“Growing up I was ashamed to say I was a Spiritual Baptist. I used to hide my religion from my peers. People always scorned us. They would say we did devil ting. I think they just didn’t understand the shouting and singing and clapping. So they label it as something strange, something of the devil...I remember seeing people cross the road when they saw us praying on the streets. I felt ashamed of my religion.” Today, Simone, 37, no longer feels that way. She is proud of her faith and is looking forward to celebrating Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day tomorrow with her family, including her two children, ages 15 and ten. Simone said the Spiritual Baptist faith, was still “a bit misunderstood” but remained stronger than ever. “It’s all about service. Service to God and service to others,” she stated. Archbishop Episcopus Barbara Gray-Burke agrees.
Probably the most popular face of the local religion, Gray-Burke said the Baptist community had good reason to shout this year, as the first phase of the St Barbara’s Spiritual Shouter Baptist Primary School will be launched tomorrow. Gray-Burke said she had been waiting for the school, to be officially opened in September, for the past 14 years. “That day will be an historic moment. I feel elated. I feel so happy in my soul. No other part of the world Shouter Baptists have a primary school. We will have one that will accommodate 420 children. We have waited 14 years to see our dreams come true,” she stated. “This year, as in all other years, we have our Thanksgiving service in Maloney. I want to tell all Spiritual Baptists to come out and celebrate. If your husband don’t want to come, you come. It's a new dawn, it's a new day!”
Against all odds
The Spiritual Baptists have fought long and hard to practice their faith. From 1917 to 1951 the Spiritual Baptist faith was officially banned in Trinidad by the colonial government of the day. The legislation was called the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance and was passed because the Shouters made “too much noise” with their loud singing and bell ringing and disturbed the peace. However, the Spiritual Baptists persevered. And on January 26, 1996, former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, declared March 30 Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day. T&T is the only country in the world that celebrates a public holiday for Spiritual Baptists. Growing up in the faith, Gray-Burke, 73, admitted that although the painful memories remained, Spiritual Baptists have overcome, against all odds. She remembers being ridiculed at social events for “tying my head,” something that was frowned upon by the masses. “They would watch me with my head tied and turn up their faces, They used to say we shouting down on Park Street and we shouting here and we shouting there,” she said.
“Those days things were very bad. It was a sad moment...Baptists were beaten, charged, imprisoned. No other faith throughout the Caribbean suffered so much pain.” Still, Gray-Burke did not give in. The mother of four said she felt "deep pain" for T&T as the nation's youth did not fear God. Noting that preservation of the faith was “very important,” she called on all citizens to turn to God and develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, before it was too late. She added, “This is why I was so adamant that we must get a school to teach our brethren about who God is. This faith teaches you self-reliance. It teaches you a sense of respect and to fear God. Right now, the young people do not fear God. They don’t even think that it have a God. They think that they are Gods unto themselves...Our children must know that there is God so they would not lie, steal and murder. So that we will have a better T&T.”