Up and down Grove Road in Linstead, St Catherine, the story of Bishop Stephen Ricketts is quite an interesting, colourful tale. Depending on who you talk to, he was either a goodly bishop or a demon from hell.
On an overcast Tuesday afternoon, four days after Ricketts’ tragic demise along with five of his church members, residents of the community sat in their own little groups along the roadway – from the corner shop, to his favourite watering hole at Cat’s Corner Bar, to the yard up the road – in deep discussion about the man and his many graphic characters.
In the early morning of Saturday, July 16, Ricketts’ Suzuki Vitara was returning from what some residents described as a “duppy catching mission” with eight persons on board, when the driver lost control and the vehicle overturned at the Flat Bridge in Bog Walk Gorge.
The bishop drowned in the Rio Cobre, along with two of his sons – Shevaughnie and Sujay Ricketts, as well as church members Benjamin Ellis, Crystine Morris and O’Neil Robinson.
El Frego Slew, who was driving the vehicle, as well as 19-year-old Shane Harris were the only survivors.
Harris was rescued from the river, while Slew reportedly fled the scene. Slew later turned himself into the police and was charged with six counts of manslaughter, as well as not possessing a driver’s licence.
The tragedy was not lost on the residents, but the bishop’s reported lifestyle and questionable practices overshadowed that. Depending on which group you sat in on, the sentiments were quite varied and as opposite as night and day about the revivalist bishop of the Mount Maria Zion Church.
Tales abound about his many animal sacrifices right in the street in front of his church; church members drinking animal blood; burying of live white chickens in the church yard to sanctify the ground; him being a self-professed “science man” who was well sought after to cast out demons or duppies and going on regular “duppy catching missions”; sometimes travelling with a skull in his vehicle or going gravedigging. Or the story of him being a self-confessed homosexual with young male lovers far and wide, sometimes making headlines for “disciplining a gay lover who give him bun”; kissing a dead gay lover just before lowering his casket in the grave; taking in a lot of young men to live with him; sending several children to school; the father of some 19 children; a man who loved his hard liquor and was regularly “under his juice”.
A dramatic character, indeed. That is, if you believe the many stories they all had to share. But each storyteller swore to being an eyewitness to many of the incidents.
A Good, Good Man
On strict condition of anonymity, the residents readily shared their tales with The Gleaner about the man who for the past 34 years had embedded himself in the depths of the rural St Catherine community.
“I know Steve from him was 14 years old when him come here come live with a male friend. Steve was a good, good man. He was the kindest man me ever know. Nuff mothers a bawl right now cause a him used to send them pickney go school and now back-to-school time and without Steve dem nuh know how dem going to manage,” one man shared.
“He was a real down-to-earth pastor who never hide who he was and what him duh. Him never hide and talk like some people. Him do him ting and yuh know a suh him stay. People say all sort of things bout him and cuss him behind him back but tun round and beg him for help and him still help them. He never say no. Him kind, kind, kind, always a help people. It really sad to lose so many lives at once,” one lady told.
“Him church members love him like how Jesus love the little children. Is regular people call him to go on a mission to catch duppy. People come to him regularly with demonic problems and him help them. Him was a Zion man and is that them do, so what?” a church member said.
“All them want say bout him, Steve was a good, good [gay] man. Di best [gay] man in di world. Di kindest [gay] man me ever know. A man live him life how him want to live it. It’s not for me to judge,” one defiant lady said.
But down the road the stories changed.
“Me heart leap for joy and gladness when me hear the news that him dead. Because a nuff young man life him destroy and spoil with him nasty ways. The man live with one house load a boys and him have case right now before the court with how him damage one a him man them who give him bun. All a video on Facebook with him a beat one a him boy them with machete, a ask him where him get hicky from. Me have me son a come up and me did fraid for him suh till,” an angry young man said, hugging his baby boy tight.
“His death was an answer to my prayers from God. We were so afraid for our boys. I know say, the way how him dead, is God hand at work.”
A deeply spiritual lady shared, “He was a very demonic man who called upon bad spirits. The animal sacrifices and things he was doing was all devil work. Drinking blood, a drive round with skull, a go grave yard and chant spirit and dig up skull. Him was a walking dead and believe nothing could happen to him but him did owe the river maid and she came to collect. The Flat Bridge river maid was the one who collected what was due.”
Help To Destroy
While another man said, “You see how him dead? Tell me a no God do that? What is to a man to gain the world and lose him soul? Steve help nuff young man so him can spoil them. His kind of help is to destroy. Him was nice to women and help them out all the time, but only to get close to them boys. That not right. His death was God’s doing.”
“A bare sin and destruction on that church. It need to burn down to the ground!” one man shouted.
“A history book must write bout man like him. Me surprise him live so long, the things him do. People don’t want tell the truth bout him, but the truth is not a sin. People know what he was like and what he was doing, but he was well protected and feel him could get away with anything. He was not good for society. He was destroying the young men and God did society a favour,” a woman vehemently declared.
On overhearing one conversation, a teen boy, who had just arrived in a taxi in his uniform, declared, “Not even stone me throw over that church. Me no go nowhere near him.”
Residents said it was not unusual for someone else to be driving the 48-year-old bishop’s vehicle, as he always travelled with a designated driver because he had a regular habit of bar hopping on his journeys and was quite often “under his juice”.
“Dem man deh drink hard, so a regular thing for someone to drive for him. See that bar yah right ‘cross from him church, is him favourite spot,” a man pointed out.
Family members, however, are quite upset about the innuendos, accusations and allegations, one cousin stating, “All of us are upset, angry and disgusted. I don’t know anything about the things they are saying. We don’t want to hear or read anything about this.”
Ricketts was a member of the Mount Maria Zion Church for several years before he took over as bishop some 20 years ago. The revivalist church held mainly late evening services and residents said it was a regular thing to hear the beating of drums and the calling on of various “spirits”.
In the Revivalist religious movement, there are two groups – Zion, otherwise called the 60 order, and Pocomania, referred to as the 61 order. An ex-member said the Mount Zion church was on a 60 order ground, but comprised of mainly 61 order members. Some diehard revivalists had stopped going to the church because of the rituals and practices that were introduced.
“If you are going to do God work, do clean work, but certainly not the things he and the others were doing at that church,” said the former member.