Moneague Baptist ChurchSunday morning gave me the opportunity to visit Jamaica’s hilly interior and preach at Moneague Baptist Church, described by pastor Delroy Sittol as “a rural church in a market town.”

Hill country near MoneagueMoneague is in the hill country leading to the mountainous spine that runs the length of the island nation, due south of Cuba and about the size of Connecticut — if situated horizontally.

Sitton serves as pastor of a four-church charge in country so steeped in its English heritage that even Baptist pastors wear a clerical collar (in addition to driving on the left side of the road).

From Ocho Rios, on the north coast of central Jamaica, we followed a road almost due south, winding through a deep green “fern gully” formed by an old river bed and then climbing into green hills dotted with bright punctuation marks of bouganvilla, bananas, mangoes, and ackii trees.

Pastor Delroy Sitton checks a schedule indicating who’s responsible for leading worship each Sunday in the four churches he serves.. Sitton rotates Sunday by Sunday among his four churches, so June 30 — a fifth Sunday — was a day off for him, a perfect day for a guest speaker, though attendance tends to be low on that day. About 65 people attended worship, which Sitton said normally averages 105-110.

Worshipers came in their Sunday best. The ladies of the choir all wore white blouses and the two men wore white shirts. They sang in several keys, simultaneously, but with great enthusiasm. I noted with interest that Tom Jackson’s “We Are Called to Be God’s People” was included in the Caribbean Praise and Worship hymnal, and wondered if he knew.

A young man presented the Sunday School report, indicating how many were present for each class and how much offering they received. A woman deacon in royal blue with a regal hat presided over the service while Pastor Sitton sat back and watched with satisfaction. A woman from the congregation came to the pulpit to read the scripture I’d chosen, and three young men (one about six years old) took the offering using deep bags attached to a double handle.

When it came time for me to preach the people were both attentive and responsive, apparently taking to heart Paul’s encouragement to be people who are known for their work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope, called to learn from good role models and then become examples to others (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10).

Following worship, a light meal consisting of a turkey wrap and a piece of really strong fruitcake (mostly prunes) was set up for me, the pastor, and Australian Graham Hill, who had preached in another church in Sitton’s charge.

I always enjoy the chance to meet the “real people” of the countries I visit, people who don’t work at the hotel and aren’t paid to be nice or friendly.

Everyone I met was nice and friendly, and not one of them said “yeh-mon” or “no problem,” which appears to be reserved for tourists. The welcoming spirit — and the movement of the Spirit — was as real as the Blue Mountains and as fresh as the ocean breeze.  

It was the kind of morning that makes me glad to be alive, and Baptist, and an erstwhile preacher.

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