New Couva Baptist complex open for all

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Project leader for the National Congress of Incoporated Spiritual Baptist Organsiations King Shepherd Ray Brathwaite at the Spiritual Baptist Administrative Complex in Couva on March 27. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

KING Shepherd Ray Brathwaite says no one should be upset by the financial assistance given to the Spiritual Baptists by the government.

He said not only had other religions been assisted by the State over the years, but it was a form of recompense for the persecution its members suffered by the colonial government when the Spiritual Baptist faith was banned between 1917 and 1951.

According to Brathwaite, on March 23, 2018, during a People’s National Movement’s Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day celebration in Moruga, the Prime Minister promised them lands for the construction of a sacred cathedral, administrative complex and a cemetery.

In 2019, the Spiritual Baptists, as expressed by the National Congress of Incorporated Spiritual Baptist Organisations of Trinidad and Tobago, received several acres of land and $10 million from the State.

And, at the PNM Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day Celebrations at Balisier House, Port of Spain on March 23, PM Rowley stated his intention to ask the Cabinet for another $10 million for the Spiritual Baptists.

Brathwaite said the projects coming out of those grants were for all Spiritual Baptists/Shouters, not just the National Congress, of which he was the project lead.

He explained the National Congress had 254 churches under nine archdioceses, which would increase to 12 after Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day on March 30. But there was also the National Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Faith (NESBF) Incorporated headed by Archbishop Anthony Jack, and the Council of Elders Spiritual Shouter Baptist Faith of Trinidad and Tobago headed by Archbishop Barbara Gray-Burke, which, he said, were much smaller organisations than the National Congress.

“That’s why the government selected us as we represent a unified body of Spiritual Baptist churches and archdioceses rather than a stand-alone archdioceses. This complex is for all Spiritual Baptists.”

Participants sing and dance during the Spiritual Baptist Day celebration at the Spiritual Baptist Administrative Complex, Couva on March 30. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

The Spiritual Baptists originally received $10 million and eight acres of land off Balmain Main Road, Couva in 2019, but when they went to the Town and Country Planning Division, they were told they needed enough parking for the 1,000-seat cathedral.

The government gave them an additional two acres where the Spiritual Baptist Administrative Complex and car park were built. The car park will also be used as a community space and there were also plans for a commercial centre.

“We decided to build the admin first as the nerve centre for the planning for the other things that we want to do. We never had a home. So we have a home now where we could sit, plan and meet understanding that there’s an old saying, ‘If you fail to plan then plan to fail.’”

The administrative complex, to be formally open in late May or early July, has several rooms for various purposes. There was a large conference room to conduct workshops; offices for several leaders, and the archbishop and admin councils; as well as a small conference room for use by the different councils; a reception area and a storeroom.

“And why do we need a commercial centre? To run this operation is going to be expensive and we have to think ahead. When we have a cathedral for 1,000 people, just the electricity bill alone could put us out of business. So we are building two commercial buildings there.”

Brathwaite said when a financier was secured, the company would be given one building for its use and the other building would house a fast-food restaurant and spaces for Spiritual Baptist entrepreneurs. He said the location was near the Ato Boldon Stadium as well as the National Cycling and Aquatic Centres so there was a possibility for continual activity in the area.

On the eight acres opposite the administrative complex, they plan to build the cathedral, a heritage park, and possibly a technological complex. All the designs were already completed and the construction of them is expected to cost about $75 million so the organisation was making plans for some fundraising activities.

They also received another ten acres of land at the corner of Indian Trail and Basta Hall Road for a cemetery. The design will allow for 2,000 burial plots, including spaces to be used by families, one chapel attached to a crematorium and another chapel for the burial ground. The facility will not be limited to Spiritual Baptists.

“A crime was committed against an innocent set of people by the colonial government by attempting to make the Spiritual Baptists a criminal group of people. As a result of that criminalisation, a lot of things that should have benefited the faith could not because the State’s law prevented it.

“So whereas you see a lot of other churches with schools and other kinds of institutes, supported by the State, for the 30-something years of the prohibition ordinance, the Spiritual Baptists got zero.

“And when the Act of 1917 was repealed, all was said was that this Act had been repealed with no information on redress. So what this current government is doing is an attempt to quietly redress that.

“Given the history of how recognised religions were helped by the State in times gone by, no one should be offended if the State helps the Spiritual Baptists.”

Brathwaite added that the British Government’s criminalisation of the faith decades ago had led to residual negativity about the faith even now. Since, for many years, the church and state were one and the recognised churches told the public lies about and demonised the Spiritual Baptists, it resonated with the people.

For example, he said corporate Trinidad and Tobago often rejected requests for support saying it did not help religious bodies but those same organisations would support other religions in times of need.

He said the Spiritual Baptists recognised acceptance will take some time and they had plans to address that.

He explained the word “Shouter” was given to the Spiritual Baptists as a derogatory term to criminalise them and the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance was created by the colonial government to attack and destroy the growth of the faith.

He said some still use the word to recognise the faith’s history.

“When the prohibition ordinance was enacted in 1917 the intent was to destroy the Spiritual Baptist faith. And it is the resilience of all fore parents which kept us as a faith.

“What we celebrate now is not that the act was repealed on March 30, 1951. That’s a good marker for us, but the real celebration is the resilience of our people post the prohibition that today we could celebrate.

“One day the British government will have to explain why they went after the Spiritual Baptist faith in St Vincent, in Grenada and Trinidad, breaking their own laws.”

In the past, other governments attempted to make reparations to the Spiritual Baptists.

Braithwaite said on March 30, 1976, The Free Spiritual Baptist Mission of Trinidad and Tobago was given a lease for 12,000 square feet of land at Carlsen Field, Chaguanas by the government to mark the 25th anniversary of the repeal of the draconian Shouter Prohibition Ordinance.

This participant dances during the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation Day celebration at the Spiritual Baptist Administrative Complex in Balmain, Couva on March 30. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

In 1996 the United National Congress government granted an annual public holiday and in 2011, five acres of land in Maloney were given to five groups of Afrocentric religions – three for the Spiritual Baptist/ Shouter community and two for the Orisha community.

The National Congress used its land for a reforestation seedling project on contract with the Ministry of Agriculture. The seedlings were used to replant areas ravished by fires and other natural disasters. It hoped to eventually use part of the land for an agricultural project.

The Council of Elders built the St Barbara’s Spiritual Shouter Baptist Primary School and later an Early Childhood Care and Education Centre and, he said, the NESBF had yet to use their lands as they were never formally surveyed.

At this year’s PNM celebration, Rowley called on the Spiritual Shouter Baptist community to help end the threat of crime and violence in Trinidad and Tobago.

Brathwaite told Sunday Newsday such a call was in line with what they were already doing which included the tradition of praying for the nation on street corners.

“Last year we did an initiative between the police service and ourselves where we started to go to different hotspots and have wayside services because prayer is our weapon. We know how to effectively and fervently pray. We have been doing just that and it continues this year as well.”

As part of this year’s celebrations, the National Congress held a Youth Day at the administrative complex hosting 200 Milat students and other youths. They were taught about the Spiritual Baptist faith and how to develop and live a life different to “what’s existing right now.”

The organisation also had a youth group and an Easter camp where youths were taught aspects of religion, deportment and development as young people living in a violent world.