The City of Plantation, Florida is a beautiful town in the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale with the appropriate City Motto; ‘The grass is greener in Plantation.’ In 2002 it was a mid-size town but the locals had started complaining that it was getting crowded by city people moving north from Miami. Everything that went wrong in Plantation seemed to be blamed on Miami, which was about 40 minutes south on the I-95 highway and had a large immigrant population from South America. There were areas in Miami that you could not get around if you did not speak Spanish as the Latino population had literally taken over some neighborhood. Miami had one of the highest incidents of drivers who were not insured probably because of many undocumented workers and illegal aliens who could not access the legal system because they had no social security number and therefore did not exist.
When I was out of work and immigration status I moved in with my brother Andrew who worked at the Motorola plant in Plantation and lived in a beautiful apartment community called ‘The Waves.’ I fell in love with Florida during the long summer days of June, July and August of 2002 when all I did was roam around the neighborhoods with nothing to do except take care of a toddler and a pre-schooler. In every community there was a stream running through that was soothing to stare at during the day and to listen to at night. Outside in the back yard and in the driveway squirrels run around, climbed trees and gave you a sense of an enchanted garden. You started to understand why many Americans choose to retire in Florida or to migrate there during the winter to avoid the frigid winter days in the north. At my Church, St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, Father Bob called them the snow birds. These were usually well to do couples who lived in the north but kept homes in Florida and joined our church community seasonally to escape the winter.
While I waited for the wheels of the Citizenship and Immigration system to turn, the church community offered a refuge where I could relate to people other than my family. I had shopped around for a church where I could get a sense of belonging and this is no easy task in the USA where so many hues of churches abound. There was the typical black Baptist church in downtown Fort Lauderdale where the spirit swept through the worshippers every Sunday causing a lot of loud praising and some fainting. My mother would have loved that church but it was not for me. Then I discovered the Plantation Baptist Church near the Plantation community center. It’s sanctuary was a great comfort and I did not mind that the brethren and sisters were about 98% Caucasian. They were stiff-upper-lip Republican types who were happy to have some color added to their church and they received us warmly in their community and their homes. My kids found friends and started getting invited to birthday and later Christmas parties. The pastor used reason rather than emotion to deliver powerful sermons and one time he must have exceled because when he called for anyone who wanted to come forward and confess that Jesus is Lord after his sermon, I found myself doing the unthinkable and walking towards the altar. The church prayed for me as I suddenly allowed myself to face and accept the weight of all the burdens of recent months. I cried so hard but the pastor’s wife in this prim and proper church stood by me and kept nudging me not to make loud sobs and sniffles. On that Sunday I wished that I had prayed at the spirit-fire black church downtown where they would have allowed me to holler as loud as I cared.
Nearly a year after I had settled into the Plantation Baptist Church community, my father and mother came to visit us in Plantation and Dad could not believe that we had strayed away from the Church of Uganda. He was astounded that we had not bothered to find the correct sister Church. ‘Do they not have the Church of England here?’ ‘Of course not Dad, this is America.' Well then the correct Church in America it turned out he knew, was the Episcopal Church, a ‘higher’ version of the traditional Anglican Church that is closer in tradition to the Catholic Church because the pastors are still referred to as ‘Father’ and they still make the sign of the cross when completing a prayer with ‘In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ My father was also astounded that my daughter Hannah had never been baptized and he made sure before he left that I was registered at St. Benedicts and Hannah was baptized there so that we would not end up baptizing her in some ‘wayward’ church not aligned to the Anglican Church.
St. Benedicts became our home church and we made some good family friends there and got involved in good causes like Marafiki, a school for HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya. The junior pastor at St. Benedicts was Father John a Kenyan scholar who introduced the project to the Church and soon there was a bevy of activity like golf tournaments and fundraiser dinners, auctions that seemed to bring a new energy to the whole community. Every summer some lucky kids and their parents got to go to Kenya to visit the students of Marafiki. The racial mix at St. Benedicts was very balanced because every African and Caribbean person who lived nearby that grew up in the ‘Church of England’ found their way there to balance the mainly Caucasian population of the neighborhood. We had a wonderful dance troupe of young black girls and a choir that just could not sing because it was made up mostly of retirees. My daughters became acolytes or altar girls and I sat proudly in the pews watching them walking down the aisle in their black and white robes holding the cross or other church ornaments in front of either Father John or Father Bob.
Now Father Bob was probably the most eccentric preacher I ever met. While the Church refuses to celebrate Halloween in October because it is regarded as devil worship, we used that last Sunday of October and Halloween day itself to give thanks and celebrate Harvest. Father Bob allowed parents to decorate their car trunks with scenes from the Bible and parents chose scary tales like the stormy days of Noah’s ark or Jonah being swallowed by a whale; then Father Bob would select a winner. Well imagine my surprise when we got to St. Benedicts one Harvest day and found that Father Bob had made a ghost complete with a white bed sheet right at the entrance of the church. I was puzzled because this must have been blasphemous, right? Nope, Father Bob explained that it was the ‘Holy Ghost!’ Then there were the summer days when the service was held at the beach in Fort Lauderdale and Father Bob showed up wearing a coconut bra! No wonder we loved that church and its community.
At 50 I know I will return to Florida for part of my retirement God willing, because it is easy to understand why my children still call Florida home. I too find that my life long friends are the ones that I went with to Crusaders Sunday school in Nakasero during those early years.