I came as a pilgrim to Fields of the Wood, a biblical theme park in North Carolina, USA. It is overwhelming because even though I have been to the US several times in the last 10 years, I never got opportunity to visit this part of my church heritage.
Since I was about 12, I have seen Fields of the Wood in pictures and, of course, most recently on the net.
Ultimately this week, I arrived amongst 3 000 other people and managed its trail while visiting prayer mountain and the World’s Largest Ten Commandments inscription! The mountain is where A.J. Tomlinson received revelation that was to lead to the founding of the Church Of God in 1906. The narrative is juicy and the characters iconic including Pentecostal legend, R.G. Spurling, at the home of W.F. Bryant where a prayer group operated from.
However, I wanted to Rebel. Fortunately, my fellow pilgrim Nkundabera Redias from Rwanda has been here before and was willing to lead me in touring other spots that are not on today’s official trail of this 75-year-old monument with 115 years of history.
I wanted to digress because as much as Fields of the Wood is a holy and cradle ground to myself and 7 million others of the A.J. Tomlinson churches, I could not resist the heritage manager cap nor some thoughts and responsibilities that weigh heavily on me; Back home in Botswana the site would pass as an Ancient Monument according to our Monuments and Relics Act.
This is because the farm and home of W.F. Bryant on which the story in anchored predates 1902, the arbitrary legal date that decides what is automatically protected in.
I also had some thinking and bench marking to do because I am leading a team formulating a management plan for the Catholic Pilgrimage site at Patayamatebele on the banks of the Tati River which is the cradle of their Bechuanaland mission undertaken by the Catholic Jesuit Order in Botswana in the 1880s.
At Old Palapye and Ntsweng historical sites I am also leading the storyline composition and development of a site Museum amongst 20 others in NDP XI5, the current Nation’s 10 year Development Plan.
So then at Fields of the Wood I prayed, I meditated I read, I observed and took notes. I visited the curio shop, observed development in narrative and as missionary asked for a second dose at lunch; how can I come all the way from Botswana to eat a small burger and Simba chips for lunch?
One striking thing for me was the amount of Jewellery in the curio shop.
Those are amongst the diagnostic signatures of how the church has shifted in doctrine from the teachings on jewellery and other like-minded Holiness denominations whose early fathers taught strictly against.
The design of the Ten Commandment monument 321 steps culminating on the ‘greatest Commandment’ is amazing spectacle on the theological treatise and symbolism that the law
The cross of Jesus monument a mile away has the flags of all the nations that this church has reached.
On prayer mountain, the plinths on the teachings of the church and church history are progressive culminating on the alter and place for prayer and meditation.
Granted the desire of the church to make the monument profitable opening to the general public has been the drive for many years according to site brochure.
However, the monument would have more appeal to the general public with creative marketing of the Ten commandments mountain than the more denominational part on the prayer mountain.
A question also remains as to why the church has not updated the teachings of the church on the site brochures and monument plinths to express the evolution that came with revelation in the recent past.
For instance, one of the tables still reflects the “divorce and remarriage doctrine” in similar tone to how it was taught two decades ago. Is this a philosophical understanding of the purpose of the monument as reflecting the past?
How does this rob the church populace today of using the prayer mountain as a living and relevant motivation.
The visit to Fields of the Wood is like a cherry on the cake, the best left for last because this will be my last visit to the USA as National Overseer of Church of God of Prophecy in Botswana after 12 years in office.
However, for Edison Mooketsane, my mentee and incoming overseer, the reverse is true. He starts from the Mountain top where the founder of the church received revelation, and that’s no small matter.
Besides Edison starting at the prayer mountain, this past weekend we were in Presbytery meetings in Cleveland Tn. at the international headquarters.
There, we were able to attend to doctrinal and administrative matters.
We also enjoyed heartfelt presentations by luminaries and legends of the church such as Darren Schalk and historian Bishop Adrian Varlack.
And, I’m not digressing, but Bishop Varlack still remembers the CUMBERLAND HOTEL from his visit in the 70s when he came for Bishop Gwebu’s funeral in my home town of Lobatse, Botswana.
Now as I write this it’s 3am in Chattanooga where the COGOP 100th Assembly, now biennial, starts in a few hours.
The theme this year is ‘Cover the Earth’. However, as you will appreciate I need a small nap so that I can enjoy my day as my body negotiates the jet lag and Botswana’s six-hour difference.
*Phillip Segadika is a bi-vocational church minister and works as Head of the Archaeology and Monuments Division at the Botswana National Museum. He writes in his personal capacity