Antigua: July 20–30 2014 Part II

(Cross posted on Peter Marina’s blog)

Back in Antigua the country gears up for Carnival, a raucous event where the town of St. John’s comes alive with revelers in colorful costumes. My goals for the next few days were to interview with Archeologist Reginal Murphy, director of the historic Nelson’s Dockyard which is near my apartment in English Harbour, do some archival research in the Antigua & Barbuda Historic Museum on all matters related to religion and culture in the country, interview Pastor Mathew Noyce on his biography that chronicles all the events that led him to becoming a pastor with a pulpit and radio audience (we called it the ABC interview since I already knew his life story but wanted it put together in orderly chronology), attend one of Noyce’s Sunday services, get Stephen Andrew’s biography and brief life story (I’m juxtaposing both pastor’s radically different stories in the book), travel to meet Bishop Meade in Montserrat, and meet up with Reverend Nigel (The Rev) for a few days in Barbuda. I already have tons of data, way more than enough to pump out this book fast fast fast, and good. I must admit confidence with this book; it will far surpass my last one. The data for this new book is even richer than the data collected for Getting the Holy Ghost. From here on out, it’s all lagniappe. But still important, I got more work to accomplish.

After a few hours of archival research at the museum, I made copies of all relevant materials from book chapters, historic papers, documents, and other supporting materials, especially the early role of the various church denominations in educating slaves – and newly freed slaves later – to the interests of elite society. This review of the early role of religion in education, politics, and culture will be discussed in depth in Chasing Religion in the Caribbean. Jumbies, or the mythological spirit embedded in the folklore of the country is of interest here, including its continued presence today in the country, especially made evident of Stephen Andrews’s large Pentecostal church in Antigua. Again, I’ll explain more of that in the book.

Brief fieldnotes from Mathew Noyce’s Sunday Church Service on July 27, 2014 (the reader can skip this, this is more for me and these notes here are of no particular interest). These brief notes, pictures, videos, and an audio-recording of the entire service, as well as my own memory will be used to describe the and juxtapose the radically different Sunday service scenes between Andrews and Noyce.

Mathew shows up at 10:30 AM. Earlier today he preached as an invited guest preacher at a Moravian Church called Bethany Moravian Church in Piggotts. This caused Mathew to be later to his church service (services usually begin at 10 AM). To make matters worse, his video man unexpectedly did not show up, and gave no phone calls or prior warning. He used dialect when calling his video man to express his disappointment, explaining to him how in any organization – like a church or business – people need to be reliable and perform their roles. When one cannot perform their role, prior warning is necessary so the next person can step up to fill the role. It was clear Mathew was disappointed in his video man and explained to me how hard it was to be a leader at times. But Mathew quickly recovered and his reliable friend took care of the job.

The music started at about 10:30, a keyboard, drum set, and guitar along with his wife singing on cue made up the musical ensemble. They played about for or five pieces and, oddly, repeated some of the same exact songs in a row. The song would end, the usual “praise Jesus” and so on between songs, and they would start the same song over again. I was particularly proud of the keyboard since I helped him purchase it while I was in Wisconsin.

At first, the service was near empty, unusually low. As the services continued, people began to trickle in between 10:30 and 11:15 nearly filling up all the seats. I took pictures and videos the whole time throughout the entire service. Mathew began talking (preaching, which his style is simply talking), a style extremely uncharacteristic of most Pentecostal preachers. In fact, almost everything about Mathew is rather unconventional from the viewpoint of most Pentecostal pastors. I will have much to say about this later. Like all pastors I have ever known, however, Mathew promises to keep his talk short, due to the late start he says. As usual, Mathew makes some jokes, references to popular culture, and informs the congregation that this is his wife’s birthday. He preaches from Exodus Chapter 17 Verse 9. At about 35 minutes into the service, he begins to discuss Obeah. Following this Mathew states, “In order to have a great (test)imony you have to have a great test.” After the preach, Mathew does an altar call that leads to some intense laying of hands and spiritual warfare, a scene that will be discussed in the book.

It was a joy to see Mathew in his role as a pastor. For a guy still new, he truly impressed me. What is most striking about Mathew is his genuine and authentic nature. One gets a strong feeling when spending time with the man that he does not try to be something he is not. He accepts what he is, knows his strengths and limitations, and hides nothing about it. The dude has a good heart. That is why he is my friend, my only real requirement for friendship. I have very few friends, but enough.

I interviewed as planned with Dr. Reginal Murphy, the main man, head honcho at Nelson’s Dockyard. A native of Antigua, the man is a goldmine of knowledge on just about anything Antigua. He also holds internships and training camps to dozens of American and international Archaeology students every year. He is a good guy, we developed a friendship. We even had dinner together with a bunch of folks at the Dockyard. The Dockyard holds a seafood night every Friday night. It is good, but does not compare to my seafood Pasta, I must say. He also lent me song books on topics that might help with more on the history of religion in Antigua.

I took time to explore almost every area of the island traveling northwest to the pristine beaches of Runaway Bay and Dickenson Bay on the Caribbean side, east to Wilikies, Nonsuch Bay and Devil’s Bridge on the exciting and wild Atlantic side, down Valley Road to the country’s best beaches in Jolly Harbour on the Southwest side, due South to Old Road and Fig Tree walking all the way north to Swetes, even traveled to the oldest village of Parham just east of the capital. Each part of the island has its own distinctive feel, necessary to explore and experience if one is to truly know Antigua. It was this travel and exploration throughout the island that helped return my love to the country. Viva Antigua. Oh, and Barbuda, where my next posting begins.

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