“If you’re planning to ask, don’t! I am not giving a single cent for any church rebuilding fund and especially an Anglican Church.”
“A recession is on … people are losing their jobs; and you are asking for money? I know you don’t buy newspapers but I was not aware that you had stop reading them. Let me update you. People are looking for housing; families – single women and their children with long water streaming down their cheeks – are featured in the newspapers asking for help so they can move off the streets. The week before last on a cold wet night an elderly woman knocked at a house begging for a corner to lay her head. Her house was burnt months ago. She was still roaming.” My friend was a roll.
“So don’t ask me for a donation or to buy a ticket, nothing so. I know that a lightning bolt struck the church, knocking out the bell, ripping out the electricity and destroying the piano. If God wanted to, He would have protected the church; that should tell you all something. Don’t ask me for a cent,” he said.
“Tell me, why repair an edifice for so-called Christians to spend three or four hours every Sunday singing and saying prayers by rote? After that the church is shut tight. You all are shut even tighter, not one action to help the community or to show God’s love but you all walk around acting self-righteous.”
He didn’t stop to catch his breath. Not even a split-second pause, so I could explain the reason for my call. I knew interrupting him would lead to another atheist-versus-God believer’s argument, so I endured his monologue. Soon, I was left in quiet reflection wishing I could tell him what St. Catherine Anglican Church meant to the community, my family and I.
If he had allowed I would have highlighted a tale of community-spiritedness, a story of love for God demonstrated through ensuring that the place earmarked for His worship was kept at a high standard; a standard befitting a King. Today, I reflect on that story starting with the fetching of sand from Crane Beach to build the church; a community joined by that common goal, some 90 years ago.
Many years later, my grandmother, Darkey, Lennie Blades, Mother Griffith, Trudie, Aunt May, Vie Grazette and Wilma Brathwaite voluntarily ensured that the church’s environs and its interior were in pristine condition. Their tangible outpouring of love to the church was common; Mr. Blades constrained by the effects of a stroke cared for the gardens and did much more; Marie Gaskin, Miss Iris, the organist … the list of names is endless. They had more than mouth-talk; we, children learnt from their actions as well as their words.
My great-grandmother, Momma Garnes sat in the third pew from the top, to the right. With stick lying safely under the knee rest, she answered the call every time the bell rang. Her refrain was: “What you give to the Lord, give it in Jesus’ name and He will give you some more to give to the church and anybody dat pass by.”
I know that the people of that era were no better off financially that we are today, yet they worked to preserve their church. Few, if any, grumbled. So I asked myself, what did this quaint church sitting in my neighbour mean?
From personal experiences enhanced by the comments of others including those who’ve since passed, I’ve gathered that the districts surrounding the church drew sustenance from a village triumvirate. St. Catherine’s Primary School, provider of primary education and childhood bonding; St. Catherine’s Anglican Church, builder of the moral and spiritual fibre of its community and the St. Catherine’s Social Club, enhancer of social connections and community development.
The three were joined by more than the name they shared; green, their common colour; or the members whose names were on the registers of all three. In unison, these institutions grew a community instilling and developing leadership qualities and team-work attitudes; building a culture of neighbourliness; respect for God and all people.
All three now seem to be confronting challenges as they seek to fulfil their mandates in a postmodern world driven by digital technology. The school occasionally threatened by World Bank philosophy that promotes economic efficiency which says it is too small to make economic sense. Close it down. Build a large economies-of-scale school and bussed primary school kids off to some out-of-village site.
The social club faces competition from members and potential members’ increasingly frenetic work load and domestic lives as well as from attractions that woo people away from participation in community-based social organisations.
With regards to the church, it swims in a sea of tele-evangelists and on-line modes of worship delivering the Word to people sitting at home in their couches. It also battles in an era where the internet beams atheist arguments and new age ideologies to their congregations. Positive attitudes to church have also been cut by man’s greed. These internal and external pressures have affected the triumvirate. Today, it is either de-linking or the chain has already being broken.
If I was given the chance I would have told my friend that story of my community’s three pillars and I would’ve captivated him with my personal stories.
For like him, I’ve struggled to understand the ‘God connection’; that invisible Person whom my elders said I must worship; the unseen One who required me to mend my still wayward ways. Then I loved that stone-wall church but only as a building; a building which was my childhood refuge.
I sought safe harbour there often when my cousins and their boisterous friends were outside playing cricket (similar to the youngsters pictured) and bellowing “ketch ‘e! Boy, you out”; pulling up stumps and getting ready for fist fights.
I would flee to the church. Stretched out in the quiet, I would revise my school work with the wind rushing through the windows. The only interruption would come hours later when the sexton would shout: “Girl, I shutting up in hey now… don’t leave one piece of that rubber (eraser) you using in here …” No man or woman dared to violate that space which symbolised holiness.
Years later, stressed-out I would seek sanctuary in the church; listening to the silence; telling God what’s on my mind and walking away invigorated with at least a partial solution. Today, man’s misunderstanding of the sanctity of church has led to doors locked against thieves but denying my innocent entry.
Instead, I now sit on the church hill smelling the breeze; feeling God’s presence in his creations, clouds, grass anything that passes quietly by. I look down to the graveyard where the St. Catherine’s icons, heroes, preservers of our legacy lie. I wonder what legacy we this side of the grave are going to leave. Will we have the faith, the passion to keep our church strong as a building, as a congregation? Will we let down the three pillars of our community?
The church hill looks onto the graveyard and the St. Catherine’s Primary School.
I also think about the triumvirate that shaped my district and wonder where is today’s village glue. Perhaps coming together to repair St. Catherine’s Church may set us thinking beyond the church’s walls and right into the community. Perhaps we will learn how to give deeper; perhaps we will conclude that giving is not a one way street but that the church must give to the community; and the community is likely to return to the church.