in through the medium of sound, Patterson’s broadcast religion reveals its participation in “the Gospel Imagination,” the performative and interpretive moves through which gospel congregants use musical sound to convert spiritual power into a physical reality. In Patterson’s broadcast religion, the Gospel Imagination is tied to a media theory; these two mutually reinforcing systems of thought and practice are inextricable from Patterson’s virtuosic bluesy vocality.

The transformation of the phrase “Hold on, Help is on the way” from a line of speech into a chanted refrain evidences the indispensable role voice plays in broadcast religion. These vocal qualities arise in a 1997 article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, in which David Waters dissected Bishop Patterson’s voice, describing it as “deep, resonant and flexible,” writing that: “His voice has many modes, from talk to preach, from whisper to quiver to sing.” Crucially, Waters contends that Patterson “doesn’t read scripture, he transmits it. He doesn’t carry a tune, he transports it.”Footnote 25 While it is possible to dismiss Waters’ words as a display of journalistic hyperbole, I want to take them seriously. I want to tarry with the claim that Bishop Patterson’s voice itself was a technology of transmission, for to do so would be to contend that Patterson understood his sermons and the media through which they gained wide dissemination to be animated by the same force. In an early VHS, Patterson urged his congregants:

Don’t let the video cameras hinder us from worshiping the Lord, for the cameras are here to capture this spirit-filled service as we worship the Lord. That, as people across this nation and even around the world will sit in on these services by videotape, that the same presence of God that we feel tonight will beam out of their television screen. Whether it’s in penal institutions or in hospital rooms, wherever men and women are seeking an answer to the vexing problems of life, we need to tell them that Jesus is the answer.

Here, the then-Apostle G. E. Patterson contends that the broadcasting technologies that powered his communication with audiences spread across space and time also communicate power to these far-flung believers. Although it precedes the second live recording of Singing the Old Time Way by more than twenty years, its enduring argument about what can be captured and transmitted through broadcasting technologies is quite instructive. This belief is summarized in one line from the prayer with which this chapter opens: the moment when Bishop Patterson exclaims, “I know that you can send your word.” This image of divine power travelling across space is grounded both in the New Testament’s gospel of Matthew and in the Book of Psalms. In both instances, healing is accomplished, not through a physical interaction, but through the power of the transmitted word. These scriptural traditions also ground one of Patterson’s best-known phrases, an audacious utterance distilled in his television broadcasts’ opening scene: “I command you be healed, be delivered, and be set free.” These words clarify the late bishop’s conviction about the power that faithful utterances can unleash. Moreover, the scriptures pertaining to the sending of the divine word help us understand this phrase which Patterson often prayed before beginning any one of his sermons.

To Speak as an Oracle of Christ

When Bishop Patterson stood to preach, as his musicians repeated the refrain of the pre-sermon selection, he offered a prayer of consecration, a supplication that frequently contained the following words: “now, Lord, we ask that you would anoint these lips of clay, allowing us to speak as an oracle of Christ, and not just as a man.” While the request for divine assistance is customary, the content of Patterson’s prayer is distinctive. Patterson’s prayer begs the question: What if Patterson’s radio and television broadcasts weren’t the only Patterson broadcasts? If David Waters is right, if Patterson’s voice “transmits scripture,”Footnote 26 then these weekly and daily instances of one-to-many communication must be broadcasts of broadcasts. Patterson’s sermons themselves would then constitute the first step in a broadcasting sequence, marshalling his remarkable vocal instrument as a vehicle of an eternal transmission. Is this what it must mean to speak as an oracle of Christ?

In likening Bishop Patterson’s voice to a radio transmitter, I am arguing, too, that the various arms of Patterson’s media ministry function as radio relays, amplifying and redirecting the homiletic signal. Even if this suggestion seems audacious, it is buttressed by the analogy that the pioneering media theorist Marshall McLuhan draws between the voice and radio: “If the human ear can be compared to a radio receiver that is able to decode electromagnetic waves and recode them as sound, the human voice may be compared to the radio transmitter in being able to translate sound into electromagnetic waves.”Footnote 27 McLuhan calls attention to the dialogic nature of broadcasting, and thus to the listeners who must actively grapple with these recorded utterances, a responsibility that persists for Patterson’s listeners as he moves between media, new and old, for, as John Durham Peters notes, “The advent of digital media returns us to fundamental and perennial problems of communication and civilization.”Footnote 28

Adding another dimension to his vocal instrumentality, Patterson’s television broadcasts invite viewers to see and hear him “as an oracle of Christ.” Many sermon broadcasts would amplify the resonances between his words and various scriptural sources by emblazoning a text box full of scripture onto the screen at the very moment Patterson recited them, showing that his extemporized utterances were faithful transmissions of the “word of God.” In a broadcast of a 2000 sermon, “The Hope of Our City,” as Patterson tells the story of a recalcitrant prophet named Jonah, the corresponding scriptural passage appears on screen, unfolding in synchrony with the preacher’s narration, thus confirming the fidelity with which Patterson is able to transmit its contents (supplementary audio file 5). A few minutes later, when he describes the role contemporary believers play in bringing hope to their cities, more text appears on the otherwise textless screen, amplifying his recitation of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “I heard him when he said, ‘if my people who are called by my name, if they will humble themselves and pray, seek my face, turn from their wicked ways, I’ll forgive the sin and I’ll heal the land” (supplementary audio file 6). Not content simply chanting the words, Patterson uses his body to make a complete circle, illustrating the key word, “turn.” These convergences of sound and image problematize any hard and fast distinction between Walter Ong’s famous formulation, “orality and literacy.”Footnote 29 At the same time, they point to the virtuosic recall and other qualities of mind that fuel Bishop Patterson’s ability to speak as an Oracle of Christ, to serve as a vehicle through which venerable text achieves contemporary reality. While it is not unusual to project a sermonic text during a service of worship or television broadcast, the degree to which these broadcasts used imposed text to confirm Bishop Patterson’s extemporaneous movement between various scriptures is remarkable. As they visualize Patterson’s audible transmission of sacred writ, the broadcasts materialize the divine’s answer to the bishop’s prayer, a petition for power through which to speak as an oracle of Christ.

In this way, the oracular design of Bishop Patterson’s television broadcasts reveals the motivations and relays the structure of his sermon’s broadcast grammar. However, this influence worked in both directions. Bishop Patterson often showed a deep awareness of and fascination with the technologies that would convey his message to their future publics. Before beginning a 1983 sermon, “All We Need Is At Home,” Apostle Patterson turned a communal celebration of the purchase of new church property into an opportunity to encourage prospective viewers. First, he asks the choir and ministers to stand up and point to camera number 1, the device installed in the back of the sanctuary, and to repeat an inspirational message. Second, he asks for “camera number 2 to turn around and face the congregation,” who then stood, facing this camera, and echoing a similar inspirational message. The ease with which Patterson choreographs this improvised part of a worship service, breaking a metaphorical “fourth wall,” indicates something of his deep facility with devices such as these, and with their capacity to turn a sanctuary into a broadcasting studio. Decades later, on Sunday, August 7, 2005, Patterson had a private conversation with his media engineer in that pulpit’s public venue. After explaining to the congregation that the photographers moving around the sanctuary were there in preparation for a piece in Newsweek magazine, he noted that “my chief media engineer, Bro. Willie Douglass, is up there having a fit every time they get in the line of the camera.” Patterson then muses, “that’s why the cameras should be isolated so that you can always have another angle.” Crucially, Patterson clarifies, “I’m talking to them; I’m not talking to you all.” These remarks reveal the ambidexterity with which Patterson fomented his congregation’s communion with the divine while directing his media team’s management of the ministry’s broadcasting instruments. All this suggests that Patterson understood his evangelical zeal and technophilia to be mutually sustaining intellectual commitments. His life-long preoccupation with tools capable of transmitting the gospel, a confessional articulation of what Louis Chude-Sokei calls “black technopoetics,”Footnote 30 relies on his beliefs about what could be transmitted through his broadcasts: not just sound and image, but holy power, too.

For Bishop Patterson, the way broadcast technologies funnel information and affect across space and time bears a deep relationship to spiritual power’s transit from one world to another. In addition to exemplifying McLuhan’s famous contention that “the medium is the message,”Footnote 31 the Patterson phenomenon affirms Jonathan Sterne’s proposal that sometimes “the medium can be the metaphysics.”Footnote 32 There is a disciplinary question to be addressed here regarding the best way to characterize this phenomenon: is it a theology, a philosophy, an aesthetic, or something like the sum of these three? I tend to agree with Ashon Crawley’s resistance to these categorical distinctions.Footnote 33 Patterson’s musicality, media celebrity, and Holiness-Pentecostal theology are multiple sides of a single object, such that we might understand them as a “black media concept.”Footnote 34 Understood in this light, it soon becomes clear that Bishop Patterson’s technophilic Pentecostalism, his life-long preoccupation with religious broadcasting, vents a theory of preaching, too, a view that the sermon is an opportunity to transmit the word of God. His preaching vents a broadcast grammar: like frequency and amplitude modulation, preaching’s signal is conveyed through musical modulation. I suggest that these facets of Patterson’s ministry disclose a broadcast religion, a phrase inspired by Lerone Martin’s notion of phonograph religion.Footnote 35 More than denoting the inextricable ties between religious practice and its co-constitutive materialities, broadcast religion suggests that there is an uninterrupted epistemology connecting Patterson’s preoccupation with religious broadcasting, his fascination with its enabling technologies, his homiletic imagination, and his vocal instrumentality.

Eternal Voice

At the end of Bishop Patterson’s aforementioned message to the COGICs 99th Annual Holy convocation, “Jehosophat’s Prayer and God’s Answer,” he made his way to the recurring musical exegesis of 2 Chronicles 20 that I have come to call the eternal song. After inviting his audience to join him in singing, “praise the Lord for his mercy endureth forever,” he elaborated on the virtues of praise (supplementary audio file 7). Preaching in F, he bellowed:

Tell somebody, “while everybody else is fighting, learn the secret of praise!

Because as you praise the Lord, enemies will fall in your way!

As you praise the Lord, demons are casted out!

As you praise the Lord, sick bodies are healed!

Miracles are performed praise, uh-as you praise

Here, Bishop Patterson ends this stretch with an unanswered anaphoric call, “as you praise,” an incomplete phrase that derives a sense of closure from its melodic presentation on the same octaval melisma—running from F3-A3-C4-F4—with which this idea began. Like this sermonic text and Patterson’s eternal song, this brief bit of music serves as a resonant thread that connects this message to Patterson’s catalog and the eternal transmission his ministry sought to convey. This riff—an ascending motif that moves from scale degree 1 to 3 to 5 to 6 to 1 in the higher octave—recurs across decades of Bishop Patterson’s sermons, from his preaching prime in the early 1990s to his last sermons in 2006. Patterson repurposes this riff to striking effect in scores of sermons, preached from a wide range of scriptures and in an assorted array of keys over many years.

In this section, I want to think about this motif, which I call the eternal riff, as the sound of Patterson’s eternal voice, a self-conscious instrumentalization that places each individual utterance in relationship with many antecedent and consequent statements. This motif reveals the voice behind, beside, and above Patterson’s broadcast medium, the secret, eternal, prophetic register whose fleeting emergence highlights the transcendence of his instrument over any single sonic event, casting a broad transmission that stretches across both space and time, linking Patterson’s life and afterlife.

At the end of a 1993 sermon, “Neither Were They Thankful,” Patterson repeatedly exhorted his congregation to “give God the glory,” building intensity for his final instruction: “turn to somebody beside you and say, I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna be thankful.” The last word of the sermon is hard to define in purely lexical terms (supplementary audio file 8). It is something like “yeah” or “yeeeeh,” a heightened vocable whose meaning is clarified by its musicality, an articulation of Patterson’s eternal riff, which is reproduced in Example 3.

Example 3. Bishop Patterson’s Eternal Riff in Gb.

The last word that appears in Gb in the 1993 sermon reappears as the final utterance of both “Lord, Let Your Glory Fill This House” and “The Faith of Strangers” (supplementary audio file 9), two of the messages Patterson preached during Temple of Deliverance’s first year in their new sanctuary, 1999. In both of these messages, Patterson’s riff appears in F, connecting F3–F4, using an intensifying expression whose enunciation is as ambiguous as its intensifying effect is obvious. In both cases, this motif functions as a double bar line for a thirty- or forty-minute sermon, enacting a linguistic turn towards an “otherwise” grammar.Footnote 36 Traversing an octave in just a few seconds, this motif highlights Patterson’s expansive range and the agility with which he navigates melismas. Indeed, before taking his seat at the aforementioned 1993 worship service, Patterson led his congregation in singing the traditional praise song “I Thank You Jesus, I Thank You Lord.” In this endeavor, Bishop Patterson repeatedly found his way up to a chesty, belted Db5, moving adroitly across two octaves from the time his sermon began to the time the service ended. Vertiginous movements such as these characterized Patterson’s ministry, and his vocal capacity is distilled in the eternal riff.

In the last decade of Patterson’s life, this same motif showed up in various guises, at moments of particular homiletic emphasis. Often, this phrase is used to amplify a scriptural passage that Patterson quotes from memory. Consider, for example, a 2004 sermon, “The Power of the Word,” delivered at Los Angeles, CA’s West Angeles Church of God in Christ. Patterson used this riff to exclaim: “for there’s no other name” as a part of quotation of Acts 4:12, which reads: “for there’s no other name under the heavens given among men, whereby we must be saved” (supplementary audio file 10). In a 2005 sermon, “A Compassionate Father,” Patterson used this motif to accent “turn,” the operative word of Psalm 119:59 (supplementary audio file 11). In a 2005 sermon, “Will You Dare to Be Different,” the phrase accompanied a passage from Isaiah 41: “when you’re walking through the water” (supplementary audio file 12). The motif serves a similar framing function in an October 2006 sermon, Philippians 2:5–11, as Patterson uses it to begin a quotation of a canonical song lyric: “my heart is fixed, my mind is made up” (supplementary audio file 13). While the riff typically appeared only once in a sermon, there are exceptions, like another 2006 message, “After the Dust Settles,” where the riff appeared twice, connecting C3 and C4, allowing its salient combination of repetition and difference across Patterson’s catalog to be experienced in a single message (supplementary audio file 14). Even in Patterson’s last sermon, preached on Christmas Day 2006, this motif began the final minute of this message, linking B2 and B3 (supplementary audio file 15). This “final” articulation, during this most significant event, asserted the eternal riff’s importance to Patterson’s vocal instrumentality as a recurring signal of Patterson’s concern with endurance—both of the eternal word and the reverberation of his preached word.

Bishop Patterson’s eternal riff has much in common with one of the most enduring fragments of black sacred music—the “Yes, Lord” praise: “Yes! Yes! Ye-es! Ye-ee-es! Ye-ee-es! Yes, Lord!” attributed to and made popular by Bishop Charles H. Mason, the founder of the COGIC denomination into which Patterson was born and over which he would one day preside; this brief musical affirmation functions as an improvisational response to a host of liturgical phenomena.Footnote 37 As Pearl William Jones notes, periods of holy dancing often “give way to a chant in slow tempo such as, ‘Yes, Lord’ which is an unmetered chant [that] originated in the early days of the Church of God in Christ.”Footnote 38 A fitting answer to virtually any ritual event, this brief bit of music, an expression of what Ashon Crawley calls “Blackpentecostal Breath,” brings any individual worship service into contact with more than a century’s worth of black sacred musicking, functioning as “a kernel that has within it the whole and hull of the testimony song and tarry praise noise in its intensity and repetition.”Footnote 39 Often, its original lyrics are replaced with other phrases including “I love you, Lord” and “Have Your Way,” as expressed in one of Bishop Patterson’s moments of communal song at the COGICs 94th Annual Holy Convocation (2001). Just as often, Bishop Patterson appended this COGIC chant to the end of another song, allowing the song and the affirmation to remake each other. In so doing, Bishop Patterson enacted a kind of COGIC contrafacta. Consider, for example, the way Patterson concludes the hymn “He’ll Understand, He’ll Say Well Done” at the first live recording of Singing the Old Time Way (supplementary audio file 16). Just as he finishes singing that song’s chorus, he looks up and says: “He’ll say well done. He’ll say well done. He’ll say well done. He’ll say well done. He’ll say well done. He’ll say well done.” Singing this to the tune of the “Yes, Lord” chant, he instructs the congregation to “come on and ring it out,” venting his certainty that, armed with this most familiar harmonic, melodic, and affective framework, they could find their place in this declaration. Bishop Patterson did the same thing during the final moments of “Jesus Breaks Every Fetter,” at the end of the second live recording of Singing the Old Time Way.Footnote 40 In both cases, this sudden turn away from an unfolding song into the refrain that transcends every other melody in the COGIC church invites his audience to hold these two expressions together, oscillating between “Yes, Lord” and whichever song is being undone. Every time Patterson makes a move such as this, it produces an unmistakable intensification in the audience’s engagement with an unfolding service. This is COGIC contrafacta, which affirms Kay Kaufman Shelemay’s assertion that the “contrafact procedures [that] both characterize and serve to habituate religious practice…are of signal importance in inculcating philosophical ideas concerning the manner in which transformation of sound can be equated with transformation of belief.”Footnote 41 I contend that the articulations of the eternal riff in and across Patterson’s sermons are compressed instances of COGIC contrafacta, self-conscious acts of repetition through which Patterson engrafts the sonic emblem of endurance into a fleeting homiletic event. As he riffs, Patterson also positions himself in relationship to Bishop Mason, the denominational founder whose frequent invocation and memorialization, even at the moment of this writing, is one of the preconditions for Bishop Patterson’s own posthumous resonance. Indeed, during an appearance at a 1998 COGIC Leadership Conference, Patterson used the fact that his television broadcasts begin with the sound of him singing “Yes, Lord” as proof that, even after the controversial 1996 presiding bishop election, he remained firmly planted in the COGIC.

Even in 2022, more than fifteen years after Bishop Patterson’s death, the sound of his voice singing “Yes, Lord” in Eb still marks the beginning of his broadcast every Sunday on The Word Network, the bountiful blessings website, and YouTube.Footnote 42 By the end of these telecasts, this same voice often finds its way to one or more articulations of the eternal riff, the Pattersonian leitmotif. These two enduring refrains link Bishops Patterson and Mason. On the day of Bishop Patterson’s death, Bishop Charles E. Blake, then the denomination’s First Assistant Presiding Bishop, described Patterson as “a pioneer of media ministries”; in this gesture, Blake conjoined the language used to describe the denomination’s first generation of leadership with the domain in which Patterson made his most distinctive contribution, reinforcing the connection between Patterson and Mason.Footnote 43 Perhaps this is why, during a 2014 interview commemorating the 7th anniversary of Bishop Patterson’s passing, COGIC Pastor Antonio Buckley, one of Patterson’s chief adjutants, declared: “Bishop Patterson was my Bishop Mason.”Footnote 44

Hovering outside each sermon, like a transmission awaiting contact with a vocal antenna, the eternal riff radicalizes the singularity of each sermon, drawing preacher, band, and congregation into a more intimate connection with the enduring substance of Patterson’s message, lending an afterliveness to sermons and scripture. In so doing, this motif functions as an “isolated and rare gesture” whose articulation affirms that there are “different kinds or modes of music that inhabit a single work,”Footnote 45 even a characteristically musical sermon in which audible difference becomes the mechanism of homiletic chorality. Going from one dimension of musicality to an even more emphatic one, the eternal riff becomes a moment of revelation, the unveiling of Patterson’s eternal voice, using its sensuous force to claim a purpose and awareness that sits above its musical surroundings. As it calls attention away from the individual sermon, away from any single word or phrase, it directs focus to the voice itself, highlighting its interworldly instrumentality.

Pentecostal Playback: A Phonographic Conception of Scripture

What if Bishop Patterson’s conflation of broadcasting and the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the final segment of his sermon on Christmas Day 2006 revealed the conception of scripture that animated his entire ministerial career? As Patterson describes the divine’s desire to “fix the word…that was always here” in a form that allows humans to “know [that] it’s for real,” he points to one of the chief assumptions of broadcast religion: a phonographic conception of scripture that imagines sacred writ as an eternal transmission whose contents can be “picked up” by “the right kind of receiver.” Sermons, then, are instances of Pentecostal playback, homiletic events that translate a portion of the eternal word into an audible form. More than an analogy for preaching, Pentecostal playback is Patterson’s technopoetics, an aesthetic practice grounded in the material realities of his broadcasting infrastructure.

As the medium through which Bishop Patterson immersed his audiences in an innumerable set of scenes from scripture, the sermon forms the crucial first step in the trajectory of each Patterson broadcast. Turning scripture into sound and speech into song, Patterson’s serial movement from tuning up to tuning in constitutes a broadcasting format: a self-consciously transcendent “set of decisions that affect the look, feel, experience, and workings of a medium.”Footnote 46 Patterson’s homiletic format is exemplified through the striking sonic shifts that converted the contents of scripture into “Hold on, Help is on the Way”—the immersive homiletic event discussed in the preceding sections of this article. “A set of rules according to which a technology can operate,” Patterson’s sermonic format comprises a broadcast grammar.Footnote 47 Broadcast grammar is both the product and process that combines (i) the plot of a given scripture; (ii) the thematic trajectory of a given sermon; and (iii) the modulatory profile of Patterson’s voice—the eventual turn towards musicality: tuning up. These three ineluctably linked courses collectively produce the brand of sonic intimacy that we have come to know as tuning in. Tuning in enables Patterson’s vocal instrument to do the work of radio receivers, which, though “often figured as technologies for listening to sound,” actually hear “inaudible frequencies: wireless transmissions of electromagnetic radiation, which they make acoustically perceivable for human ears.”Footnote 48 Thus, listening to what Patterson says is the best way to discern what he hears. In order to enact this homiletic reception, Patterson’s broadcast medium—that is, his voice—becomes responsible for the concomitant transformations of scripture into sound and speech into song, two audible conversions that give a modern audience convincing access to remote incidents. These interlocking modulations are the means through which Patterson “turns the dial,” “de-severing”Footnote 49 distant space-times for the broadcast of religion. Stated at least twice in at least two contrasting registers, the theme of a given message plays a crucial role in this communicative system. The affective trajectory that separates these two articulations engenders the central paradox of Patterson’s preaching; that is, the phenomenal difference between the form of the title’s first utterance and the shape of its reemergence is what draws the sermon near to its ancient scene. When, in the context of heightened musical expression, the title of the message reemerges, preacher, band, and congregation have gone from tuning up to tuning in.

Holding together form and content, meaning and substance, broadcast grammar is what Birgit Meyer’s terms a sensational form, a “relatively fixed mode for invoking and organizing access to the transcendental, offering structures of repetition to create and sustain links between believers in the context of particular religious regimes.”Footnote 50 If Patterson’s sermons are understood as a ritual technology and tuning up as a vocal technique, their intersections within his media system occur within the matrix of “links and relays between twentieth-century black cultural production and sound technologies” that Alexander Weheliye terms “sonic Afro-modernity.”Footnote 51 If we think of black Pentecostalism as a technophilic enterprise, then this conjunction of race, belief, and technology pushes back against derogations of both blackness and Pentecostalism, buttressing Birgit Meyer’s claim that “Pentecostals have shown to be very successful in seizing the newly available media technologies and incorporating them into particular sensory forms that bring about immediate encounters with the Holy Spirit.”Footnote 52 While the technological mediation of religion is anything but restricted to black American experience, the musicality of black Pentecostal worship, in general, and Patterson’s unusually systematic articulation of this tradition offers a distinctive opportunity for analysis. Musicality itself proves indispensable in this regard, given its centrality to “black technopoetics,” Louis Chude Sokei’s term for “the self-conscious interaction of black thinkers, writers, and sound producers with technology.”Footnote 53 As seen through engagements with cameras, microphones, lights, and the voice, the technopoetics at work in Patterson’s broadcast religion articulate an uninterrupted link between the sermon’s musical remediation of scripture and various technological mediations of Patterson’s messages.

Bishop Patterson’s Pentecostal playback is most evident in recurring musical gestures—moments when Patterson does to his voice what his sermons do to scripture. As brief bits of music are pulled from a set of “pre-existent elements”Footnote 54 into the message’s sonic unfolding, there is an affirmation that this message is “necessarily constituted by what lies outside it,”Footnote 55 shaped by its desire to conduct an eternal transmission. This phenomenon is especially evident in a sermon Bishop Patterson preached from Psalm 18 on Sunday, December 15, 2002: “It’s Time For You To Sing Your Song,” a message about King David rejoicing over divine protection (supplementary audio file 17). As he shifted into the sermon’s ecstatic frame, a characteristic sermonic sound reproduction came into view. Turning away from his message’s focal text, Patterson tapped into the moment of martial musicking with which this article began. Moving from the Book of Psalms to the scene of battle described in 2 Chronicles 20, Bishop Patterson returned to his recurring musical exegesis of that biblical event, telling of three nations gathered in enmity against Jehosophat’s Southern Kingdom, an overwhelming wall of opposition that was to be undone by a wall of sound. Then, it was time for Bishop Patterson to sing his song. As he repeated the prophetic instruction to “hide the army behind the choir,” he implicitly called his congregation to action just before leading them in singing 2 Chronicles 20’s most musical phrase: praise the Lord for his mercy endureth forever.

Alongside the falling melody depicted in Example 4, much about this phase of the sermon is identical to the analogous section of his 2001 sermon, “Dealing With Life’s Battles,” and to all the remaining iterations of this set piece. In each of these messages, Patterson broadcasts another of the text’s key phrases, “it’s not your battle,” with the aid of a three-note descending passage, which is answered by an octave leap. In many ways, this passage, a paraphrase of Jeheazial’s prophetic utterance, inverts the melodic shape of Patterson’s eternal song. However, both these melodic fragments appear in each sermonic context; they are repeated, they are reiterated, and they are voiced during each homiletic event. When, in the context of the media infrastructure he spent his life building, Patterson chooses to repeat himself, he puts an in-progress sermon in conversation with those that precede and follow them, lending an ecstatic existence to these homiletic entities. The enmeshment of Patterson’s eternal song in his broadcasting ecology affirms Alex Weheliye’s argument that “any sound re/production is technological, whether it emanates from the horn of a phonograph, a musical score, or a human body.” As these brief musical instants lend phenomenal weight to an eternal transmission, they enact an ongoing affront to the alleged ephemerality of sound, rearticulating the “central, nonsublatable tension at the core of sonic Afro-modernity.”Footnote 56 The questions these events raise are: what kind of relationship emerges between the events in which this eternal song is uttered? And, what is produced by these instances of Pentecostal playback? While I have argued that the heightened utterance distilled in Example 4 steps outside the already musical context of a sermonic conclusion, I now want to emphasize that its potency—that is, its capacity to evoke a sense of relationship to both scripture and the events described therein—depends, in part, on the relationships Patterson calls into being between a single homiletic event, previous and forthcoming proclamations, the biblical text from which it is extracted, and the recordings that enable these improvisational performances to endure. I call this afterliveness.


Although Bishop Patterson’s sermons were robustly antiphonal, linking preacher, band, and congregation in an intensive musical collective, it would be inaccurate to claim that his broadcast religion was shaped by what Paul Sanden has termed a “traditional performance paradigm,” which uses a rhetoric of “liveness” to elevate specific performances over their reproductions.Footnote 57 The notion of liveness arose in the 1930s to help audiences and producers distinguish between recorded broadcasts and their less-mediated alternatives, growing into the discourse used to market early television and to strengthen the economic prospects of “live” musicians. With its emphasis on spatial and temporal co-presence, liveness became a way to reckon with performance in an increasingly mediatized society, a cultural ferment whose origins lay in the late-nineteenth century emergence of sound reproduction technologies. When read against liveness’s concern with spatiotemporal concomitance, Bishop Patterson’s repeated assertion that spiritual power, experienced and recorded during a worship event, could “beam out of televisions,” and, presumably, leap out of radios, too, shows that the well-established emphasis on in-person sociality in Patterson’s black Pentecostal contexts is exceeded by an even greater preoccupation with accessing an invisible force—the Holy Spirit. Both Patterson’s musical life and the particular intensity of his afterlife are animated by cycles of mediation, wherein voice, sermon, and broadcast technologies work together to convey a presence that cannot be seen. Thus, Patterson’s broadcast religion expresses a media concept that I refer to as “afterliveness.”

As Bishop Patterson’s messages practice mediation in order to produce immediacy with a host of scenes from scripture, they initiate a broadcasting trajectory that is shaped by afterliveness: the pursuit of an audible intimacy with events, places, and persons whose eternal lack of physical presence is overcome by religious intercession. Afterliveness names the phenomenal reality Patterson’s eternal song gives to the singing that occurred on Jehosophat’s ancient battlefield. Afterliveness describes the multisensorial immersion that enabled Patterson’s congregants to experience being bathed in the blood of Jesus. Afterliveness is the palpable proximity a sermon provides to the arrival of divine “help,” an improbable synchrony with the characters recorded in a biblical text. Distinct from notions of “liveness”Footnote 58 and “virtual liveness,”Footnote 59 afterliveness is an assertion about the relationship between divergent sonic events. Afterliveness, this multivalent concept, names the immediacy Patterson’s sermons give to various biblical events, the appeal of Patterson’s broadcasts during his period of physical animation, and the posthumous power that social media users locate in his recorded messages. Transcending any single sermon’s enactment, afterliveness depends on sermonic sound reproduction; the Pentecostal playback that is produced by Patterson through both the practice of recording and ecstatic acts of musical repetition. These enduring realities are defined by their access to an energy that both anticipates and outlasts any single spatiotemporal instant—the persisting power of an eternal transmission.

For Bishop Patterson, afterliveness is both a pursuit, a practice, and a possession. Building from Saidiya Hartman’s theorization of the persisting power or “afterlives of slavery”Footnote 60 and Shana Redmond’s investigation of Paul Robeson’s musical afterlife, afterliveness uncovers the resonant forces that travel between the phases of Patterson’s existence.Footnote 61 Redmond’s notion of “antiphonal life,” which occurs when and where “the repetition of a call is met by [Robeson’s] response in and beyond the time of his physical animation,” resonates with the rhetoric of posthumous power that pervades social media posts of and about Patterson’s message (Figure 3).Footnote 62

In an audacious extension of the theme of Patterson’s still-airing television broadcasts—“the messenger sleeps; the message lives on”— an unnamed user’s March 17, 2017 post on Patterson’s obituary, reads: “Bishop G. E. Patterson, I still listen to your sermons and they are more powerful than before. Thanks for being a great leader and example of the gospel.”Footnote 63 This comment shows that, while “social networking sites enable expansion—temporally, spatially, and socially—of public mourning,” remembrance and mourning are not the principal topics in Patterson’s posthumous circulation.Footnote 64 Rather, there is a recurring preoccupation with making the late bishop’s messages the centerpiece of contemporary lived religion, asserting that they still convey spiritual power. On March 23, 2020, Facebook user Bobby White shared a viral excerpt of a sermon recorded in April of 1983, “Delivered from Fear.” White’s caption is telling: “BISHOP G.E. PATTERSON SHARES A MESSAGE ON THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC….35 years before it happened! And, we are now marking 13 years since he passed away. #prophetic #mylatepastor Tape #204—Deliverance from Fear.”Footnote 65 White’s description details his deep awareness of the bishop’s date of death and his sense that the Bishop’s words speak to the present moment with an uncommon, “prophetic,” and eternal kind of relevance. White’s sense of this viral object’s power is grounded in the characteristically musical conclusion of this two-minute sermonic excerpt. As Patterson commingles concern about volatile stocks and international pathogens with paraphrases of scripture and quotations from two hymns, he initiates a transcendent dialogue that stretches from 1983, back to the time of scripture, and forward to the year 2020. For the tens of thousands of users who shared this video and the hundreds of thousands who viewed it in March 2020, this old clip seemed to provide some eternal assurance in the midst of contemporary uncertainty. As they viewed, reacted to, and shared this digital artifact, these netizens asserted that there is something peculiarly resonant about Bishop Patterson’s voice. However, the mere availability of this video for viral circulation is a direct consequence of Patterson’s broadcast religion, an antiphonal call that generates manifold responses, turning numerous social media users into a new kind of religious broadcaster.

The enduring and pervasive presence of Bishop Patterson’s message on television, radio, and a host of social media platforms is fueled by an assemblage of technologies, agents, and beliefs, which we have come to know as broadcast religion. The key to Patterson’s rise to ecclesial power and the source of his posthumous resonance, broadcast religion gives spiritual significance to his media infrastructure. More potent than other mediums, Patterson’s voice uses its serial inflections to connect his sermons with a host of biblical events and with a diverse set of audiences—past, present, and future. As Patterson’s Pentecostal playback uses both the practice of recording and ecstatic acts of musical repetition to tap into an eternal transmission, each homiletic event yields an experience of afterliveness, a palpable sense of a sermon’s place within a transcendent conversation.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *