As a contributor to this web site, I do not classify myself as being a writer. However, for about three months now I have been having "Dry Spells", but an incident occurred in my family the other day where I had to respond to a member in writing and I was motivated to use a modified extraction of that letter as this month’s article. If you are a regular reader of my articles you would realize that I normally write about my childhood days, this one is a little different as it combines both experiences from my childhood and adulthood days.
Sunday mornings in most Jamaican households meant "Church". In our household it was no different. Mom would always ensure that we were up and ready for Sunday morning services even if it started at seven o’clock. There are times when she accompanied us and sometimes we went on our own. We are of the Anglican faith and the closest church in the community was a mile away. One of my older sisters was actively involved in the services, as she was one of the servers that worked with the Priest in the mornings. Therefore we had to get ready and walk the mile which included three very steep hills, in order to get there before the service started.
Growing up, assuming more responsibilities and being more aware of the "Sins" that you may be actively involved in, makes going to church becomes more of something you know you should do, but keep putting it off for another time. You find yourself attending church only on the "Special Sundays" or the rare occasions of a Wedding or a Funeral. Having a daughter of my own I tried to do the right thing too. I ensured that she went to Church and Sunday School regularly. Apparently my attendance to church was not as spectacular as my Mom’s because one day when I was ensuring that she was getting ready for church she asked me "Mommy, Why you don’t go to Church, only Funerals?" I was taken aback by her question, and tried to justify myself, but then, probably she was correct.
Moving away from my community, I still had the urge to attend church but felt a bit strange doing it in a town which I attended school and worked in. I was reluctant to go and started to make various rationalizations, some of which were:
The Anglican Church was too boring. I wanted a church that was livelier and had more physical movements like singing, clapping and dancing, and more spiritual contact with God where people got into the spirit. This led me to visit The New Open Bible Church which was not very far from home. It had a young congregation and their vibes was a refreshing change from being home on Sundays. They had "singspiration" for about an hour before the regular service and as we sang continually you felt the spirit building up inside making you want to really "Praise the Lord". It felt like the vibes I was looking for, however I ended up visiting only on three other occasions which were far between.
But their vibes reminded me of days in the Anglican Church of my childhood. The old priest had retired and the new priest who was assigned was young. He brought a radical change to our traditional way of worship. He introduced the singing of lively choruses, dancing, the clapping of hands and the playing of tambourines or "timbrells" as we call them. Members of the congregation would oftentimes get in the spirit and people would openly pour out their hearts to the Lord in prayers. He introduced and incorporated the use of the Redemption Song Book which had much livelier songs, with the traditional Ancient and Modern Song Book. His favourite song was "Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus" which had a very upbeat chorus to which we would clap and play the tambourines. He also had regular crusades in ours and the other four churches that he was responsible for. He won many a soul for the Lord, many of which were of the younger generation. He was praised by many and chastised by the same for taking a more radical approach to the Anglican style of worship. He later left the church to continue ministering abroad in 1986. He has not yet been replaced and the many souls that he had won for the Lord have been left wandering as sheep without a shepherd.
Being in a job with which I was not satisfied and knowing that I had potentials for bigger things that would not come; my life began to be filled with turmoil. I constantly complained and generally grew more and more miserable each day.
A dear friend would sometimes say to me, "You know what is wrong with you? You are not grateful, there are many other people out there who are in worst condition than you, you need to give thanks."
My reply would be "Me grateful you know but……." , and I would go on to expand on the BUTS.
In the crisis of my life my friend and I decided to get away from the much resented job and to go on a vacation. We visited Florida and stayed with one of my cousins and his wife who are of the Adventist faith. One day while I was home alone, I switched on the radio, something I rarely did as we were always watching television. Not knowing the stations to tune to, I ended up on one of the religious channels so I decided to leave it alone and to listen. A minister was on the air talking about "Giving thanks to God". He spoke of giving thanks to God each and every day even if in that day things were so messed up that we saw nothing which we should be thankful for. Well, remembering what my friend had said to me a couple of times and listening to the radio broadcasts, I privately decided that I was going to give it a try. So for the first couple of days I went around silently praying, "Thank you Lord Jesus for life, for love and for hope. Amen." This I repeated for about six or seven times a day, sometimes adding other words and sometimes just those basic words.
Well, at the end of the week, I joined in the afternoon Sabbath devotion which included my cousin, his wife and son. We had a lovely devotion, singing songs from their songbook and reading alternate verses from one of the chapters in the book of Matthew. Towards the end of the devotion, my cousin who would normally lead the devotion and offer the closing prayer, suggested that we all close by offering individual prayers.
My heart started to race and I went cold inside. That prayer request meant not only praying but also praying aloud, boy was I scared. Anyhow, I figured I could not back down so I started to gear myself. I was the last person in line to pray and after each of the others prayed I began to feel more confident in myself that I would be able to do it. After all, there was no one here to laugh at me, (something us kids would do when persons prayed aloud in church and fumbled or made grammatical mistakes) so why not give it a try. Surprisingly when it was my turn I had mastered enough composure to do it. I prayed asking God to teach me to say thanks to Him. I told him that we (that is myself and others) have not been grateful enough to say thanks for the many things that He has given to us, instead we are always complaining. I asked Him to help me to be more appreciative of the things that I had and to be much more thankful to Him. I stumbled a little at the latter part of my prayer, but at the end I felt good that I was able to pray, that I was able to pray aloud and that my prayers sounded good even in my own ears.
The final week end of my stay in Florida I visited the Sabbath church. The experience was different. They started off their worship by a short prayer, then meeting in small groups where they discussed sections of the Bible based on the topic assigned for that day in their Sabbath school quarterly. This is followed by their regular church service. Their pastor who was a Jamaican, preached a wonderful sermon that was based on the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel in the lions den.
My various experiences intensified the feeling of making more effort to worship God, so shortly after returning home I visited the closest Anglican church to home. It is the mother church to the one I normally attend. Sitting there I realized that some of the format of the service had changed. The prayer book had been revised, sections normally read by the congregation were now being chanted and so forth. What impacted me most however, was that unlike the Open Bible, the Adventist and my old Anglican Church, there was no time for the members to have a moment of private intercession with God. By this I mean, members did not pray aloud, there was no moment of closing our eyes, blocking out the world and opening up our hearts to God as a congregation, with each person praying his or her prayer simultaneously. Instead prayers were read from the prayer book. This I feel should be incorporated in the mornings services, as many persons may find themselves so busy or may not take the time during the week to offer prayers to God. Going to church on the Sabbath or on Sunday is seen as the one opportunity of the week to have close contact with God. But then, considering that it is said that the Catholic and Anglican churches are attended by the "elites", confessing our sins aloud may be beneath us.
I do not qualify myself as being a Christian, but I have been drawing myself closer to God, or rather, he is drawing me closer to Himself. I do know that I have learned to be more thankful and appreciative of the good and the bad. I have tried to include more prayers in my life and to read more of my Bible. This has helped me to feel more at peace with myself and with the "hand that fate has dealt me", and having accepted Gods powerful hand as moulding my life, I have begun to flow with the tide.