Took my baby to a Pentecostal service today at the Antioch Assembly of God on Winard Road, Downtown Kingston. And, Sweet Jesus, do Jamaicans know how to pray! Did I ever get a healing..
The compound where we live, has 3 security guards who rotate 12 hour shifts to give us 24 hour security. They are great guys who work mad hours and do their best to look after us, always giving me a hand with the baby when the wriggling gets too much, and happy to take him for a walk about while he swings off their smart black ties! Anyway, one of them, is fairly seriously evangelical, and has repeatedly invited me to attend his Church. I’d always been too nervous to go on my own, as the Church is downtown, and I knew I’d be the only white face there.
My husband steadfastly refused to come (we went to a fairly sedate Anglican service here just after the safe delivery of our baby, and he got hugged by a buxom mamma at the giving of the peace; that was enough for him!) and I’d failed to get any girlfriends to actually agree to a date. But I was fascinated; I’ve always loved Gospel music and listen to it alot here on the radio. And, driving around on Sundays, we’ve seen people everywhere, from inner city Kingston to deep in the countryside, dressed up in their Sunday best (huge hats for the ladies with bright dresses and feathers etc, smart suits for the men) walking in big groups to church. Seemed to be where the party was at, and an elemental part of Jamaican life I wanted to experience!
So, today, I finally braved it! (optioinal sound track to read the rest of this article too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pY6nqJtgOf0 – get in the spirit!) I went my own – but, crucially, with my beautiful baby boy – B, who provides an entry ticket just about anywhere; Jamaicans just love babies. I packed him up and drove off Downtown, parking our jeep round the back of the Antioch Assembley of God on Winard road, hoping it would be safe for an hour or two; there were only about 3 other cars there – yet inside the place was jammed! From the minute I opened the car door, I couldn’t believe the volume of the singing coming from the church, and I got the baby out grinning to go and join ‘the brethren’…)
Thinking I might be able to lurk at the back, or even outside, I hesitantly went up to the front door, but was immdiately shown to a seat right in the middle of a row, right in the middle of the church. The ladies (the congregation was at least 80% female) who were all standing, arms raised and singing, immediately made room for me with big smiles. The singing was being led by a fantastic female gospel soloist on stage, backed up by a choir of about 15 ladies, all dressed in fabulous satin outfits, two keyboard players and a drummer, with a lady preacher, speaking prayers over the choruses. The music was so LOUD and so spine tinglingly joyful, that you couldn’t help but join in singing and swaying, and B was just loving it! And it went on and on.. variations of the same song, over and over so you’d learn the words, with great gutsy, goose-bump raising solos in between.
After about half an hour, the whole church was encouraged to hold hands to pray for their neighbours, I took one hand of the lady on my right, and the lady on my left held B’s little paw, and I was touched by the great leveller religion can be. Holding a 20 pound wriggler though with one arm for about 20 minutes is no joke – even if one of his arms was well clamped by my neighbour! – and rather took my mind off praying for these good women either side of me. As we sat down for psalms, projected onto a huge screen so everyone could join in, a young girl in the row in front of me, stretched out her arms to take B, and then had him on her lap for the next 20 minutes or so, wriggling and bouncing, and grinning back at me over her shoulder. Just wish I had been brave enough to take a picture of his little smiley white face amongst that sea of Jamaican colour.
The communion was passed round with a bluesy invocation from the singers; trays of tiny shot glasses of wine and broken crackers, of which everyone took a piece. I ate my cracker without realising everyone has laid there’s down next to them, so when it came to the communion prayers and everyone held aloft their sacrament, I had to pretend I still had mine! I still had the wine at least, and loved being able to share in their communion.
I’d arrived late and have to confess I left early – I’d been there for 2 hours by the time I though my arms were going to fall off from holding B, and while I loved the singing, a half an hour sermon rather finished me off with its endless oscillation between gentle preaching, to rallying anger and righteousness! These services regularly go on for two and a half to three hours, and most of the congregation stayed in rapt attention, though a did spot of few having a sleep. Perhaps some of them were just there to get out of the heat and enjoy the huge overhead fans!
I’m not sure I’ll be a regular, but I’m delighted I went. I felt very humble and touched to be so welcomed, and to experience first hand the contagious elation with which these folks celebrate Jesus. It seems a far cry from the subdued formality of Anglican churches at home, and the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning with B who just adores loud music, grinning ladies and giant fans! AMEN, Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!