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Seeking company, finding community

Bored of the beach, a tourist attends a local church service.

By David Wallis / March 14, 2012



As I sunned myself on a secluded, white-sand beach in rural Gren­ada, literally lounging under a coconut tree, one thought continually crossed my mind: "I'm bored."

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When I'd planned my holiday in New York City, the concept of plopping down on an isolated Caribbean beach for a week with my family appealed, but after a day of building sand castles and watching the waves, I missed meeting locals, shopping at crowded markets, hearing new music, and eating street food. I crave hubbub. Being at one with nature just didn't feel natural.

To cope with my cove-side claustrophobia, I spent a Sunday morning singing, swaying, and Hallelujah-ing with the congregants of the Ebenezer Pentecostal Tabernacle.

Attending a religious service in a foreign land offers travelers – whether they are evangelical Christians, avowed atheists, or, as in my case, an agnostic Jew – a window on an unfamiliar society and the chance to transcend the servile relationships common at resorts. In a worshipful setting, artifice tends to erode.

Before visiting a new house of worship, it makes sense to conduct a bit of intelligence. Some conservative mosques, for instance, ban non-Muslims. But the proselytizing Pentecostals of Grenada, I had heard, welcome strangers. Not that the spare, one-room church with a corrugated metal roof gets many visitors. St. Peter's Basilica, Ebenezer Tabernacle is not.

Still, I worried about being the only white face and non-believer in the room, so I slipped into a rear pew by the exit in case I detected any icy stares. But several of the parishioners walked right over and shook my hand.

"What assembly are you from?" asked one woman with a James Brown wave of black hair. "I'm not a member of a church," I admitted. She gave me a wide smile, as well as a green hymnbook.

I apparently had arrived in time for Sunday school. The teacher, a 30-something woman in a black dress with a purple sash, stood in front of a lectern emblazoned with a chrome cross. At times, she strained to be heard over blasts of dance hall reggae from passing cars.

The lesson, I later learned, is known as "the law of the garbage truck." A garbage truck nearly caused a major accident by cutting off a taxi. Despite being at fault, the garbage truck driver screamed at the taxi driver. But the taxi driver smiled and drove on. The passenger in the taxi wondered why the driver did not yell back.

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