Archbishop Dr Granville Williams, who has died at 90, was one of the most outstanding church leaders and shepherds of our times.
Blending The Word with a nigh flawless mix of African Barbadian culture, he was able to attract to his place of worship from the grass roots to the intelligentsia –– from the average housewife to the school principal; from the labourer to the professional.
In his early calling as pastor, he had experimented with African traditional worship and chanting styles, that by the 1990s had melded into a final Barbadian stylistic form, accepted by all and embraced by most. This was highly distinctive: whereas his religious contemporaries sought to identify with the traditional anglicized rituals and the Eurocentric manifestation of God and His Son, the archbishop pursued an interpretation or evocation of God’s Word in which his followers found self-worth, inspiration and power as a people.
Starting with his simple wooden church in Richmond Gap, where he and his congregation were for many onlookers a spectacle, he and his institution would grow spiritually and physically into a mammoth cathedral that now stands spectacularly in Ealing Park, Christ Church –– a house of worship for thousands.
For many who preferred to be less Americanized in their worship, Archbishop Williams’ Spiritual Baptist Church was a refuge and holy haven. And in time to come, his public church appearances would graduate from nomadic open-air night meetings to official events, most famously, the Ceremonial Delivery Of The Last Canes at the official launching of the annual Crop Over Festival.
The man himself who got his religious grounding in Trinidad and Tobago, on his return to Barbados in the late 1960s never ceased advocating the worth of the black man, his natural affinity with God and his value to the Lord Almighty. He challenged the “white God theory”, which was discomfiting for many; but in doing so, he underscored the humanity and worthiness in blackness, which God Himself had created –– and it was good.
And in a society that was coming to grips with much of its African connectivity and descendency, the Spiritual Baptist religion would gain more and more respectability.
And it was this freshness and uniqueness that appealed to the more creative among us. If we were not followers; we were certainly fans. For Barbadiana was always reflected in the church’s style and spirit of worship, in the dress of members, in their wailing, chanting and singing, in the Archbishop’s preachings and exhortations.
Member of Parliament for Christ South John Boyce summed it up admirably when he said: “[Archbishop Williams’] vision and purpose were clearly to reorient Christianity to suit the large Afro-Barbadian population. This church kept us in tune with our African heritage, embraced the views of pan-Africanism, [holding] services to commemorate Black Civilization Day and African Liberation Day . . . .”
And as Sir Roy Trotman, general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, observed: “It was not surprising therefore that [Archbishop Williams] was always willing to lead his followers in the participation of activities, at the local and national levels, which gave prominence to the working class, and which reflected the culture of Barbados.
“His church’s popular Cou-Cou Village, which was a highlight at the annual Crop Over events, and the church’s participation in the Ceremonial Delivery Of The Last Canes were all activities to which many Barbadians eagerly looked forward.”
We certainly did. And we still certainly do, sure in the hope that the church leadership he has left behind will carry on his remarkable work, contributing continuously to Barbados’ cultural life and religion, empowered by the Holy Ghost.
To the Spirtual Baptist Church leadership, church members and family of the Archbishop, our deepest condolences.