Residents had the opportunity to attend a variety of emancipation services on Aug. 6, including one at the Sunday Morning Well in Road Town, one at The Stickett in East End, and one at the historic St. Phillip’s Anglican Church in Kingstown.
The joint service in East End featured representatives from the Long Look Methodist Church and the Community Worship Centre Church of God Prophecy.
Vibrant gold, orange, pink and green decorations set the scene for a lively service, which featured poetry, hymns, prayers centred on emancipation, and a recounting of the story of the Nottingham Estate by Dr. Kedrick Pickering.
Bishop Naaman Chalwell explained the role churches have played in emancipation.
“When you look backward on what has been accomplished, and what our forefathers did and underwent, you will understand about the slave master and how they were afraid to release the slaves,” he said.
Faith, he added, often played an important role in enslaved people’s continued efforts to seek freedom.
“Freedom is more than just an event that took place,” he said. “Freedom really is a person.”
In modern times, he added, it is important to continue pushing back against “mental slavery.”
St. Phillip’s church
At St. Phillip’s Anglican Church in Kingstown, Reverend John George led the service, joined by government Culture Director Dr. Katherine Smith.
Attendees filled the historic church and a tent just outside the stone steps.
The church, built around 1840, holds a special place in history as the centre of the Kingstown free settlement, a home to Africans liberated from slavery before emancipation in 1834.
Mr. George looked back to the first Emancipation Sunday, relating it to the freedom of Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He also spoke about celebrating faith during this year’s festival.
“Our tradition is about festival, about giving back to God and thanking him for his many blessings,” he said.
He added that he wanted to invite leaders from throughout the territory to recognise that VI history belongs to everyone.
Speakers also urged compassion for those who worship through other religions, even amid times of division and polarisation.
Dr. Smith recounted efforts by the Association for the Preservation of Virgin Islands Heritage to restore African burial grounds surrounding the church from 2014 to 2018, among other measures to preserve the building’s history.
“I believe that Father George has breathed life again into this, one of the Virgin Islands’ most significant heritage sites,” she said. “This is not only a historic site of national importance. It’s not only a site that holds collective memory. It is also a consecrated space, a sacred space. This site means so many things to so many people.”
Church leaders shared their belief that it could become a site of pilgrimage for people in the region, especially given that African family names were clearly recorded.
The service concluded with a reading aloud of the emancipation act.
Sunday Morning Well
Later in the day, worshipers held a “Stronger Together Freedom March” through Road Town followed by an emancipation service at the Sunday Morning Well. The march was led by Mrs. BVI Arliene Penn and attended by members of a family reunion held in Cane Garden Bay this month. Their banner featured a long legacy of legislators and community leaders hailing from the bay.
At the well, Reverend Dr. Melvin Turnbull invited Mr. George, a new priest at the St. George’s Episcopal Church, to deliver the scripture to start the service.
Dr. Turnbull then acknowledged the challenges many VI residents currently face and encouraged them to stand together in supporting one another.
“The problems, issues and challenges affecting us as a people are many and varied,” he said. “They are personal, national, and even international. Some are internal, while others are external. Some are of our own making. Some were, and are, imposed on us. But I declare today that no matter the nature of the struggle, history has shown that God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. History has also shown that we, as a people, are stronger together.”
‘Hate and victimisation’
He also decried negativity on social media, as well as “hate and victimisation; duplicity parading as diplomacy; human, gun and drug trafficking; violence and crimes; abuse; gambling; prostitution; civil unions; same-sex marriage; nudity in public places; a culture of entitlement and disrespect; perversion everywhere; and the list goes on.”
The service’s guest speaker was Bishop John Cline, a senior pastor at New Life Baptist Church.