His Excellency Brigadier David Granger: Please be seated. Thank you, madam chair, for your generous introduction. Of course, you all give me a very difficult act to follow after that poem; a very beautiful poem. Congratulations; of course the person next to me had to tell me it came from Ebenezer.
Chairperson of the Guyana Congregational Union, Reverend Noel Holder, Executives and Members of the GCU, distinguished brothers and sisters, members of the media, I needn’t say of course that I am happy and honoured to be among you today. As Abraham Lincoln said, “God loves ordinary people that’s why he made so many of them”; so I’m in good company.
The Congregational Church in Guyana has been the midwife for many Christians in villages for over 200 years. This church has an awesome record of stewardship. We have worshipped with you at Ann’s Grove; at Beterverwagting; at Den Amstel; at Hopetown; at Stabroek. We have been overwhelmed by the antiquity of the churches and by the anniversaries – 150th here; 170th there; 200 there.
We are staggered everywhere by the share weight of history and the strength of your heritage and your faith. No other Christian body would courageously and no other Christian body could just justifiably name its head office ‘Quamina House’.
I have been impressed by the extent, by the expanse of the congregations from Albion to Zoar in Plaisance – what I called the ‘A to Z’ -Albion to Zoar. The Congregational Church has been the light of Christianity in Guyana. It was written in Mathew, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”.
Congregationalists have given light to communities for over two hundred years and the Government of this country, today, expresses its appreciation and its congratulations to the Guyana Congregational Union for its service to this nation.
I thank you and congratulate you.
There is so much to celebrate. Congregationalism boasts the oldest continuously attended Christian church building in our country. Congregationalism enjoys the honour of being the first church to minister almost exclusively to the enslaved population of Guyana. Congregationalism pioneered religious education for the enslaved population of Guyana, establishing schools to teach the poor.
This nation is eternally indebted to congregationalism for the role that it played in educating our people, both during and after the dark age of enslavement.
Congregationalism forged strong ties with our rural communities and villages. Foreign missionaries came and they were supplemented almost from the start by local leaders.
Congregationalism was integrated into the communities in which they ministered. Churches were more than houses of worship – they were classrooms for learning; they were community centres. The Congregational union now has churches in almost all communities along the coastland; most of these churches are over a hundred years old; they all have strong roots within their local communities. Congregationalism and what I call communitarianism, in Guyana are inseparable.
Guyana celebrates its Golden Jubilee of National Independence this year; 2016 has been designated as the ‘National Year of Renaissance’. This is a year that offers us an opportunity to reclaim the spirit of community solidarity – what I call ‘communitarianism’, which characterises the old churches work in Guyana.
I do believe in communitarianism. I established, for the first time in Guyana, a Ministry of Communities. I proclaimed, for the first time in Guyana, a National Day of Villages on 7th November every year, a reflection not only on our past but also on the future. (Those of you who come from Victoria will know why I chose the 7th of November.) I promised and I will ensure that in 40 days and 40 nights from now, your communities will be re-democratised, after a dark episode of dictatorial rule and regimentation.
I promised that Local Government Elections, which have been obstructed for nearly two decades, will be conducted on the 18th March. Citizens will be re-empowered to manage their municipalities, their neighbourhoods and their villages once again. I will strengthen community cohesion, community development, community policing and community schooling under this new democratic dispensation.
Communities, as you heard in the poem, too frequently suffer from serious social problems. Their economies are anaemic, many families have become dysfunctional, crime and misdemeanours proliferate, infrastructure is damaged or deteriorating, there is insecurity, interpersonal violence that we have never dreamt could happen in this country, alcoholism, drug abuse, depopulation, youth unemployment and poverty, suicide – these are some of the problems we have to face today.
Some communities have become mere dormitories where people go home to sleep at night and they leave early the next morning to go to work somewhere else. Communities throughout Guyana today need a renaissance, they need renewal, and they need restoration. Communities, particularly rural communities are places where most of our people live. They need a collaborative effort of the State and of the church and non-governmental organisations to remedy the disease of despair.
The Government alone cannot repair the damage. Local Government Elections alone will not restore people’s trust, even though they may restore their participation in decision-making in their communities. Religious organisations must help to restore faith in God’s word, restore faith in themselves and their families and their communities; and I turn to you, ‘GCU’. I turn to the Congregationalists who have over 200 years of experience in working with people within communities.
You worked with these people in the darkest days of enslavement and we look to you to bring light again to these communities in despair. You have the expertise in education, in leadership and in community development
Congregationalists courageously carried Christ’s gospel to the victims of the greatest crime against humanity, two hundred years ago. Their descendants look to the Church once again to continue this holy task. They look to the Church to become a beacon of hope of their communities, to dispel despondency, to develop strong communities and to develop our country.
Congregationalists, I urge you to renew the Covenant of 1808; to confront the challenges of this new century in this new era of Guyana’s history. I congratulate the Guyana Congregational Union on its 208th anniversary and I wish you continued success for the future.
May God bless you all!