July 17th was a great day for the Spiritual Baptist Faith
throughout the Diaspora. Council Member Kendall Stewart declared that date
Spiritual Baptist Recognition Day in New York and hosted a celebration in
Flatbush, Brooklyn at Café Omar and P.S. 181.
And what a grand celebration it was, too. Spiritual Baptist
congregants arrived by the busload from diverse regions of the
continent, and others flew in from the Caribbean. Well over 600 people
attended, including Consulate representatives and elected officials such
at Council Members Charles Barron and Yvette Clarke and Brooklyn Borough
President Marty Markowitz. Other former and aspiring officials, like Una
Clarke and Wellington Sharpe who is running for Senate, were also
when the participants first began to congregate at Café Omar at 1 pm,
the mood was uplifting and beautiful – as was the sight of the people
all decked out in their spiritual attire. Soon the members from the
different churches - each wearing their own unique style of dress to set
them off from the other churches - gathered behind their banners and
prepared to march to P.S. 181.
As the congregants paraded jubilantly through the streets, they sang
and stepped to the beat of drums and other rhythm instruments. People
along the route stopped what they were doing to watch. Big smiles came
over their faces, and they were clearly moved and strengthened by what
they were seeing. Some sang along and others even joined the procession.
school, everyone filed in and took seats in the packed auditorium.
There, Council Member Stewart, joined by Yvette Clarke, represented the
City Council as they awarded proclamations to 15 pioneers and
outstanding contributors to the faith. That included Archbishop Norris
V. Ashton, who, in 1995, established the Spiritual Baptist Archdiocese
of New York and is the Patriarch of the Archdiocese.
Also honored were Archbishops Selwyn Wilkinson, founder of the Orisha
Cultural and Mutual Society; Vernon Manswell, the supreme head of all
Spiritual Baptist Churches in Canada;
Linda Boyce-Barnett, the first woman Archbishop in New York State.
Proclamations were awarded as well to Mothers Millicent Joseph, the
first woman to be ordained in the ministry in Trinidad and Tobago;
Shelia Adams, who established the St. Catherine Spiritual Baptist Church
in Laventville, Port of Spain; Cynthia Joseph founder of the Sons and
Daughters of Zion in Brooklyn; and Denise Depriest who travels the world
caring for the sick, counseling the needy, as well as healing and
too, were Bishops Joseph Best, a founding member of the United Spiritual
Baptist Minister’s Council of America; George M. Xavier, whose Mt.
Ephraim Church hosted the first Universal Convention for Spiritual
Baptists in California; and Kester Baptiste who has been preaching the
gospel since the age of nine. Grand Abbes Cleopatra Clara Peters, who
converted to the religion in 1931 at the age of 6, also received a
There were three posthumous honorees as well: Mother Reverend Abbess
Violet Smith, known as the Old Patriarch of the Spiritual Baptist Faith;
Pastor Leopold Wright, who established the Mt. Nebo Baptist Church; and
Rev. Mother Cynthia Doyle, co-founder of St. Ann Spiritual Baptist
afternoon’s keynote speaker was Professor Augustus John, Bishop in the
Spiritual Baptist Faith for the past eight years, who had come all the
way from England for the celebration. He delivered a gripping address
about the history of the faith, and also touched on other important
issues such as slavery and its aftermath.
Following the award ceremony, the celebrants marched back to Café
Omar. Once there, they enjoyed some delicious refreshments and began to
really celebrate the day in the good old-fashioned Spiritual Baptist
way. Over many hours, different clerics came to the fore and led the
worship service. Everyone, including Council Member Stewart, joined in,
performing actions central to the service and singing in full-throated
The Spiritual Baptists certainly lived up to their name, for the
entire celebration was a truly soul-stirring experience. Everyone who
attended definitely got what they were looking for, for we all came away
inspired, fortified and truly blessed in having been there.