. . . We are not to lead events, but to follow them.
On April 28, as Barbadians celebrate National Heroes Day, the funeral of His Grace Archbishop Bishop Granville Williams, founder and leader of the Barbados Spiritual Baptist Church, will take place. While we may never know if it is by coincidence or providence that the burial of Archbishop Williams and our National Heroes activities conjoin, the happenstance should at least pique the interest of historians.
Assuredly, some of us will now want to know more about Archbishop Williams, his family and the future of the church at home and overseas. Whatever that information may be, there already exists authentic evidence to support the claim that the life and work of the archbishop model self-reliance, vision and a creative spirit.
Dr A.R. Barnard, pastor of Christian Cultural Centre in Brooklyn, contends that the visible is an expression of and birthed by the invisible. In one of his sermons on the spirit realm, he said: “If you never met me, but you visit my church, and take a look at this building, you can gather a fair conclusion about me and be sure that I like beauty, order and structure.”
Dr Barnard’s 35-year-old megachurch (30,000 members), which was started in a garage with four people, has “culture” as a centerpiece, offers a teaching ministry and is certainly non-traditional in its approach. In many ways, Christian Cultural Centre, is essentially the hallmark of those who dream big –– visionaries –– and who convert the impossible into the realms of the possible. Without question, the work of the late Archbishop Dr Granville Williams fits the same mould.
When asked for a comment, Reverend Laurel Scott, pastor of a United Methodist church in Port Washington, Long island, said of Williams: “One of the true visionaries of the Bajan community has gone to his heavenly rest. I am thankful to God Almighty that one such as Granville Williams had an impact on my life and the lives of many Barbadians.
“I was first introduced to Archbishop Williams when I was attending Queen’s College in the 1960s and we went on a field trip to Ealing Grove, arranged by one of my teachers, Joyce Davis. I came then to realize that there were other voices –– African voices –– in the arena of faith. I was struck by that because we were taught that African-descended voices were invalid in the faith arena.
“Because of people like Granville Williams, I know that my thinking as a theologian is just as valid and God-inspired as any other. If he influenced me in this way, I am sure he also influenced many others. The last time I was honoured to converse with Archbishop Williams was at the New York Barbados Heroes Day celebration three years ago.”
Just over two years ago, the life and times of Patriarch Granville Williams and the Barbados Spiritual Baptists were presented to a Diaspora audience during a book reading of Ye Shall Dream by Barbadian Dr Ezra Griffith, deputy chairman for diversity and organizational ethics at Yale University. Ye Shall Dream is a scholarly documentation of the labour of Williams and is guided by collaboration (George Mahy and John Young), extensive research and interviews. In the chapter titled Further Reflections On The Leader, Griffith writes in part: “In the time I have known him, Granville Williams has become more open in discussing his wishes for the future, as it relates to the longitudinal maturation of the Spiritual Baptist Church in Barbados. The architectural expansion of the building at Ealing Grove is evidence . . . .
“Archbishop Williams is adamant that the Spiritual Baptist religion in Barbados remains unrepentant in its philosophical position regarding Africa and Africans, but is equally adamant against racism and prejudice in any form . . . . Archbishop’s legacy includes what will come to be known as the eighth wonder of the world –– the pre-eminent Cathedral Church Of Jerusalem at Ealing Grove, Christ Church, Barbados.”
Griffith also noted that Williams was the recipient of many awards and further stated: “His superb leadership in transforming the Barbadian society from an entrenched Anglo-Saxon religion to an Afrocentric indigenous religion society has earned him international recognition as a religious force.”
Barbados is fortunate that Ye Shall Dream –– according to Griffith –– an insightful richly illustrated biography of both the church and its founder, in the context of a Caribbean island country coming to grips with its post-colonial identity –– was completed before the passing of a national icon. The volume is an authentic reference point that will be part of any study of comparative religion in Barbados and its impact on a community.
Ultimately, it will not matter if His Grace Archbishop Granville Williams ever becomes a National Hero. What will matter most is the internalization of the patriarch’s broader teachings: the road to self-identity may be filled with mockery, criticism, resistance, and unbelief; one may even have to leave one’s place of abode; but in the end meeting self is worth the journey.