SPIRITUAL BAPTIST Senior Archbishop Dr Jeremiah Mason says the church has been assisting people from various religions for years.
He was speaking to Newsday last week at the Holy Trinity Spiritual Baptist Cathedral in St Joseph.
He said in the lead up to the Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day celebration, the church has a special focus on the youth (though not forgetting the elderly) and the population has been growing.
Asked what has been drawing youths to the faith, Mason said youths do not like boredom but like "out-of-the-box" spirituality.
"There is something when the youths hear us. And they keep hearing us, even when we are not in their presence. And they will fight to try to get on to the religious head to get more of that experience."
He also stressed the importance of teaching the youths the history of the faith.
"We are nurturing them to understand where the Spiritual Baptist faith came from. With that teaching, they will (learn of) the predicaments that we, the elders, have had to gain victory. Victory does not mean showing off, but struggle, patience and enduring the ups and downs in life. Enduring being beaten by the police and sent to jail."
Mason, who is a medical doctor and a father of two, is celebrating 40 years as an archbishop this year.
He said in the past Spiritual Baptists would be having a service and the police would suddenly burst in and demand the head of the group. He recalled being a child with his mother (Archbishop Vidya Mason) and seeing police arresting pastors, elders and leaders. The arrested leaders would be taken to court and charged a fine.
"They would pay the fine and the next day they would be back in service to be charged again. Because we understand God himself has had challenges and still has challenges."
He stressed, however, the persecution never deterred them.
"Baptists were always brave people. We would never get scared. We would get down in prayer (some people say 'obeah') about the predicament. Victory has been ours in the past and still is."
He recalled the Baptist leadership fought for the freedom to worship and for an end to the injustices perpetrated against the faith.
On March 30, 1951, the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of 1917 was repealed, and the event is celebrated on Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day every March 30.
Asked about the faith's current challenges, Mason said it was similar to a home or a police station.
"The challenge is to groom a chain of command. There is a lot of work by a shepherd to groom people to do the work which Christ started."
He said the faith has produced an inspector of police, teachers, and lawyers.
"We have all walks of life in the Spiritual Baptist faith."
He also said people in other religions would go to the Baptist leaders, receive prayer and be successful.
"If they come to Spiritual Baptists, receive prayer and are successful, then what makes us different from other religions? God is God. He is here, there and everywhere."
He said there were situations where husbands would seek to stop their wives from worshipping.
Asked if prejudice against the church persists, Mason replied that while people may speak condemning the church "talk is cheap."
"Many people Spiritual Baptists have helped in the dark say they never meddled with us. After they came in for 'obeah.'"
Mason argued that because so many people were accessing the services of the church in secret, the previous prejudice no longer existed.
He recalled recently assisting a sick Hindu woman, and showed Newsday a small statue of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god, in his office. He also displayed Islamic prayers he received from a Muslim man he assisted.
"Spiritual Baptists have had some impact on your life. Maybe your child had a spirit on her. Or a husband began to misbehave.
"People come to us as people of God, just as any other religion. And they never forget us, even though they are worshipping as a Pentecostal, Anglican or Hindu.
Asked about the church's plans for Liberation Day, Mason said the Holy Trinity Spiritual Baptist Cathedral will host a seminar, two to three days before the holiday to honour both the youth and elderly. It is also planning a symposium for tomorrow. Today, he will be taking up invitations from various archdioceses.
"We love each other. And, despite what you might hear about the Baptist faith, after we fight, we come back loving."
He said the celebration would not be of the magnitude of the past, owing to the covid19 restrictions.
"We will have little groupings. It is just to remember the struggle and to always be in thanksgiving."
He also took the opportunity to thank former prime minister Basdeo Panday for granting the Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day holiday on January 26, 1996, under the UNC government.
"We want to keep the day burning in thankfulness to Mr Panday. He was very kind to us."
Mason said his faith has 31 churches in Trinidad and six in Tobago, with a national membership of 2,800 parishioners. There are 35 bishops and 375 priests to service the membership.
Services at the Spiritual Baptist Cathedral take place on Sunday morning. Counselling is available on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
In the face of the covid19 pandemic, Mason said there has been no falling away of the membership, and unlike other churches, there was also never the need to host online services as the buildings are spacious enough to allow for physical distancing.