GATHERING THE SAINTS
The problem of enabling these isolated Christians to worship with other Christians confronted Ralph. He had already thought of the plan to establish a congregation in Lowmans and another in Troumaca. He had been going to Lowmans for several weeks. Then on January 23, 1966, a new congregation was begun in Troumaca. This meant that each Sunday Ralph had to preach twice in Kingstown, once at both Troumaca and Lowmans, besides driving a total distance of seventy-two miles. By looking at the map at the front of this paper, one can deduce that the island is eighteen miles long and only eleven miles wide between its widest points. However, if one travels from Richmond Vale on the Leeward coast to Fancy in the North, one covers a distance of about sixty miles along the main highway. The roads are narrow and winding. They run along steep mountain sides, through valleys and occasionally even through a mountain. An average of twenty miles per hour over any given twenty mile distance along the main highway is a very good rate of travel. Ralph drove slowly by Vincentian standards, thus a seventy-two mile distance occupied about four and one half hours each Sunday. His was a truly busy Sunday.
Ralph took Muriel Williams and any visitors from Barrouallie along to Troumaca as he made the journey to that village from Kingstown. Any one who lived between Kingstown and Troumaca he hoped to take along to the worship of the Troumaca congregation. He also hoped to carry any member or visitor who lived between Lowmans and Kingstown to Lowmans as he made that journey. A given Sunday schedule for the early months of 1966 appeared as the following: worship at Kingstown, 7:00 A.M. – 8:00 A.M.; 8:05 departure for Troumaca; 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM, worship at Troumaca; 12:30 PM or 1:00 PM, arrive back in Kingstown; 2:00 PM, departure for Lowmans: 3:00 PM, worship at Lowmans; 5:00 PM arrive back in Kingstown; 7:00 PM, worship at Kingstown. This was really a very crowded schedule for anyone, but even more so for a man already in his fifties.
Ralph was unsuccessful in establishing a congregation in Lowmans. Aster remained the only convert in that village, so the missionary decided to move out of Lowmans and to make a new effort in Georgetown. So the Sunday schedule remained the same as far as the number of times that Ralph was required to preach. However, his driving distance was increased by about six miles. This move to Georgetown occurred about March 1966.
The Troumaca congregation only met in that village. There were no members from Troumaca in the congregation. At first only Muriel Williams, the member from Barrouallie and a few visitors met in Troumaca. Later another young lady, Annette McDowall, was baptized. She lived in the small town of Layou near to Barrouallie. She also worshipped with the Troumaca congregation. However, the little Volkswagen bus was sometimes overflowing with visitors. As the year of 1966 progressed, it became obvious that the little Volkswagen bus was not large enough to transport all those who desired to worship with the Troumaca church. In the meantime, there had been three more converts from Dubois and Retreat. They were all girls who had just completed their high school education: Cremona Samuel of Number-Eight near to Dubois; Grecita Thomas and Margarita Thomas who were first cousins and lived in the village of Retreat. They also went along to Troumaca. Still no converts were made in Troumaca itself.
By this time Sam had given his first “talk.” Ralph had asked him sometime in February to give a short talk one Sunday morning. Ralph later said that he did not call it a sermon for fear that he might have frightened Sam. Not only had Sam given that talk, but he had preached several times afterward. Clayton also had made his debut and had preached a few other times. With his preaching power increased, Ralph felt that he was able to start a new congregation in Retreat in order to solve his transportation problem. So accordingly, a meeting place was sought in that village. A large hall was found and secured rent free. However, this hall was also used for other community functions but mainly for the purpose of holding dances.
They, therefore, began a new congregation in Retreat. At the outset there were four members: Grecita Thomas, Cremona Samuel, and Margarita and Barbara Thomas who were sisters. With the establishment of this congregation in the middle of 1966, there were four congregations of the church on the island, the effort to establish a congregation in Lowmans being abortive. However, the total membership of the whole church was just about sixteen members. Ralph still continued to drive the whole circuit on Sundays; however, he began to preach less. On the run to Troumaca, Clayton was left off to preach at Retreat and was taken back to Kingstown as the bus returned. Sam went to Georgetown in the afternoon (with Ralph) and preached there sometimes. At other times he went to Troumaca and often preached there.
The Georgetown congregation did not meet in Georgetown proper but rather on the outskirts of the city as one approaches from the south. The area where the group met is more correctly known as Brown’s Town. The congregation met in the archway of an old building which stood directly across the main street from the cricket field. The congregation usually sat with the people’s backs toward the street. As the preacher stood up before his audience, he could look over their heads to the playing field and beyond to the wild Atlantic Ocean. He could see the rolling waves as they pounded the black sands of the Georgetown Beach, sending a cloud of spray skywards. He could see the white foam rushing, hissingly along the beach. The congregation looking past the preacher could see the thickly forested mountains of the center of the island. It was a great spot from which to preach about the greatness of God. However, it was a very poor spot for trying to establish a new congregation. Many of the people of that area would not condescend to meet in the archway of an old building.
As in Lowmans, the congregation in Georgetown had only one member who lived in Georgetown itself. The other members lived in villages between Kingstown and Georgetown. The member from Georgetown was an old man, Chiefton Billingy. When the congregation was started there were two members, Brother Billingy and Aster Barnwell. Later Aster’s cousin, Venol, was converted and he too rode the bus to Georgetown. Judy McKenzie of Junction also became a member of the Georgetown church. Although several visitors rode along to Georgetown, and some of the residents near to the place of worship visited the congregation, it never really grew much beyond the members mentioned above. Nevertheless the congregation continued to meet and worship regularly until August 1967.
While the Georgetown church remained stagnant as far as its numerical growth was concerned, the congregation at Troumaca gained two members from the nearby village of Rose Bank. They were Katie and Ingrid Soleyn, sisters of Sam and Clayton. In the meantime converts were being made from various other villages. They were mostly young men in the late teens and early twenties. Some of these young men were: Terry Thomas from Victoria Village (Terry later established a congregation in that same village), Loraine D. George, Elliot Glasgow, James Stephenson and Rudolph Jackson, the last three being from the village of Biabou. There was Esmonde Colliere of Coull’s Hill and George Audain of Belmont. Those young men were all converted between the latter part of 1966 and the middle of 1967. However, today most of them no longer worship with any congregation, while men such as Terry Thomas and Elliot Glasgow have grown into sturdy Christian men who now fervently preach the gospel of Christ. Terry has become a missionary to the island of Grenada where he now preaches in the sector of that island known as St. Andrew. He has also labored faithfully on the island of St. Vincent, having preached in every village where there is a congregation of the Lord’s people and having converted many to Christ.
Elliot Glasgow now preaches in Kingstown where he is the minister of the Kingstown church. He, too, has preached possibly in every village in St. Vincent, where there is a congregation of the church. He has labored since his conversion in 1967 to win others to the Savior. He too has won many to Christ.
By the middle of 1967 there were still four congregations on the island, no new ones were started although the dissolution of the Georgetown congregation was not far away. The largest of these congregations was still Kingstown with a membership of about ten. Around this same time a young woman who lived in the village of Belmont was baptized. Ralph realized that he could not start a new congregation in that village. However, his policy seems to have been (at that time) to provide some avenue by which every person who was baptized on the island could be enabled to worship with other Christians. So, accordingly, he went to Belmont after his return trip from Georgetown on Sunday afternoons and brought the young woman and other visitors to the Sunday night worship of the Kingstown church. During this brief period the attendance at the Sunday evening worship often exceeded that of the Sunday morning worship.
This added journey to Belmont worked an extra hardship on Ralph who did all the driving. So then his wife, Ruth began to assist him in driving to and from Belmont. Afterwards she also began to drive to other parts of the island. Later on, there were instances in which Ralph would be sick and unable to drive or preach on the Lord’s Day. Ruth would then drive to all the different places and the young men, Sam, Clayton, and Terry Thomas would preach at the various places.
Ruth was a remarkable helper to Ralph. Apart from being a housewife, she also helped tremendously in the work of helping to spread the gospel. She taught a Sunday School class for children in Kingstown. She also instructed some of the young ladies so that they in turn could begin Sunday School classes for children in their own areas. (Katie Soleyn started a Sunday School in Rose Bank. Later Merlie Charles of Spring Village started a Sunday School.) When Katie Soleyn was baptized, she chose to be baptized in Kingstown. It was late in the afternoon. Ralph was unable to drive. The local transport buses had already left Kingstown for the Leeward side. It was necessary for Katie to be back at home that same night. So Ruth decided to drive her home. This was the first time that she drove the bus to the Leeward side. She was unaware of the sharp turns and dangerous curves in the road. There was no road map and few signs outside of the city of Kingstown. The roads were narrow and twisting. Sometimes they ran along the mountain sides and at other times they ran in the valleys. One slip in the wrong place could have resulted in a plunge for hundreds of feet over steep precipices. Although she was unfamiliar with the road, she drove Katie home to Rose Bank and returned to Kingstown that night without an accident. After that trip she drove to Rose Bank numerous times.
1967 was the most eventful year of the three and one-half year period that Ralph spent in St. Vincent. Several events which had a profound effect on the subsequent work of the whole church occurred that year. Many young men who later became leaders in the Vincentian churches were converted that year. The Georgetown congregation was dissolved and a new congregation started in South Rivers. A new congregation was started by a Vincentian (Jimmy Bracken) in his home village of Sandy Bay. Another congregation was started by James Stephenson, Elliot Glasgow, Rudolph Jackson and Clayton Soleyn in the village of Brighton. Two training courses were conducted, one by Ruth for the young ladies and another by Ralph for the young men. A building was purchased for the Kingstown church. A campaign involving ten preachers from the United States was conducted at Victoria Park in Kingstown. The young aspiring Vincentian preachers made a tour of three villages during the Christmas holidays and preached in each village. All these and other events helped to make 1967 the most eventful year of Ralph’s stay on the island of St. Vincent.