Baptised at the age of eight, Deidre Mitchell has never regretted becoming a Spiritual Baptist.
If anything, her faith has deepened over the years.
“I love the vitality and vibration of the faith. It’s uniquely different and beautiful,” Mitchell, 38, said in a Sunday Newsday interview.
She’s the indefatigable public relations officer of the Youth Council of the West Indian United Spiritual Baptist Sacred Order (WIUSBSO)–an organisation founded after an ordinance to incorporate Baptists in 1949 with a mandate to educate, empower and encourage the youth within the faith and, by extension, the world.
The Order is divided into seven divisions, including northern, north-eastern, southern, south-western and central Trinidad, Tobago and Grenada. It also has member churches in Canada, United States and United Kingdom.
Mitchell said the work of the WIUSBSO was facilitated through its spiritual ministry and by “using the word of God, our unique worship as well as social and other interactions.”
She said the organisation manages a home for the aged as well as Mothers' and Ministers' Unions, which are both internal sects that deal with the social and educational needs of the diocese.
Mitchell said the Order also was responsible for the Herman Parris Southland School of Theology, now run by prominent Baptist leader The Rev Hazel-Ann Gibbs-De Peza.
Its youth council, she said, tends to the social and spiritual enhancement of young people in the faith.
Among the church’s flock, Mitchell is known simply as Teacher.
“My ministry entails educating the youth and God’s people, whenever I’m called to minister the Gospel and His Word.”
However, she made it clear one must be taught in order to teach and positively influence others.
“To be a good teacher in the ministry, one must wait on the direction of the Holy Spirit. Nothing said must be of self. You must be as humble as Jesus was, for this is a ministry that takes you beyond the confines of your congregation to others in the faith and outside of it.”
She added: “Teachers of the faith walk as examples, always looking to the Holy Spirit for the Word to be ministered. Often times, when I have a topic to minister on, I will prepare a script, stand to the front of the congregation and start to minister/ teach the Word.
“But by the time I'm about to truly minister or get into the meat of the matter, the Holy Spirit takes over and the word prepare becomes null and void. And so teaching will take place by the Holy Spirit.”
Mitchell, who has served as PRO of the youth council for close to five years, said the Order’s outreach programme has been its greatest success “as we have extended beyond our faith.”
She said: “Our outreach programme includes providing for a particular children's home (which is given limited support by the Government) in the Arima area, but for the last few years we've gone into the home to provide snacks during the Christmas season, clothes throughout the year or food.”
Mitchell said the Order’s bi-annual concert, One, which is used as a medium to empower, engage and showcase the talents of the youths, also was a keenly-anticipated affair.
“This year, being another concert year, we look forward to the talent of the youth.”
Baptised into the congregation of Mt Zion Spiritual Baptist Church, Zone Eight, Wallerfield, Arima, under the stewardship of late Bishop Rodney Thomas, Mitchell said her role as a Spiritual Baptist was not only to serve her God but to also “enlighten and encourage the body of Jesus Christ along life’s journey.”
The Shouter Baptist Liberation Day holiday, which commemorates the repeal of the 1917 Prohibition Ordinance that prevented Spiritual Baptists from practising their faith, is held annually on March 30.
This year, however, Baptists will, instead, celebrate the observance on Saturday, March 31, to facilitate the Christian observance of Good Friday.
Mitchell said Saturday’s celebration represented yet another opportunity to express her freedom to worship Christ through the faith, “by allowing me to practice without pride or prejudice.”
She said her church, in collaboration with the north-eastern division, will again host its celebration at different churches throughout the division.
Mitchell acknowledged the misconceptions that have long plagued Baptists.
“There is a view that Baptist people is obeah people or that we are devil worshippers, neither of which are true.”
She said there also was the feeling among many people that the Spiritual Baptist faith emerged from Africa.
“We believe that our faith is founded in Jesus Christ, He who was crucified on Calvary's cross, with the originator being John the Baptist, from our practice of baptism at the river to the seclusion of fasting.
“Although there are some similarities to the original African culture, our practices are distinctive to us.”
Mitchell denied repeated claims about disunity among Baptists.
“Unity doesn't and hasn't eluded the faith. In every faith/religion, there are sects that have slightly different beliefs or traditions but their foundation remains the same.”
She claimed in Roman Catholicism, “not every charismatic prays to The Virgin Mary but they all have a foundation belief of the Holy Trinity and all celebrate Easter.
“So, too, with the Spiritual Baptist faith. Our traditions and practises may vary from sect to sect but our foundation principles are all based on Jesus the Christ and Jehovah God. And so we all join together at Liberation time to worship.”
Mitchell said the fact that some sects have opted to celebrate the observance on different days and venues of worship was indicative of the faith’s oneness.
“It allows for persons like myself, who are actively involved in the faith, to be able to celebrate throughout each sect and division of the faith under our banner.”
Mitchell claimed young people were gravitating towards the faith.
“Through the year, the membership of each church grows and mostly include youths from other denominations, faith, religions, who would either take hands of fellowship, a process that inducts a previously baptised member into the congregation or through baptism.”
However, she admitted that the negativity attached to the faith often made it difficult for what she called rapid youth gravitation.”
“My hope for the Spiritual Baptist faith is that one day, we would be able to worship together with all denominations, religions, faith, in the unity of Christ and in the bond of truth in the word of God.”