Our light blue and purple spring dresses with matching cardigans and watercolor-looking delicately painted flowers upon them, wined in the breeze. On the two Brooklyn, New York sized blocks to the church it was not a fast wine like you’d dance to Soca, but the slow methodical wine that allows one’s hips to sync-up with the synocopated beat of the wind.
This rhythm, I imagined, lived in our ancestors hips and waists too. The sway of the dresses in the breeze was too powerful to attempt to fill the spaces between our clasped hands with words. Our hair, neatly coiffed into canerow (cornrow)french rolls with three long plaits dangling at the front. Our stockings slid down a bit as we quickened our pace, pooling at our tiny ankles. It was Palm Sunday.
This, like any other Sunday before it meant that as we turned to enter the church, mommy would disappear into the beaten pavement. She moved so quickly — ghost like — if you blinked, you’d miss her.
This, like any other Sunday meant that the priest would personally escort us to our seats to shield us as the Caribbean grannies of the church whispered, loudly about where our parents might be.
This was religion for me as a child.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the living room couch beside my now, five-year-old. She asked me an arbitrary question about some aspect of her personality and then asked “How did you know that?” Quite instinctively, I replied “I made you.” To which she swiftly corrected me, “God made me.”
It’s not that I disagree with her, but we’ve never discussed God and/or creation. It caught me off-guard. We don’t go to church regularly. I don’t honestly think we have all been to church as a family outside of funerals — of which she’s been to too many.
I felt a bit sucker-punched like I had when she confessed to watching Frozen at her aunt’s house despite it being forbidden at home. It felt like the betrayal of her aunt buying her a Frozen/ White doll despite my explicitly stated instructions that no such things would happen in my home.
It felt like the invasion of princesses and princess chatter that barged into my home after I caved on my NO Disney Princess rule. I couldn’t take away all of the Princess Sofia stickers her preschool teacher gave her or strip her of the songs she’d learned in my absence. I couldn’t make her un-see all of the pale skin and long blond hair that would never represent her.
I was wounded then and I am wounded now. Not because I don’t believe in God but because I have no say.
Her childhood religion looks so different to mine and to what I thought it might be.
Every day since starting primary (elementary) school, she has been singing about Jesus. Yes, she had attended some vacation bible school camps from time to time but the religious talk seemed to increase ten-fold when school started.
I must admit she attends a Presbyterian school because as a parent, you’d be hard pressed to find a non-religiously affiliated school even in the public school system, here. Make no mistake, she does attend a public school. Public with school prayer every morning and church once or twice a month. It would be unfathomable where I grew up but here, it is how it is.
I want her to enjoy school — all of its activities. She enjoys singing so it only makes sense that the hymns and prayers would stick with her. It makes perfect sense that she would hum them, remix them, embody an entire choir all by her lonesome in our living room.
It makes sense that she would ask me questions about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
There was a huge tent outside of the small red-brick building. It was late March or early April but the cold air was nipping at our ears, fingers, and cheeks. Any bit of exposed skin was bitten by the bitter remnants of winter.
I could understand her — winter’s — bitterness, I was tired of waiting around too. We could only recite our Sunday school songs so many times before I didn’t want to give anyone a ‘J,’ an ‘E,’ or an ‘S,’ and I’d tell them where to shove the rest.
This church was so much fun, once we actually got to go inside. There was no one whispering about us. There was Sunday school, snacks, lots of kids and tons of people grateful to see you at church.
Mommy didn’t have to become a fast talking and walking apparition. Our friend’s family brought us with them and then we’d get to go over to their house and play until the afternoon turned into evening.
We sang about J-E-S-U-S. There was so much joy.
We wondered why Mommy wasn’t at church on Sunday. There was a side of judgement.
I wonder if Mommy felt sucker-punched, too.
I joke to my partner that it must be impossible to be an atheist here. It’s the type of joke that gets a laugh because it’s too true. I — we — know that such a thing would be damn near impossible.
I have carried out workshops and training sessions in a fair cross-section of Trinidadian society. I have lived in several areas and attended a plethora of events. I can tell you that here, every function — from government affairs to random concerts — begins with prayer. They like to say it’s a “general or all faith prayer,” when in fact that means a non-denominational Christian prayer.
I have watched too many Muslim, Hindu, and Atheist colleagues grin and bear it. They expect it. They don’t get offended, they have grown up here. It’s cultural. I cringe.
I want to teach my daughter about respecting all religions. I want to model what true religious inclusivity looks like but I’m not at church with her during school hours. I don’t know everything that filters in and/or out of her developing brain on this topic.
I don’t remember if they told us how heavy the baptismal gowns would be during our weekly baptism orientation meetings. They must’ve, we met every Tuesday for about 8 weeks. How did I not remember that part? I could feel it now.
The light looking stark cotton whites felt heavier as I wrapped myself in them and began to join the others in the line. I didn’t look around. My head spinning around the solid mahogany room. There were too many people. I began to regret inviting all of my friends. As if all two of them would make an impact on the thousands that flooded the church sanctuary — we were a mini-mega church.
I was resolute in my decision but there were so many eyes. It felt as if every single one was burning a hole in my back.
This certainly wasn’t the Anglican church that was two blocks from our old house in Brooklyn. This wasn’t the non-denominational church with the snacks and Jesus raps. I wasn’t in Brooklyn anymore.
I didn’t stumble into this place, no one brought me. I walked in. I was 25 and for the first time in a long time, church felt like home.
This place was 108 years old and yet it felt new. The pastor was just about ten years older than me. There were young people everywhere. I needed that sense of community.
I needed to solidify those feelings and as Pastor Wesley’s lips moved, I could hear and feel nothing but the warmth of the baptismal pool. Everything faded away, I was home — in the arms of God.
The choir began to sing as the last of our group emerged from the water. We were now brothers and sisters anew, in Christ.
I went to church on Wednesday and on Sunday. My grandmother suspected that this Baptist church was a front for a cult because who mandates church on a Wednesday? She had a healthy suspicion of church and church folk.
She asked my uncle that lived nearby to investigate. He asked quite bluntly “Are you in a cult?”
I was at a Come As You Are service. In those services, Pastor would don jeans and talk to us young christians, 18 to 35 about navigating relationships, sex, and stress in our walk with God.
I was in the arms of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and it resonated in my spirit.
When I decided to leave that city. I left my church home. I left a piece of my God in that place with those newfound brothers and sisters. I left all of my fellowship there.
I could stream weekly service every Sunday and I did for awhile before I started worshipping at the alter of Sunday lunch. A ritual that starts at 5 or 6 a.m. every Sunday morning and ends around 8 or 9. I cook as close to a feast as I can manage. It reminds me of my mother’s Sunday cooking ritual and makes me feel closer to her — I needed that feeling more than Facebook fellowship. A little bit of my blessing seemed to go missing somewhere between Pastor’s lips and my HP laptop every week until I went missing completely.I suppose that is my cycle with church.
God is constant. I talk to God as I chop vegetables and blast old Calypso music for my Sunday service. I say a silent gratitude prayer every morning.
I wonder if my daughter knows that I know God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, too…
I want to ignore the judgement in her tone when she — my mini human — says : “You don’t believe in Jesus?! We don’t go to church!” but it stings.
I want to tell her what my mom told me after church as she walked us home, many a Sunday but especially on Palm Sunday. She’d say: “I had enough church and church people for a lifetime,” but my baby won’t understand. She is ‘church people,’ now. She won’t understand that I left all my churchiness in the last church that felt like home.
I want to tell her that I, too used to be ‘church people,’ but there’ll be too many questions . She won’t understand that my relationship status with church isn’t the same as my relationship status with God. For her, they are inextricably linked, right now.
She loves it. I love her. So, I say nothing.
I listen and watch as she becomes holier than me.
Melissa explores questions about life, food, parenting, navigating the world as a Black woman and much more in her writing. To read more, follow her.