“Black Reconstruction Through Education” Mt Pisgah Baptist Church celebrates Afrikan History

The Mt Pisgah Baptist Church in collaboration with The Pan African Coalition of Organizations (PACO) invites you to their Black History Month Exhibition and Cultural Day. This activity will be hosted for a week and is entitled "Black Reconstruction Through Education".

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Here is a schedule for week of activities

  • SUNDAY 01 MARCH EXHIBITION LAUNCHING AT MT PISGAH—11:AM
  • MONDAY 02  TO FRIDAY 06 MARCH EXHIBITION OPENS FROM 10:00 AM TO 5:00 PM DAILY
  • SATURDAY 07 FROM 10:00 AM TO 1:PM.
  • WEDNESDAY 04 MARCH PANEL DISCUSSION ON AFRICAN ART AND CULTURE WITH DR NANCY JACOBS AND BUSH MEDICINE WITH THE SILENT DOCTOR ANNETTE WATSON .....  MODERATOR TREVOR PRESCOD.... 7pm
  • SATURDAY 07 MARCH STREET FAIR AND AFRICAN VILLAGE AT CHURCH VILLAGE GREENS. 1.30pm  CULTURAL SHOW 6pm to 8pm
  • THERE WILL BE WORKSHOPS ON HEAD TYING, DRUMMING, SELF EMPOWERMENT, HEALTH & WELLNESS,   BASKET WEAVING,  FOOD STALLS AND LOTS MORE.

 

  • The Mt Pisgah Church is located at 126 Centrale Plaza, Roebuck Street, Bridgetown.

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Let us now take a look at  the Baptist Church and its place in this our history .......

The Baptist religion is thought to have developed among the people of African descent during the Nineteenth Century.

It can be found throughout the Caribbean under various names but according to Gibbs de Peza , the name Spiritual Shouter Baptist is indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago. It is a unique religion, comprising elements of Protestant Christianity and African doctrines and rituals. It is also one of the few religions indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago.

The term Shouter was given to the Baptists because of their tendency to shout, clap and sing loudly during their religious services. It was a derogatory term imposed on them by mainstream society. During their fight to have the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance repealed, the Baptists decided to use the term Spiritual Baptists instead of Shouter Baptists, in an effort to gain respect for their religion.

There are four theories that place the roots of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Religion in Africa, Britain, North America and St. Vincent.

The first theory suggests that certain practices of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith can be traced directly to Africa – however this theory is not well documented. While researchers agree on Africa, there is some dispute as to where in Africa. Some religious practices of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith have been identified as being similar to that of Peoples or former Kingdoms in West Africa – particularly the Dahomey People (now situated in Benin), the Kongo People (now in Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and part of Angola) and the Yoruba People (now primarily in Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Togo.

Another segment of the influx of new settlers in 1797 was a group of former American Slaves who had supported Britain during the American War of Independence. They were rewarded for their loyalty with their freedom and grants of land in South Trinidad. They formed “Company Villages” that were named after the military companies in which they had served, for example, “Fifth Company, Moruga” . These settlers brought their Baptist faith with them and influenced the development of the indigenous Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith.

Viola Gopaul-Whittington  has stated another theory that suggests the roots of the Spiritual Shouter Baptists can be found in the migration of fundamental Protestants, known as “Shakers“, from St. Vincent to Trinidad during the early part of the twentieth century.

This explains the origins of the four Baptist groups in Trinidad and Tobago – the London Baptists, the Independent Baptists, the Fundamental Baptists and the Spiritual Shouter Baptists.

Although the origins of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith in Trinidad and Tobago can be traced to foreign countries, it has evolved over time to become a unique, indigenous religion. It has managed to fuse the spontaneity and rhythms of Africa with the restrained, traditional tenets of Christianity to produce a religion that is vibrant, expressive and dynamic.

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PROHIBITION
From 1917 to 1951 the Spiritual and Shouter Baptist faith was banned in Trinidad by the colonial government of the day. The legislation to enact this ban was called the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance and it was passed on 16 November 1917.

The reason given for the ordinance was that the Shouters made too much noise with their loud singing and bell ringing (Henry 32-35) and disturbed the peace.

During worship, participants danced, shouted, shook and fell to the ground in convulsions. Such behaviour was deemed unseemly by the more traditional and conservative elements in the society. Also, the established churches regarded such behaviour as heathen and barbaric.

Furthermore, they were concerned about the large number of people who were leaving the traditional churches to join the Spiritual Baptist faith. The police, who had been persecuting the Baptists for several years, also wanted them silenced.

Although not said openly, the real reason for the antagonism towards the Baptists was that many of their practices were of African origin. Things African were associated with the shame and degradation of slavery and a large part of the population of Trinidad did not want to be reminded of this. Hence the strong lobbying to have the religion banned.

In the end, the colonial government responded to the complaints of the taxpayers, landowners and police by passing the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance.

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Those thirty-four years of prohibition were difficult for the Spiritual and Shouter Baptists. The ordinance forbid them from erecting or maintaining any “Shouter House” or from holding meetings. Estate managers and owners were required to report any meetings to the police, and the police were authorized to enter a building where a meeting was being held without a warrant. (See full-text of Ordinance).

Worshipers were arrested, beaten and jailed if they were caught practicing their religion. They had to flee to the hills and forests to practice their religion. Even then, the police still pursued and brutalized them. Nevertheless the Spiritual and Shouter Baptists survived. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Baptists fought many court battles and tried to counteract the negative perceptions of their faith.

It was only when Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler emerged as a labour leader that attitudes towards the Baptists gradually began to change. Butler himself was a devoted Baptist and controversial figure. His public meetings were reminiscent of a Baptist prayer meeting. His prominence gave the religion some legitimacy although he too was jailed for his political and religious beliefs.

During the 1940s a new leader emerged to champion the Baptists’ cause. Grenadian-born Elton George Griffith started a campaign to have the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance repealed. Under his leadership the numerous independent Baptist Churches formed the West Indian Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Faith.

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In 1940, as a united body, they presented a petition to the Legislative Council asking for the Ordinance to be repealed. It was not granted but a few years later Albert Gomes asked the Council to appoint a committee to look into a repeal of the 1917 Ordinance. A committee was formed but it took several years before it released its findings.Meanwhile Griffith and his followers continued to lobby members of the Legislative Council to support the repeal.

Finally, after much lobbying, the bill to repeal the ordinance was passed on 30 March 1951, as The Repeal of Shouters Prohibition Ordinance. The Spiritual Shouter Baptists were free to practice their Religion.

The year 1996 saw another victory for the Spiritual Shouter Baptists in their fight for recognition. The United National Congress (UNC) Government granted them an annual public holiday. This holiday is celebrated on the anniversary of The Repeal of Shouters Prohibition Ordinance, 30 March, and is called Baptist Liberation Day, in memory of the struggle for, and repeal of, the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of 1917. In addition, the Baptists were granted twenty-five acres of land in Maloney to build churches, schools and a spiritual park.

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The granting of an annual holiday has given the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist faith status and recognition in Trinidad and Tobago. Members no longer have to hide to practice their religion but can worship openly like other religious groups. Membership is growing. Today, the religion is practiced not only in Trinidad and Tobago but also in other Caribbean islands, as well as other countries to which Caribbean people have migrated, such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

As late as 1800 most slaves in the U.S. had not been converted to Christianity. In the years that followed, however, widespread Protestant Evangelicalism, emphasizing individual freedom and direct communication with God, brought about the first large-scale conversion of enslaved men and women.

Illustration of an African-American Church
African-American Church. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

At first, itinerant ministers, captivating large audiences at revivals and camp meetings across the North and South during the middle part of the century, reached only a small percentage of the slave population with their calls to Christianity. Larger numbers of black men and women were converted during the resurgence and intensification of revivalism during the Second Great Awakening of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At that time, Baptist and Methodist ministers appealed to the slave and free black populations, preaching a plain-styled message of hope and redemption while also catering to manners of worship that African men and women carried with them to America, including spirit possession, call-and-response singing, shouting, and dancing.

Whereas an earlier generation of evangelical preachers had opposed slavery in the South during the early nineteenth century, Protestant clergymen began to defend the institution, invoking a Christian hierarchy in which slaves were bound to obey their masters. For many slaveholders, this outlook not only made evangelical Christianity more palatable, but also provided a strong argument for converting slaves and establishing biracial churches.

Illustration of a revival meeting
Revival Meeting. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Even so, with much of the religious life of the slave community existing as an "invisible institution," beyond the purview of whites or formal churches, white control over African-American religious practices and spiritual beliefs was limited. Slave preachers might emphasize the need for obedience to the master while whites were present, but among other slaves they reformulated their teachings, emphasizing themes of suffering and redemption. Slaves sang spirituals filled with lyrics about salvation and references to biblical figures like Moses, who led his people to freedom. On occasion, these songs functioned even more explicitly as expressions of resistance, encoding messages about secret gatherings or carrying directions for escape. 

While some planters became convinced of Christianity as a type of social control, others welcomed ministers to the slave quarters and built plantation chapels out of genuine Christian impulses. Regardless of motives, however, slaveholders remained mindful of the potential subversiveness of religion among slaves. In the 1820s and 1830s, two of the most significant slave rebellions in American history were plotted by Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, two men driven by religious fire. In 1829, David Walker's inflammatory text, AN APPEAL TO THE COLOURED CITIZENS OF THE WORLD, not only condemned Christians who supported slavery, but also used Christianity as a way to validate slave revolt. In South Carolina, Virginia and throughout the South, these and other events resulted in regulations on black meetings and black preaching without white supervision. Biracial churches also limited the rights of black congregants.

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While fear of slave insurrection led to prohibitions on black churches meeting openly in many parts in the South, the black church movement flourished in the North. As members of the Church, blacks were ostensibly the brothers and sisters of whites, equals in the eyes of God. This sentiment was instrumental in helping blacks to gain the right to be ordained as Baptist and Methodist ministers, but it did not prevent discriminatory practice within the church, including segregated seating.

Portrait of Reverand Richard Allen
Reverend Richard Allen. Mooreland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

In Philadelphia, blacks established St. Thomas Episcopal Church in 1794 as the culminating response to this type of discrimination. Black churches in the North continued to grow into the nineteenth century, providing for much more than the spiritual needs of the black community. They, aided in the adjustment of new black residents, acted as mediators in the personal lives of blacks, and played a vital role in antislavery activities including the protection of fugitive slaves. Black ministers like Philadelphia's Richard Allen and Absalom Jones and Boston's Thomas Paul were among the strongest leaders in black communities.

During the Antebellum period and after the Civil War, black churches, not just in the North, but throughout the nation, offered African Americans refuge from oppression and focused on the spiritual, secular, and political concerns of the black community. Following emancipation, the church continued to exist at the center of black community life. With freedom, African-Americans rejected the second-class status they had been offered by white co-religionists and withdrew in large numbers from biracial congregations. Aided by the Freedmen's Bureau, freedmen and freedwomen pooled their resources to build greater numbers of independent black churches -- symbols of African-American demands for self-determination  .............   Kimberly Sambol-Tosco

 

 

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