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Student Blog: Attending the Friedensthal Moravian Church

TU students taking the interdisciplinary class “The Roots of Hamilton: Relics of Resistance in the Black Atlantic World” had the chance to travel to St. Croix. They were able to visit Alexander Hamilton’s boyhood home and see different sites of enslavement and freedom in the Caribbean. Anthropology and pre-med sophomore Jade Johnson shares her experience at the Friedensthal Moravian Church.

Today we visited Friedensthal Moravian Church in Saint Croix. The church was established in 1755 as a Moravian mission. It served as a church and plantation and ministered to enslaved peoples. We were escorted to the second row and given service pamphlets. Everyone was very welcoming and came to shake hands with us during the greeting period of the service. We also introduced ourselves to the entire congregation using a microphone. I was not exactly sure what to expect because the only church services that I have been to are Baptist and Nazarene churches. They were also primarily white churches.

Since it was a Mother’s Day service, the men decided to take charge of all the proceedings though their pastor is actually a woman. This is not common in most churches I know of in Oklahoma, so it would have been a new experience if she had given the sermon. The men did a good job even if they required the help of the women on a couple of occasions. Going through the hymns and the sermon though, I found that it was very similar to a Baptist service. I even recognized some of the hymns that were sung.

There were some differences though. One was that the preacher talked in a much louder volume than what I am used to. This was actually a good thing since it helped my sleep- deprived brain focus on the message. Another unique aspect of the church was the steel drums that they used. I had never seen or heard one before so it was pretty interesting to hear how they used it to give a new beat to traditional hymns. I am not exactly sure what it would be called, so I will just refer to it as more of a Calypso beat. So while the message and songs might be similar, the style of worship was somewhat different and definitely adapted to the Saint Croix context. In our class we have talked about how slaves responded to the religion that was forced upon them. There is evidence that they modified European religions to fit their own belief system instead of completely assimilating to them. So the unique practices of this church reminded me of this point. It would be interesting to look further into the similarities and differences between the beliefs and practices seen at a Moravian church in Saint Croix and one in the United States.

In the evening, we went on a bioluminescent bay tour. This was super cool and somewhat tiring as we had to kayak through the mangrove-surrounded bay in the dark. It took about a mile to reach the bay, but even before we got there we started seeing bioluminescence. We mostly saw dino-flagellites which looked like little stars sparkling in the water. We also saw jellyfish that emitted light when hit by our oars. These were a little harder to come across though. We also got to pass by a really old boat with a dragon carving near the front. This boat actually had some interesting history to it. It was built in the late 19th century but was not completed all the way because the guy who built it and the wife of the man who hired him ran off together. Overall it was another wonderful day in Saint Croix. I feel like we have only experienced a small portion of what Saint Croix and its rich culture has to offer, and I am sad that we are approaching our last few days. I am thankful for this amazing opportunity though and hope I can return some day.