PREACHER is back in Jamaica, after spending nearly thirty years in Britain. He has built a fabulously new church – the talk of the country parts- in his native High Mountain District. Preacher , with his wife, Mother Mildred, after thirty years , has qualified as a bona fide Returning Resident. He is proud of the name , for the word , has a status ring to it, a stamp of distinction , like a heraldic title. Moreso, it is a symbol of struggle and triumph. “Lo and behold,” he declared as his text in his first preaching in his church , The New Healing Stream Church of God, “ the Lord knoweth the way I took – Sistah Mildred and I, He tried me and I have come forth like gold!”
Thirty years ago, at his farewell service, he had preached as his text, “Lo, He knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” At his first preaching at his new church, Preacher skipped and pranced, arched his back and rode an imaginary bicycle up an imaginary grade, as he shouted. “The Lord saved from the furnace and from the jaws of the lions , like Daniel , in a foreign land! Yes, my brothers! Yes, my Sistahs! Thank you, Jesus ! Glory!. Alleluia! Praise the Lord! In his pre- Britain days, his congregation would have responded with loud ululations accompanied by the roll of drums. Post-Britain days are graced by loud-speakers , an electronic keyboard, electric guitar and electric fans, which tend to drown out the subdued shouts of the glories and the alleluias. Having gone to England, Preacher returned to do things differently.
There are tangible signs of gold being spent in the magnificence of the church building and in the munificence of the guest-house and the spa or bath-house. A rich and ailing Afro- American who had come to seek the healing stream, was overheard saying that this place was wonderful and only needed an oilwell and casino to make it a perfect heaven. Preacher promised to rebuke him, but never did. When his Deacon asked him why he didn’t, he explained that sometimes it is right to allow a man to wallow in his folly, until he wakes up by himself to realize that many things on earth that appear heavenly are but vanity.
The following Sunday, after the rich Afro- American left, Preacher preached on vanity, and referred repeatedly to the Afro- American’s remark. Preacher preached that it was easier to drive a bus through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to take his oilwell and his casino to heaven. Naked come we into this world , naked we shall leave it- with nothing. Nothing at all! The punctuated catch- clichés in his preaching, mostly from the Bible, were greeted with abundant alleluias drowned out by his exuberant musicians on their electric instruments.
More than forty years ago, Madah Henry had discovered the healing qualities of the water-hole on her property at Font Hill. She claimed that the Lord had instructed her to build a church near the water-hole. She had discovered also that she could cut the dying loose from their sins, and write their names of the departed in The Book of Life, better than Pastor. So she cut loose from Pastor’s church, and built a thatched, wattle and daub’ structure beside the tiny stream that came forth from beneath a black rock on her land. Her flock gave her the title Madah Henry.
James Buchnor wasn’t known as Preacher, at first. He became converted to Christ , turned his back on the world and joined Madah Henry’s church . He was given the title Drum-beater. Madah, in time, announced that James was her Left- hand (Lieutenant) ordained and given to her by God. “Praise the Lord! Alleluia! Alleluia ! Thank you, Jesas!” Madah Henry had screamed in comfirmation of the announcement.
“ Praise the Lord! Alleluia, Alleluia! Thank you, Jesas!” her flock had shouted. They shouted in paroxyms of the Spirit, until women collapsed and rolled on the ground, and the white turbaned men jumped and roared alleluias around them. James beat a wild tempo on his drum, and after a while at a signal from Madah, he performed an ominous growl on the goatskin for the pandemonium to stop.
James, on his return from Britain , proudly remembered and often repeated that he was the best drum-beater for the Lord that the world has ever known. James could make his drum exult in adoration and praise. He could make it weep. He could make it growl in anger. He could portray the thunder , the sounds of sun, rain and breeze, by slapping the goatskin with the palms of his and rolling his fingers over it.
James knew that he was good and had developed his own repertoire. In addition to being a master at the drum, he sang in a deep, coarse bass, “Roll Jordan Roll” , leading the congregation across an expanse of imagination and emotion , so intense that they see and feel the river rolling in their bellies. Whenever he sang “When the saints come marchin’ in” accompanied by his drum, the congregation rocked and tramped as it if they had already got their numbered entry tickets. In the singing of “Holy , holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning , our song shall rise to thee. ” the congregation was led by James to majestic arpeggios on his drum.
When Madah Henry became too old and crippled to preach, the flock elected James as their shepherd and gave him the title, Leader. As time went by, the title, Preacher, supplanted Leader. In October 1955, Preacher migrated to Britain. Things were rather bad in rural Jamaica. So bad that a man considered himself well-off , if he was earning five shillings per day. It was no disgrace for an adult man to walk barefooted down the road, not being able to tell what was the original material of his patched pants. So bad, that privileged children hid their shoes on the way to school ,so as not to be conspicuous among their barefooted classmates. So bad, that it was nothing unusual to beg your neighbour a little salt or a firestick. Things were so bad, that codfish or mackerel run-dung, bush –tea, cornmeal porridge, flour-dumplings and ground-provisions were common fare. The collection at church was so bad, that Preacher with his wife , Mildred, decided to join the trek to Britain.
In his farewell sermon, Preacher preached that in Britain the harvest was plenty, but the labourers were few. He claimed that the Lord had called him to a richer harvest. . He must go where he was called. On departing, Preacher left his wife in the care of the church and his little daughter , Miriam (she was not Mildred’s child) with his Mother, Liza, in Riversdale. At home,after the service, Mildred derided Preacher for using the phrase , richer harvest, in his farewell sermon. She feared that it might give the flock the wrong impression that they were going to Britain to seek their fortune. “Didn’t I tell dem dat I am comin’ back to buil’ a bigger an’ better church?” Preacher replied. “The trut’ will always bring offence!”
After the farewell service, Preacher and Mildred had a repast, and Mildred being exhausted as usual by singing , clapping her hands, dancing and shouting at a service, retired. Preacher relaxed in his living room and reflected on the last service he would have conducted on Font Hill for a long time to come. Deacon Imond had adjusted the strap of the drum on his right shoulder and having slapped the goatskin with his palm, rolled the signal for silence, with his fingers over the skin. “Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the Lord,” the flock had shouted and became tensely silent. He had announced the readings from Ecclesiastes, Chapter Three, and asked Deacon Imond to track the reading, while he preached.
This story will be Continued Next Month
Copyrighted © 2000 by oren o. cousins.