Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Vincy Traditions: Church and Funerals

             Disclaimer:  I do not have much experience with attending church in America to make a comprehensive comparison, but in America, church is an hour long.  At least all the churches I have ever been too (which again, is not many). I have also only ever been to about 3 different denominations of churches; catholic, protestant,….maybe that’s it? It does not go over an hour, and it is always the same.  Same procedure, same hymns, same repeat-after-me’s. Not much variation, and not much excitement or enthusiasm.  Very mundane and monotone. Its like people just go through the motions to say they went.
            Church in SVG is quite different. Even the catholic church runs over two hours, and is full of lively singing, praise, prayers and anecdotes. In SVG I have attended many different churches: Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist, Gospel Hall, and many others that I'm not even sure which denomination they were.  But all were usually quite fun.  There is extensive singing, dancing, a band, presentations and special guests giving words of praise and encouragement; and the sermon, or whatever it is called, is always delivered with conviction, heart and soul, as well as quite animated. The audience is engaged and responsive. People are welcoming and friendly, and give special attention to new guests, usually by recognizing them with a special pin or flower in front of the entire congregation. Church is a joyous time to come together and celebrate life and thanksgiving.
            Funerals in SVG are also quite different.  Again, they are much more of a party than the depressing obligations we have in America.  For one thing, funerals in SVG seem to be more about praising and celebrating the life of the deceased and less about focusing on the fact that our loved one is here with us no longer and saying goodbye.  It is a joyous time to remember all the wonderful things about the person.  Family and friends come together and sing and rejoice. There is a great sense of community and support. For example, if a loved one of a member of staff passes away, then all the teachers come together to sing a song at the funeral ceremony. I have had the pleasure of attending three funerals.  All of which I have sung at.
However, what I always will never fully understand, is that there is usually never any crying, but instead there is laughter and smiling.  I get that it’s a celebration of the life the person lived and their contributions and what not, but my cultural upbringing cannot forget that the person is no longer here and how that must make their loved ones feel, and brings tears to my eyes even when I have never met the person we are burying.
            The other major differences between SVG funerals and funerals in America is that there is no wake before the funeral ceremony and immediately after the ceremony, the entire church marches to the cemetery where more singing takes place while the casket is lowered and covered (by gravediggers) into the ground.  The gravediggers are usually drenched in sweat (you try digging a 6 foot deep hole in the ground in the middle of the day under hot Caribbean sun), wearing big rubber boots, and often times there’s a bottle of rum near by. A rather stark contrast to the very formal attire worn by guests.  Guests normally wear all black, black and white, or purple. Singing at the gravesite does not cease until the casket is completely buried and flowers have been placed on top covering all the dirt.

Singing while burying the casket
Placing flowers on the grave, as singing continues

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