“I grew up in a household of saints and Sinners, each of us swapped roles from day to day. Someday Saint, someday Sinner”. A.Hylton
My immediate and extended family come from a long line of Sabbath Keepers. Even before I was thought of, my ancestors downed their tools on a Friday evening and watched for the golden sunset. They praised on the Sabbath and watched and waited for the Golden sunset once more. Before I knew myself my family knew God and were Seventh Day Adventists.
And here we are. I was bought up in a relatively ‘normal’ family. Mum, Dad, older brother and I …the wash belly (A Jamaican term for the last/youngest child).
My mother started to take me to church consistently from the age of around four. My brother and my father did not attend church we were somewhat of a unique setup by church standards. My dad was a bus conductor and due to shifts, meant he had to work on Saturdays. He would often state that he was not a hypocrite and he had to work; therefore church was not an option. His Mother my Grandmother would write him hoping that one day he would get baptised into the faith, he stood by his principles and wouldn’t baptise until he retired. He was not half-hearted, it was all or nothing. I believe that he did not want unnecessary chatter directed at him due to his choices.
So here we are. Two church members, and two non-members. My Mother tried to persuade older my older sibling to church, which he refused. If my brother ever attended, it would result in him stretching, yawning or nodding off. She soon gave up asking him, for she had me, her very own little person that she could mould and turn into that ‘perfect ‘ little church girl. The problem with this is I had her rebellious free-spirited nature, and she knew deep down knew there was no point.
I remember being jealous of the fact my brother could watch TV on Friday nights. I would often get the television switched off in mid-programme. My Mother didn’t care if Neighbours hadn’t finished yet the television was to be turned off no questions asked. I resented this, Sabbath evenings meant singing (badly) from the hymnal, and at the same time, I could hear the heavy Dub bassline coming from my brother’s room. It was the original sound-clash Yellow Man Versus Fanny J Crosby, Dennis Brown Versus John Newton. If I was smart I could watch or listen to the television through the crack in the door. If I were not smart, I would be caught and dragged back to singing a hymn (badly).
I have written some excerpts of my tender beginnings within the Church for a reason. You see my household was ‘diverse’ through this I learnt to understand, and empathise with members of my own family, that I didn’t necessarily agree with or lead the life I led. I remember telling someone at church about my background. I watched the horror etched on their faces it was funny, yet unsettling.
You see even though my Brother and Father didn’t go to church, they were both Kings, they had principles, and both smelt the Bull S**t a mile off. To be honest we all did. And to be doubly honest the built-in Shit detector came from my Mother. Even though my Mother took me to Church and expected me to abide by the rules, She also taught me to detect the insincere, loveless, and the gormless that lived oh so comfortably within our church walls.
As I grew I met many characters within the congregation. Some will remain, lifelong friends, others lifelong lessons. My memories consisted of long summer Sabbaths, playing singing choruses whilst my friend’s dad played the guitar. As a child, I loved Church and almost didn’t mind having to forfeit Saturday morning children’s Television.
I loved those people like my family, the love was like a wholesome vegetarian stew that warmed the bones. I looked forward to seeing my Church friends. I only saw them once a week, I had so much to catch up on, seven days was a long time in a child’s mind. I learnt to love the stories and lessons. I learnt to want to be part of this family of God. So one Sabbath morning I went down in the watery grave of baptism and came up feeling my troubles were washed away and I had gained a new church family…forever..
For a long time, my church family enclosed me with open arms. For so long those hymns that were sung in the church walls would rock me into a state of bliss. How could I ever feel alone in the place I call my second home? As I grew into womanhood mistakes were made, half of those loving arms welcomed me back, the other half questioned. Each time I stumbled the loving arms depleted to only a small few. The church is one of my first loves, however the doors now unfamiliar, the eyes accusing, the warmth is gone, gone like many of my peers, did they feel the same coldness that I felt?
The place I loved so much can be likened to a court where hapless souls come to be judged. An insidious nature has been allowed to creep in where our past mistakes our measured against whether we are worthy enough to take a position in the church. A place where some sins are more heinous than others. And finally, a place where our dress is the only true indication of the contents of our heart and character.
The church family that I belonged to had many people attending from the past British colonies (primarily Caribbean). Maybe Slavery has been sown so neatly into our DNA we cannot depart from it. We have now taken the whip out of ‘ Ole Massas’ hand and now use this form of punishment to whip ‘all who are heavy laden’. I always thought that the bible verse said ‘Come unto me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ I always thought that Jesus was speaking to all of us, I must have been mistaken.
I feel as if Church can be likened to the House of Representatives in the US or Parliament in the UK. Separated into rightwing, leftwing and some in-between. The problem is the rightwing have the loudest voices and make the majority of the decisions. I sincerely believe Jesus would have been left.
I believe he did his best work in and amongst the beggars, thieves, prostitutes and even the Politicians. I belived he would have been on the Underground with the late night revellers speaking, praying, telling his stories and being relatable. He may even be standing outside the Rave handing out his flyers entitled ‘Come all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest’
He wouldn’t be bogged down with localised rules and regulations. He would not be interested in the length of your skirt or if you remembered to eat couscous. His main purpose is you, his main purpose is US. We have already been given Ten Rules to go by, it is what we do with them that really matters.
I started this blog post talking about my early upbringing. My upbringing taught me to love, it taught me universal love, which as I write seems to have been missing from our church walls. I learnt that the differences within my family would bring us closer. Our household had frank and open discussions about faith and church, we accepted one another. We accepted our faults and our strengths. I have been blessed to meet likeminded people at church and developed friendships with many who hold similar values to myself. I enjoy the transparency of our discussions. We share our past, presents and future goals, we also share our terrible truths and support one another. I am happy that I was brought up in an environment that allowed me to view people’s differences as strengths, not weaknesses and definitely not a Sin.
I am hoping that when my Son grows older, the church will grow with him. When he reaches an age where mistakes are made, the loving arms will be there to reach out to him and not scrutinise his worthiness. I only hope that soon we can hold a thought provoking discussion dealing with the intricate mechanisms of the church family. We are not all the same, we do not all sing from the same hymn sheet, we do not eat, think, or love the same.
The Bible says the wheat and the tares will grow together. The question is which one of us is the wheat and who is the tares…we will never really know, will we?