NICOLE Thomas-Stewart is a proud Spiritual Baptist.
At the St Mary’s Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Church, Pembroke, Tobago, where she has worshipped for the past 11 years, Thomas-Stewart actively participates in its services and activities. She said she would not trade the experience for anything in the world.
“I am a worshipper totally sold out for God. I practise my walk by faith in my daily lifestyle,” Thomas-Stewart, 43, told WMN.
“I participate in my church services holistically in singing, praying, praising and I contribute by bringing words of encouragement to the congregation.”
Apart from being the leader of her church’s youth group and a dutiful, committed member of its flock, Thomas-Stewart is also an evangelist who is often called upon to pray for the sick and troubled.
“I also avail myself to give advice to persons in need, whether in person or via the phone. My general assistance is given whole-heartedly to the church and any function.”
Spiritual/Shouter Baptist Liberation Day, which is being observed on Thursday, commemorates the repeal on March 30, 1951 of the 1917 Shouter Prohibition Ordinance. That ordinance had prevented Baptists in the region from practising their faith.
Thomas-Stewart, a teacher at Little Angels Early Childhood Centre, Pembroke, believes the Baptists’ desire to express their faith can never be suppressed.
“The Spiritual Baptist faith allows one to form a deeper connection with Almighty God through the practice of praying and fasting and as a spiritually-inclined person, it’s one of the many things I love about the faith. Worship is also filled with rhythmic vibrations, creating the perfect atmosphere for a spirit-filled service.”
A member of the Baptist faith for almost 27 years, Thomas-Stewart recalled she was about eight years old when she first visited her late grandmother, Evelyn Corbin, at the St Raphael Spiritual Baptist Church in Black Rock.
She said those experiences mesmerised her.
“My grandmother was a Mother in the church and my earliest recollection was baptism. I was drawn to the ‘catching of power’ as we would say. I was amazed at how they worshipped, danced and shouted. I was also fascinated with their style of preaching and purposed in my heart to one day become a preacher myself.”
The Glamorgan native said she has since grown deeper in the faith.
“In my opinion, the church has contributed to my spiritual development and my walk in Christ. My faith and belief in Christ has and continues to work for me. I have seen God’s hands in the healing of the sick, simply in supplying my needs and showing up for me when I needed it the most. Overall, God has been good to me.”
She said she also tries to “bring some awareness of the faith” to her pupils at the early childhood centre.
“My students are babies ages three to five years and as such I don’t teach the faith to them. However, I incorporate some of the songs during assembly. Leading up to Baptist Liberation Day, I would showcase photos and sing songs using drums as the musical instrument during the period.”
The married, mother of two said while the road to deepening one’s faith and belief in God is never easy or smooth, “Trust me, he (God) always makes a way.”
She told WMN of an episode some years ago when one of her cousins was sick to the point of death.
“We thought we would have lost her and as a family we went into prayer and my God came through. Up until today she is alive. When the doctors gave up and said to us only prayers can help her, she is living testimony that God works.”
Saying she was never ashamed of her faith, Thomas-Stewart dismissed the perception that Baptists often practice ‘obeah’ or witchcraft as part of their faith.
“Due to the lack of information and understanding of the various practices of the faith, persons have misinterpreted Spiritual Baptists and would have deemed or classified the practices as witchcraft, obeah, or evildoing.
“However, people can find accurate information and teaching of the practice dispatched regularly on social media via YouTube and Facebook’s live stream. Persons are more open-minded now and would have learned to appreciate and accept the faith for what it really is.”
In fact, Thomas-Stewart believes the church has gained greater acceptance in the society.
“In my humble opinion, people are showing more respect for the faith. I myself have been evangelising on the airwaves, which I started during the pandemic.”
She said that platform has enabled her to connect with not just Baptists but people in other religions.
“It was all with the intention of breaking down religious barriers and creating unity. Persons are recognising that it’s no longer about who or where you worship but what you stand for and believe in and so the faith is no longer looked upon as though they are evil.
“Technology has helped us to evolve and sensitise the wider world of our true practice and that we are truly a God-fearing people.”
She observed young people, in particular, are gravitating to the church.
“It is evident that young persons have gravitated to the faith and it is seen in the many youth services and pilgrimages throughout the twin-island. Most young persons are intrigued by the rhythm found in the faith.”
Thomas-Stewart estimates that young people make up about 60 per cent of the church.
Although she worships at the St Mary’s Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Church, Thomas-Stewart said she also visits other churches from time to time.
But she observed while Baptists generally welcome and enjoy each other’s company, there is still room for improvement.
Baptists, Thomas-Stewart said, must be united in the true sense of the word.
“It’s a work in progress. To achieve the main goal of unity throughout the island and the faith by extension, I believe in having one main governing body instead of multiple dioceses.”
She continued, “This unique faith, no matter where or what part of the world you go, is one body with one way of praying, singing and rejoicing. It is indeed evident, hence, I am stressing that instead of separating ourselves by diocese, we should come together since the Bible declares united we should stand.”
As Thomas-Stewart sees it, “No church should be declared as better than the other” but must complement one another in word, deed and the overall execution of the faith’s doctrine and activities.
“So we, as Spiritual Baptists, should encourage and foster holistic development within the faith. It is only by dispersing the teachings of the faith across the board, will we continue to grow from strength to strength. Brotherly love for mankind is a must.”
She believes this dream can be realised.
“Moving forward and gazing into the future of the Baptist of tomorrow, I envision our churches to have one common goal and the togetherness that would inspire more persons to be willing to be a part of the body of Christ. Additionally, I would love to see all denominations work alongside each other by putting aside all differences and working towards a stronger spiritual network.”
Thomas-Stewart said as an evangelist, she is sometimes called upon to minister in churches of other denominations.
This is mainly because of what she called “transparency in one’s walk."
“We are supposed to be disciples of Jesus Christ, depicting and mimicking his work on earth. The church is one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord. Love, respect and tolerance will take us to another level.
“I pray that religious barriers will be broken where we choose to discriminate against various practices. And although we may vary in the way we worship, the common denominator is God. I long for the day when we can truly come together to fellowship as one.”