Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I can't remember the last time I went to church.   Or let me put it a another way.   I can't remember the last time I went to a church that was as different and exciting as the Church of God of Prophecy on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, where we attended gospel services last week.   

"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.    

Cars honked their horns as they passed us on the dusty road during our 30 minute walk to the church.  It eventually dawned on us that the horn blowing was to tell us we were walking on the wrong side because in the Bahamas cars are driven on the left,  not the right.    Finally, we arrived at the white-steepled church.  There was only one car in the parking lot,  and no sign of gospel music or activity of any kind.    When we approached the entrance,  we saw a warning sign firmly telling us that no gum is allowed in church,  so we checked our pockets just to be sure we didn't have some Juicy Fruit accidentally hidden away.

Inside the church there were only a handful of parishioners and a few guests, like us, from Club Med.  Standing at the podium and shouting to an almost-empty church was a Black woman wearing a purple dress and wide-brimmed hat, condemning those who smoked weed in excess and cheated on their spouses, while the parishioners in the front row echoed her warnings with Praise the Lord and Amen, sister.  The alter was elaborately decorated with plastic pink and purple flowers, and I could see two electric keyboards, a full set of drums with a cymbal, and several microphones on the stage.  

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.   

The Preacher

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.  

Backup Singers
This rapturous service (click to watch my video of the action) continued for another hour with almost non-stop singing and clapping of hands.   There was a middle-aged man (who also took his turn at preaching) playing the drums, and two people on keyboards that faced one another.   One was an older woman who played staccato style, and the other a pimply-faced teenage boy who looked nervous like this was his first time on stage.  Two back-up singers sharing a songbook stood off to the right.  The woman in the purple dress remained in the background playing the maracas.  Parishioners swayed back and forth with their arms around each other and wore big smiles on their beautiful faces.   All of the Bahamians were properly dressed for church.  A few wore hats but all were in their Sunday best -- colorful dresses neatly pressed, diaphanous scarves, and lots of bling.  The hairstyles ranged from stylish braids, top knots with grosgrain ribbon, and short coils wound tight.   Most of the men were in dark suits, white shirts and some wore ties.   Most of us Club Med folks were wearing shorts and sleeveless tees,  but no one seemed to mind our casual style.   They appeared happy to see us.  Perhaps they were hoping for a few converts. 

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.