So three Sunday mornings ago I returned to church . . .
Oh? You didn’t know I was churchy?
Well. I prefer to call myself spiritual.
In my St. Andrew days, I had settled into a missionary church. But years before that, I used to attend a non-denominational, full-gospel church or a “clap-han’ church”, as one of my favourite nuns in high school would call them.
Yuh know clap-han’ church? Churches that ever full a soso excitement, i.e. no deady-deady business: pastor shouting and heaving and sopping sweat from him head-back, neck-back and farrid; praise and worship leader bellowing choruses over a mic; ushers keeping watch at every entrance and exit; sisters collapsing on the floor or sprinting laps round the sanctuary; dancers in flowing skirts leaping and waving banners before the altar; drum and bass, guitar, keyboard and piano; multimedia projector, projector screen and song lyrics; robust amens, hallelujahs, “Preach, Pastor, preach!” and “Dat’s right! Dat’s right!”
Did I leave out anything?
If this is your preferred Sunday morning beverage, good for you. Gwaan drink it up, do yuh laps and fall out.
Visiting friends, if you’re vacationing in Jamaica, aka Jamdown, aka Jah-mek-yah, aka JA, and this kind of spirited refreshment is what you crave or are used to back home, well, JA has plenty churches of this persuasion from which you can pick and choose.
I, personally–call it old age if yuh wish–have come to prefer a mellower beverage, one that’s smooth going down but still with a little bite. You know, like sorrel and ginger tea (hold the sugar, please). The other beverage had grown a little too strong fi mi head . . . like black coffee and white rum . . . togedder.
My visiting friends, if you prefer sorrel-ginger like mi-self, then JA also has plenty churches with similar mellowness. Again, you can pick and choose. Saturday, Sunday, likkle bit a clap han’, no clap han’ at all, Afrocentric, Eurocentric, synagogue, mosque, it’s here.
So since late last year, in Ochi here, I’ve been attending service at an old church, one built almost a decade after Jamaica’s apprenticeship period came to an end in 1838. It’s funny how worshipping in one of these makes me feel even more connected to the ancestors. In a sense, it’s comforting. It’s like returning to my roots.
I was christened in an old church. My maternal grandparents wed in an old church. My paternal great-great-great grandparents attended and also tied the knot in an old church (of course it would’ve been new back then).
My church attendance sort of fell off at the start of 2019. Yep. You ever had a rough start to the year yet? For me, this year started off rougher than rough. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. It left me worn out and grieving. So I was missing from church for a little while.
Then two weeks ago, the Lord juk mi and seh, “Church.”
I said, “Lord, mi tired. Mi tired; mi tired; mi tired; mi tyad.”
So He winked and gave me a pass.
Then last week, again, Him juk mi and seh, “Church.”
Mi seh, “Lord, I don’t want to go. But . . . I’ll go.”
So I set my phone to alarm on Sunday morning at 5:45, and God, being God, woke me up at 5:33, and I was out the gate in the crisp, morning air, hailing a taxi at 7:30-ish.
When the taxi-man turned into the churchyard, we wrapped up our conversation about a long-time passenger of his whom he used to religiously transport from St. Ann to Spanish Town, St. Catherine for church on Sunday mornings. Miss Lady really must have loved that church. I too love my church in St. Andrew. But Father God knows that from Him have residence in Ochi too, mi good. Angie not traversing over hills and valleys before cock put on him drawers unless it is warranted.
I tiptoed over the dew grass while looking around at the weathered gravestones in the churchyard. Some were cracked and caved. Some were still standing strong against the elements. Some had no name because what was once engraved on them had been, over the generations, rubbed away by wind, sun and rain and a few hurricanes.
Inside the sanctuary, I sat near the entrance and listened in as the priest concluded Bible study. Our service begins at 8:00 am. And, people, believe me when I tell you there are denominations in JA you can set your watch off of. They don’t run on “island time”. If dem seh dem starting 8:00 am, at 8:00 am sharp, organ start play and ministers and choir proceed down the aisle.
At minutes to eight, the priest headed around the back to ready himself, and the organist struck up a tune. From the first few notes, I knew it was one of my favourite hymns, In the Garden. It wasn’t the soulful Al Green version, but it brought a smile to my face just the same. God knows how to hug yuh up like that and send you confirmation that you’re in the right place at the right time.
As we sang the introit, the first item in the order of service, I looked around at the pews and chandeliers, a couple blown light bulbs, the altar furnishings, the stained glass behind the altar furnishings, the male and female ministers in their white and purple vestments and the toddler, three pews ahead of me, in her shiny, black and white, A-line frock and shoes and socks, licking the church program like it was a cupcake wrapper and biting off bits and handing them to her mother.
Intently listening to the readings to find out what God wanted to tell me in church this Sunday morning, I gazed at the memorial plaques; wooden sconces; stations of the cross; securely caged, wall-mounted speakers (with a giant cross before each}; and a painting of Mary and baby Jesus.
In the pew ahead of me, two little sisters eating biscuits fussed with each other quietly. Once or twice, the younger sis just start bawl. You know the kind of bawling that says, “Not fair! A not playing!” The one where the arm covers the eyes and the face well mek up but di two eye dem dry, dry.
We sang every verse and refrain of the gradual hymn (and every other hymn). The robed choir sang its responsive hallelujahs and amens to the final Bible reading. Children silently exited for Sunday School. And what a lovely sight that was, little boys and girls in their Sunday best: age-appropriate dresses; tailored pants; nicely pressed cotton shirts tucked into belted waists; neat hair, whether faded at the sides and back or plaited and adorned with bubbles and ribbons.
The priest spoke about the psalms and how useful they are during times of prayer when you’re overcome with emotion and at an absolute loss for words. He spoke about the importance of having a real relationship with God: talking to Him, listening to Him, reasoning with Him, being totally honest with Him ’bout how yuh feeling. I quietly amened and mm-hmmed. The priest cited Moses. Yuh rememba Moses? Mi to.
Church announcements were condensed on this particular Sunday morning because the priest had committed to being at another church, and time was against him. However, we couldn’t leave out till the birthday and anniversary people got called up. So you know everybody with birthday and anniversary in the coming week received prayers and blessings from the ministers. Visitors were asked to stand and introduce themselves, which gave the congregants reason to applause and flash welcoming smiles.
As I stepped out into the Sunday sun, the female minister shook my hand, gave me the warmest smile and told me to make sure I come every Sunday–or as often as I could.
As I turned away feeling all mushy and loved, suddenly, my beating heart leapt to my slender throat. Around me, my tranquil universe seemed to spin in slow motion as it descended into chaos. Flashbulbs blinded my almond shaped, brown-black eyes. My KJV Bible was my only shield.
Panicked, I bore my way through the throng of shorts, reggae tees and cellphone cameras. “Must . . . make it . . . to the . . . wrought iron . . . gate . . . away from all this . . . insanity!”
My heart galloped within my chest like a mare escaping the treacherous confines of a loathed stable. My thigh-length, lustrous, midnight-black mane, which smelled of organic rose petals and the tiniest hint of lavender, flowed wildly–
Awright, awright. Slight exaggeration in the last (one, two, three, four, five six, seven . . . ). Yeah, in the last few sentences.
Okay, okay. Nuff exaggeration in the last two and three-quarter paragraphs.
But there was a group of touring cruise ship passengers outside the church. And it was a sizable group. And they were taking pics of the property and standing around the graves.
My tourist friends, whenever you’re in JA don’t just admire the old churches from out in di yard. Come inside. Take in a sermon. Jamaica is way more than a guitar strumming, bandana skirt twirling, reggae singing island. We (not all though) are also a God-fearing, Sunday Best wearing, God-praising people. And that’s perhaps the reason behind our enduring spirit and heartwarming temperament.
Peace and love,
In case your Jamaican is rusty:
- Before cock put on him drawers – early-early, before daylight
- Deady-deady – boring
- Farrid – forehead
- Gwaan – go on
- Juk – poke
- Nuff – plenty
- Togedder – together
- Tyad – tired