By Donna Lamb


Spiritual Baptist
Recognition Day
in New York

aturday, 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 present.

From 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.


At the 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; and 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 delivering souls.

Honored, 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 proclamation.

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 Church.

The 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 harmony.

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.

Donna Lamb can be reached at dlamb@gis.net.

Read Donna's Last Column