by George Alleyne
“The Church in Barbados is more English than English themselves.”
This is not the view of a disenchanted religious person demanding change, but it is the belief of Bishop Michael Maxwell speaking about practices in the Anglican Church of Barbados, which he leads.
“We think that we in Barbados have to stay with the English culture. England has gone on and we’re still more English than the English themselves,” the recently enthroned leader of the largest religious denomination on this island said this week.
The Bishop of Anglicans in Barbados was responding to historian Trevor Marshall’s insistence that the Anglican Church in Barbados is losing membership because it is steeped in tradition which young Bajans find unattractive.
“If the church is only the church of the over 50s… it will not survive,” Marshall said Tuesday while delivering the St Michael Centre for Faith and Action’s annual Dean’s Lecture at the Frank Collymore Hall Tuesday.
“The church must find some way of dealing with the demands of the young people,” Marshall said, adding, “You must change, adapt or die.”
The historian had suggested ‘jazzing up’ the Anglican Church to retain the few remaining young members and attract others. Following Marshall’s presentation Bishop Maxwell said he agreed with “most of the things” the historian said about the need for change, but added, “I don’t agree that the church needs to become an entertainment centre because we’re worshipping God, not entertaining each other. However, I do agree on the indigenization of our worship.”
Barbados’ newest Anglican Bishop, enthroned last week, then referred to two experiences in England and Grenada that strengthened his belief that the Anglican Church in Barbados is in need of change, signalling his intention to go as far as beating drum in The Cathedral Church of Saint Michael and All Angels.
The Bishop recalled visiting with colleagues at an Anglican Church in Birmingham and his surprise at changes he saw.
“I was really shocked to see in an Anglican Church in England… [as West Indians we were] wondering is this an Anglican Church, because we saw a priest up there celebrating mass and in just the simple clerical shirt, no robe and nothing of the sort.”
He added, “They have moved on and we have held on to what we believe that God gave them to give us and so [we] should not change from where we are.”
He said that these observations caused him to decide, “From now on I need to find where we are supposed to be.”
Marshall had spoken about the attractiveness and usefulness of drums in other religious denominations that have larger numbers of young people in their membership. On this note, Bishop Maxwell told of another time of student life in Grenada when he was pulled from his residence by drumming by a community group.
“The community invited me to sit down with them. They put a drum in my hand, I had never beaten a drum before, and they told me join in, just beat anything. I thought I was beating according to what was happening because it just seemed to blend in with everything,” he said.“And then I said [to myself] there is something about the drum that is a part of who we are as a Caribbean people.”
He said this experience led him, as a parish priest, to introduce the drums in St Jude’s Parish Church.
“And then I found the first Sunday worship using the drum, not the organ, was the biggest congregation.”
He conceded that this adjustment to suit young persons is not acceptable to many longstanding members, or other communities that are settled in more reserved cultural practices.
“There are different congregations, different people. St Jude’s was a more country, relaxed, more flexible congregation that were open to changes and so forth.”
Bishop Maxwell said that when he moved to Holy Trinity Church in St Philip, “It was a little bit more structured in terms of the fact they did have everything organized. As a priest you have to go in and observe what is happening, the culture of the parish before you can start to introduce a lot of stuff.
“The Catholics are very good at that. Wherever they set up, wherever they go, they embrace the culture of the people, and their music always is according to the culture that is there.”
He said, “Nevertheless, they [St Philip flock] started to grow in [to it]. They started to beat the drum because I like to beat the drum now.”
To much applause from the small gathering of Anglicans attending the lecture, Bishop Maxwell said, “I already warned the Dean that he needs to put a djembe in the Church so that when time comes, I would be beating the drum in the Cathedral because I sincerely believe this is who we are.” GA