Home Christian News At Maryland Church, It’s ‘Caribbean Sabbath,’ Not Just Black History Month

At Maryland Church, It’s ‘Caribbean Sabbath,’ Not Just Black History Month

Flag bearers representing different countries stand at the front of Metropolitan Seventh-day Adventist Church after processing into the sanctuary for “Caribbean Sabbath” at the Hyattsville, Maryland, church on Feb. 18, 2023. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

HYATTSVILLE, Md. (RNS) — As worshippers entered the sanctuary of Metropolitan Seventh-day Adventist Church, doorman Percy Joseph greeted them with “Happy Sabbath,” his bright red Trinidad and Tobago T-shirt showing beneath his long black coat.

Inside, guest steel drum players began to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” giving the tune known as the Black national anthem a steady beat reminiscent of the homelands of many congregants.

Then, marching and dancing flag bearers processed down the main aisle, first with the American flag, and then with banners of those lands, from Barbados to the Dominican Republic to Trinidad and Tobago.

On the third Saturday of Black History Month, at this church near Maryland’s border with the District of Columbia, it was “Caribbean Sabbath.”

Pastor Trevor Kinlock kept up the enthusiastic flavor of the service as he greeted the congregation before his sermon.

“Come on, raise your flag and represent,” Kinlock said to those fellow congregants who, like him, had Jamaican roots, before turning to a more global celebration. “We’ve come to celebrate him and we thank God for the beauty of our diversity as a people.”

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Kinlock used his time at the lectern to emphasize why Black churches need to remember the history of Black people, including Americans like “Sister Harriet Tubman and Mother Sojourner Truth,” the latter who had ties to Adventism.

But he quickly added others beyond the North American mainland, such as Jamaican hero “Queen Nanny,” the spiritual and military leader of formerly enslaved African people called Maroons, who used guerrilla warfare against British troops, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who led the Haitian Revolution that overthrew French soldiers, making the island the first nation in the Americas to end slavery.

“You ought to give God a praise — thank God for the example of our Haitian brothers and sisters,” he said. “Caribbean folk know how to act up.”

Preaching on the Hebrew Bible text about the Prophet Elijah, Kinlock said, “We need the radical spirit of Elijah that resists and challenges the social evils of our day.” He cited the disproportionate numbers of people of color who are incarcerated, cases where “brown immigrant children are ripped from their parents at the border and housed in detention camps” and the killings of Black people at the hands of police officers.

“We need to call down the fire on global corporate power that still exploits the people and resources in the Caribbean and in Africa, extracting their wealth and leaving our people in poverty,” he said to cheers in agreement. “We cannot keep silent but we’ve got to speak out.”

Seventh-day Adventists, known for their observance of the Sabbath on Saturdays, have topped the Pew Research Center’s list of the most racially diverse religious groups in the U.S.

“’Caribbean Sabbath’ is not an official event across the North American Division territory of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church,” said Julio C. Muñoz, a spokesperson for that division of the church. But “there are churches with a rich Caribbean background that observe and celebrate their heritage at different times throughout the year, including Black History Month.”

At Metropolitan, which has marked its members’ Caribbean culture for more than a decade, some were celebrating not just one country but the cultural diversity within their own families.

“Representation matters and not too many churches in the area take time to celebrate their members, the diversity in their members,” she said. “We have people from all over the place that come here to this church. And it’s nice that we get a day where we can act foolish in Jesus’ name.”