As a traveller in both life and faith, one has to step outside of the comfort of the familiar. And yet visiting new churches and attending services is a source of such joy. Here in the Caribbean, there is an abundance of churches, of all flavours and persuasions.
Indeed today we were told that Barbados has over 500 churches, (and also over 1,000 places to buy rum!). In most towns there is a multiplicity of options, from the familiar to the less common. We have enjoyed such welcomes that a return becomes inevitable. To be direct, even when we were almost the only white attendees, the open greetings and exchanges of peace were uninhibited.
For our skins are only our outer clothes, and to those of faith, we are all brothers and sisters. It was clear that the risk of prejudice was seen as a probable affliction of white people, for when we expressed this view, the smiles grew so much wider.
Universally so far, at some point visitors are invited to stand and make themselves known, usually by also saying your name and where you come from. A special greeting is given, and in one church, a momento pen was given, (St. Mary’s, near Jolly Harbour, Antigua).
The worship is determined and heartfelt, and the singing is exuberant. The services are quite a bit longer than those in England, but you simply do not notice, a lesson perhaps?
And yet today we were surprised. Attending a different mainstream denomination for a service, no books were provided for visitors, and it was apparent that many of the congregation were similarly hampered, leaving singing to the choir and part of the large congregation. The sermon was good, and the welcome of our neighbours was appreciated, and yet somehow there was something missing.
Familiarity can lead to complacency, and to somehow assume that all will come equipped is to segregate out visitors, the inquisitive and potentially the poor. It is unlikely that this was a financial constraint, for the denomination is one of the world’s largest, and wealthiest.
A cause for further sad reflection was the inability to take communion, given the known restriction against Christians of other faiths being allowed to do so. At the risk of inciting controversy, are not all committed Christians brothers and sisters? How do you think Our Lord might describe such segregation and distinction?
Guarding against restrictive or ingrained thoughts, behaviours and actions is the duty of us all. In the Commandment to love one another, is it not implicit that we should all do everything we can to help others to share in the sheer joy of our faith and communal worship to the greatest extent possible?