"Go out the main gate, turn right and head towards Cockburn Town," the Bahamian gardener at Club Med told us. "Walk to the end of the airport runway, past the marina and you will see the church across the street from the oil depot."
The hot morning sun beat down on us as Bruce and I walked out the gate and headed towards the airport where we'd flown in the day before to spend a playful week with seven friends at Club Med Columbus Isle. On previous trips we've stayed on the resort's property the entire time, but this year we decided to see what excursions were being offered, and our eyes lit up when we saw gospel service at Church of God of Prophecy, Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Club Med wanted twenty dollars per person to take us on their mini bus, but we decided to walk the three kilometers and put the twenty bucks in the collection plate instead.
It was the perfect setting for a concert by the Pointer Sisters, but the lady dressed in purple made sure there was no confusion. We were definitely in church. "Do not take a break from prayer, " she advised. "True repentance offers a way to a new beginning."
Slowly more Black Bahamians entered through the side doors and quietly sat in the pews. Others who I presumed were the musicians took their places on the stage. The church was beginning to fill up. The woman in the purple dress stepped back and deferred to a broad-shouldered man wearing a gray suit and a pink polka dot designed tie. He was the real deal. She was the opening act. With confidence the preacher stood tall at the podium and with a rich booming voice shouted, "Welcome everyone to our Sunday gospel service, especially our good friends from Club Med." Since most of the residents of Cockburn Town are employed by Club Med, the locals are very welcoming to the international visitors who rotate at the resort week after week.
Before breaking into song, the preacher told us to activate our inner power, and then he began clapping his hands flamboyantly, calling out, "Come everybody, clap your hands! Shout aloud to God with joyful praise for the Lord most high is awesome. He's the king of kings." When the pastor began to sing, I swear on a stack of bibles I saw a piece of gum in his mouth, which he quickly moved with his tongue and hid inside his cheek. I nudged Bruce. "The preacher's chewing gum," I whispered, and Bruce nodded and smiled in amusement.
Sharing our pew were two women with a cluster of kids. The little ones were clapping and dancing but struggling with the words to the music. In front of me, but looking back, was a little girl, maybe three or four, who was more interested in making funny faces than watching the action on stage.
Even though I'm skeptical about church in general, I found myself clapping and singing Praise the Lord and Hallelujah just like all the other true believers. The preacher and his backup singers hypnotically swayed from side to side with their eyes closed, and the emotional power of the music was evident by the tears running down one of the performer's cheeks as she sang. I was definitely caught up in the moment. I looked over and smiled at Bruce who was swaying to the music and lip syncing the repetitive words.
I looked at my watch. It was now 1:00 p.m., and although the rapture was still going strong, the native worshippers were getting a little restless. As soon as the collection plate was passed around (and yes, I contributed my $20), the euphoria began to wind down. At the door I greeted the preacher and told him how much I enjoyed his singing and thanked him for a beautiful service. He shook my hand vigorously, and smiled like a celebrity when I asked if I could take his picture. When he opened his mouth to say yes, that's when I saw the gum. It took a lot of self-control on my part not to ask him about the gum, but I guess some rules are meant to be broken, even in the eyes of the Lord.