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Spiritual Baptists celebrate freedom to worship with procession and worship service

Spiritual Baptists celebrate freedom to  worship with procession and worship service

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There was a huge turnout of members of the Spiritual Baptist faith last Sunday, as they took to the streets of Kingstown to celebrate another anniversary of their freedom to worship.

With a procession that began at the Peace Memorial Hall, hundreds of Spiritual Baptists clapped, sang and danced their way through the streets to the Victoria Park,{{more}} where they took part in a worship service, led by Archdeacon Ian Enoch.

Speaking with SEARCHLIGHT, Chancellor the Reverend Parnel R Campbell – a prominent Queen’s counsel – said that he was very pleased with the turnout, as there were more members in attendance than in the past two years of celebrating National Spiritual Baptists’ Day.

“Today is the anniversary of the Freedom of Worship of Spiritual Baptists. This actually took place in law way back in 1965, when the old prohibition ordinance was repealed,” he recounted. “Even though Spiritual Baptists had claimed their freedom before that, ‘65 is when officially it became law that we were allowed to worship again.”

He added: “As the only faith that ever suffered imprisonment for its belief, we feel a special sense of joy that we can worship as we please!”

The religion, also known as ‘Shakerism’, had been declared illegal in 1912 by a colonial ordinance, and prescribed fines and imprisonment for those found guilty of practising it.

In 1951, a trial in a Magistrate’s Court ended with the acquittal of those who had been charged for offences under the Shakerism Prohibition Ordinance of 1912 – championed by social and political activist George McIntosh.

That acquittal virtually put an end to prosecutions under the ordinance. After that, Spiritual Baptists worshipped openly.

In 1965, the Prohibition Ordinance was formally repealed, under the influence of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ first Chief Minister Ebenezer Theodore Joshua.

In 2002, the House of Assembly unanimously passed an Act declaring May 21 as the Spiritual Baptist Freedom to Worship Day; and since then, the anniversary has been celebrate on the Sunday nearest to that date.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves was also in attendance at the worship service, as well as Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar, Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs Maxwell Charles and Dr Linton Lewis, chair of the New Democratic Party.

Gonsalves said that with over 11,000 Spiritual Baptists having been registered in the last census, he had expected to see an even larger turnout, but suspected that transportation issues were to blame.

He promised the crowd that for next year’s celebration, he would personally assist in providing transportation, should his help be needed in that regard. (JSV)

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