I grew up in the United Church of Canada.
It’s a rational church. It likes to think things through. Most of the time, at least.
It’s open to the insights of science, psychology and technology.
I sometimes think of it as a “refugee church” – a place where people go when they give up on their own denominations.
So it was a new experience for me to attend an all-black evangelical congregation in Barbados.
My host, the Rev. Kortright Davis, was a senior staffer at the Caribbean Conference of Churches. Davis was sent to encourage The United Holiness Church to support the CCC’s social justice program – which was, I would guess, anathema to a denomination deep into personal-salvation theology.
As we drove up, I could hear what sounded like a riot down the street.
As we got closer, I could see that the riot was at the church. The white building was packed, with people in white shirts and white dresses and wearing white hats…or lace, or knitted white touques.
They had a drummer. And a full brass band.
When someone started a familiar Holiness chorus, the band would pick it up by ear. First the drummer. Usually, he drove the tempo up.
The trombones and the trumpets would start rolling, setting up riffs and improvisations. The guitarists joined in, one with a driving bass rhythm, the other doing riffs that would make Jimi Hendrix envious.
Some 800 people (if I include those outside on the lawn and leaning in through the windows) clapped their hands and stamped their feet and shimmied their shoulders and hips.
And sang. Lordy, how they sang!
Kortright Davis introduced me to the congregation. It occurred to me, as I stood for their applause, that I was the only white person in that entire gathering.
I worried what a social-gospel minister might say to an obviously evangelical congregation.
He played them with their own familiar responses.
He might say, “For God so loved the world…” and they would finish for him, “that he gave his only begotten son…”
Or perhaps, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world…?”
And the answer came back, “… but lose his soul…”
He picked up their own “born again” refrain, over and over, with the Amens and the Hallelujahs growing more enthusiastic each time.
Each one, however, got across his point – that we have a responsibility for action in this world, not just in some far-off heaven.
And that when we become God’s people, we are new people giving of ourselves to love our neighbour.
I moved on, the next day, to visit some of the CCC’s projects across the Caribbean: day cares, boys’ and girls’ clubs, music workshops, affordable housing, women’s rights groups.
And lobby groups, negotiating with island governments for better treatment of the poor, the malnourished, and marginalized.
The people leading these projects didn’t talk evangelical. They didn’t sing evangelical. They DID evangelical.
They lived the words Kortright Davis used to sway his audience, that night at a church somewhere outside Bridgetown.
My primary learning that night? If you want people to hear your message, you have to speak their language.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.