Using money from citizens to build a church is not unusual in the Cayman Islands, specifically Bodden Town.
“There is much hullaballoo about a national building fund,” said Bodden Town resident and Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence, speaking about the Bodden Town Chapel church. “There was a national building fund them days too. We collected from everyone and shook out everybody’s pocket and that was how the foundation of the Bodden Town Church of God got started.”
She said a group of residents promised if church members could get the foundation down they would have the church completed in 10 days, and in 10 days the church was completed.
Some people have expressed displeasure that government money is being used to help build the hall.
“I do not know what all the protest is about. We have to have very short memories if we don’t remember what Hurricane Ivan did to us,” Mrs. Lawrence said.
She related how she took people to the Bodden Town Civic Centre the night of Hurricane Ivan.
“I drove my truck until 10pm at night picking up women and children to take them to that centre and when those 200 people were in that building and the roof went, the sea rolled in, that was Bodden Town’s hurricane shelter and it has never been replaced. The next time, and there will be another time, maybe not in my lifetime but there will be another time when again that need will arise but this time Bodden Town will be well prepared,” she said.
“This is not the new Church of God Sanctuary and people should stop saying so. The present government has honoured the commitment of the previous government to help with the construction of the hall and I do not think that the one point something million they have given actually covers the extra expense the church will incur to make it into a hurricane shelter,” she said.
According to Mrs. Lawrence, the church purchased the piece of property on Bodden Town Road many years ago and kept working to accumulate material for the construction of a multipurpose hall. Metal beams the church collected are still there. She said government was going to build a hurricane shelter on the back road and when this did not get off the ground, a bargain was made with the church to help it build the hall if they would make it a hurricane shelter.
“Well, the church even got the worst of the deal because they had to make it bigger, raise it 6 feet off the ground, install a 60,000 gallon cistern and they could not use the roof, which they had ordered. These things added tremendous cost to the building of the hall,” she said. “Whether they have overdone it or not, one thing I am sure of, it will be a proper hurricane shelter when it is completed.”
Ms Lawrence recalled 200 people packing themselves under a slab of cement that night when the roof went. Luckily they were saved by an officer on duty who drove a school bus through the storm, tied a rope on to the bus and one by one pulled those people to safety, she said.
“In George Town we had people living in the Prospect School for months, which was built to some hurricane specifications, but disrupted the kids getting back to school. It was not until January before we got students back to school and even then they were only able to attend half day.”
She stressed there was talk about using the Savannah Primary school, but that is in the path of the Savannah gully where the sea goes through which was also not feasible.
Bodden Town needs that hurricane shelter, Mrs. Lawrence said.
“I assisted with getting people off the coastline and into my home that terrible night. The men lied down in the back of the truck while women and children hunkered down in the front. That night one of her best friends nearly lost his life trying to protect his home,” she said.
“These days people are quick to talk about the separation of the church and state. Everybody says these two things must be separated and one should not touch the other. They have also used the great United States and bashing of freedom and about there is a separation of churches and state. I have asked everyone since the controversy developed, can you tell me, which came first in the United States, the church or the state.”
She said she is looked at in puzzlement when she asks the question because in truth and fact the United States was founded because church people from Europe came there to build a nation in which they could worship God.
“How did we ever get away from the idea that it was to worship God and not to abstain from worshiping God I am not sure but, that was the intention behind the founding of the United States of America and in this Cayman Islands, she said. “Everything that has happened to give us moral standing, education; it all came from the church and it all continues to come from the church,” she said.