President David Granger: I must apologise for the disruption in the programme, but I have been, as you know, out of the country for about two weeks and I have got some assignments and engagements to fulfil. I was in Linden, this morning, planting a coconut tree on the West Bank of the Demerara River up there; now I’m down here on the West Coast of Demerara. So please forgive me for disrupting the programme but I am very happy to be here. When Ms. Roxanne Barratt (she has a way of getting me to do her will) invited me, I couldn’t say no and of course my colleague, Ms. Cheryl Sampson. I feel a commitment to this church.
I don’t like coming to funerals here, I like to come to celebrations, so I’m very happy to be here. Reverend Colin Anderson, M.S., thank you for having me here at this important celebration of St Luke’s; other elders of the church, visiting ministers, members of the congregation, special invitees. This is a special day for St. Luke’s; it’s a special day for Presbyterianism in Guyana; it is a special day for Christianity and it is a special day for Uitvlugt and West Demerara but most of all some of you may not realise it is a special month for the entire world.
On the 31st of October, we Protestants will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of what is called the Protestant Reformation. On the 31st of October 1517, a monk called Martin Luther (not Martin Luther King) Martin Luther, he posted some theses in a church in Saxony in Germany and that protest against the Roman Church started something called the Protestant Reformation and we are all children of that Reformation.
Before that, there was only one Christian church in the western world, that is, the Roman Church, but there were several abuses and Martin Luther protested against these abuses. But this was a time when printing had been invented, this was a time when states had started to emerge and the whole of Europe was divided against each other – Protestants on the one side and Catholics on the other side.
Five hundred years later we see a very fragmented church; we see particularly among the Protestants: Congregationalist, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Anglican and here we have Presbyterians. I’m not a theologian. I’m not here to ask why so many denominations exist; what I do know, as the brother sang very well, there is one God and that is all we need to concern ourselves about, but Congregationalism and Presbyterianism have a special quality among the Protestant churches because they are not dominated by a single Bishop or Pope; they allow the congregation to speak freely, they allow the congregation to participate fully and that is what is special about Presbyterianism, especially Scottish Presbyterianism and the Congregationalism and as Reverend Austin could tell you, I was at Freedom a few weeks ago and of course I was at Ebenezer. Ebenezer is a youngster, just a hundred and seventy years old; not yet a hundred and seventy-five, a hundred and seventy-four; you’re getting there.
We on the West Coast of Demerara, we in Guyana are particularly conscious of the role that the church played in the emancipation of the Africans. Africans had been enslaved in this country for about two hundred years, but the enslavement of one person by another is prohibited in the Bible and Christians arose in Europe and elsewhere; they called for a more humane treatment of man by man. As was mentioned already from this podium, the enslaved Africans themselves did not accept enslavement; they rebelled, they revolted; they mutinied. Some of them became maroons right here in West Demerara up the Boerasirie – you may not know that – in 1795. There was a great Maroon War as the Dutch planters tried to find the people who ran off the estates and there was a huge fight and this went on for several months.
So the Africans themselves did not accept enslavement and they did everything possible to bring enslavement to an end and that is why the programme recognises 1823, the greatest revolt of all; over eleven thousand Africans west of the East Demerara revolted and on one morning in August the British troops shot down over two hundred of them at Bachelors Adventure – over two hundred; that is why we commemorate the 18th of August.
There is a monument out by the seawall; it is a day which we will never forget. Although it is connected with the Congregation Church, what came to be known as the Congregational Church and the Reverend John Smith. As you know Smith Church was built in his memory and instead of running east to west like St. Luke’s, I think it runs north to south, but that revolt was an effort, and it was a successful attempt, even though two hundred people were killed, for the Africans to free themselves because exactly ten years later the British Parliament passed an Act for the emancipation of Africans.
The only drawback was that the Act should have come into effect in 1834 and the Africans had to work on the same plantations for what they hoped would be eight more years in what was called an Apprenticeship period; as if they didn’t know how to be free, they had to be given an Apprenticeship. There was a revolt by Damon of course, you know on the Essequibo in August 1834; so all of these revolts helped to put nails in the coffin of slavery.
The long and short, my brothers and sisters, is that not only did the Africans desire to be free; not only did they revolt and rebel, not only did they run in the back dams, up the rivers, Boerasirie and elsewhere as maroons but also there were people in Britain who were prepared to work towards the emancipation of the Africans and among those were the non-conformists; those who didn’t conform to the established churches, particularly the Roman church and the Anglican Church; and you here at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church are heirs to that tradition of non-conformism and why is that so?
Because when Martin Luther started the Protestant Revolution, the Protestant Reformation, the Protestant transformation five hundred years ago at the same time in Germany, printing had been invented, had become common; so for the first time people could read the Bible for themselves, they didn’t have to get a Priest, they didn’t have to get a Clerk to tell them what was written; they could read for themselves and pray to God, not to a statue.
They didn’t have to be told what to say and that was the root of Protestantism that people could think for themselves and build a relationship with God; so as the years went by, as the centuries went by, if people disagreed with the church they would go off and form their own church, to God be the glory; they formed their own church and Presbyterianism is one such church.
As you know, the Scottish Presbyterian Church is different from the Guyana Presbyterian Church; if you ever went into a Guyana Presbyterian Church you might notice the difference. I myself, a long time ago, went to something called the Auchlyne Church of Scotland School. Auchlyne was one of the centres of Presbyterianism on the Corentyne coast and there is still a St. Xavier’s Presbyterian Church there, even though I am an Anglican. I used to go to Port Mourant to St. Joseph Anglican Church, but this is what we see here in the world today, a group of churches which broke away from Roman Catholicism and put power in the hand of the congregation to determine the form of worship.
And it is this tradition which gave energy and impetus to the entire emancipation movement because you had Deacons like Quamina, you have enlightened persons going to church and say, “How is it that God is saying that we are free and that we must worship and these planters are keeping us in chains?” and it did help to stimulate rebellion and revolt. So after emancipation finally came on the 1st of August, 1838, a great movement started and of course the planters anticipated that movement as early as 1835; they started to bring in Portuguese to work on the plantations. In May 1838, three months before emancipation, they started to bring in Indian workers to work on the plantations; no problem, but the Africans didn’t walk off the plantations on the1st of August, 1838.
They felt the Africans would have just had this great exodus and walked away but what the Africans did was the most intelligent thing that could have happened; many of them continued to work but they took their women and children off the plantations. They started to save their money and they bought abandoned plantations and those plantations are the ones that you have inherited here today here at Uitvlugt, at Hopetown, at Bagotsville and Queenstown – over a hundred of them, all over this country. In that decade between 1839 and 1848 freed Africans bought over fifteen thousand acres of land – cash, fifteen thousand acres of land, spending in those days a million dollars; not a million nowadays dollars, a million long-time dollars.
It must have been worth a hundred billion. I don’t know what it is worth now, but at the time of emancipation there were about eighty-four thousand Africans and by 1848 about forty-four thousand of them were living in villages like Den Amstel, Hopetown. That was the size of the movement; can you imagine half of the population of Guyana moving from plantation into villages? That is what happened; it was a miracle, a miracle that was wrought by people who were inspired by God and people who had the vision of looking after their pickney – pickney; some people don’t look after their pickney, but we will talk about that another time. As I told Freedom a few weeks ago, these villages were like houses which had been erected on four pillars.
The first pillar was the home: people who lived on the plantation during the period of enslavement did not live in logies you know, don’t worry with those stories. They lived in hovels that they built themselves with bush wood and thatch. If they had fowls, the fowls were inside with them. It was a very unpleasant existence. The planters didn’t build homes for them so the first thing they wanted to do was get off the plantations and get their wives and children in a home. Home – four letter word, don’t forget that young men – one wife, one home. But it brought the family together because before that a planter could send a woman to Wakenaam; send another one to Bachelors Adventure, send another one to Bagotsville. So once they got freedom they could worship God but at the same time they could bring their families together; poor as they were, they knew the value of the home and the family. So that was the first pillar.
The second pillar was the church. They built churches with their hands. Some of them weren’t pretty to look at. They didn’t get grants from Central Housing and Planning Authority. They had to build churches with what they had because they wanted to worship God and the churches they built were free churches. The planters had their own churches and I know St Luke got some assistance but essentially those churches were built by the worshippers themselves.
The third pillar of society, a hundred and seventy-five years ago, was the school. They wanted their children to learn something other than cutting cane. They wanted their children to read and write and count and spell. They wanted their children to escape from poverty. So the first schools we had were schools built by the villagers themselves and with the churches; church-schools, and in this way children would learn not only academic subjects but values and standards, learn to respect one another, learn to worship God, and those of you who are my age would know that those of you who are over fifty – that’s right, I’m over fifty – that those of you who are over fifty would know that in the church you look outside and see the school. When you’re in school you look outside and see the church. So when you’re at Bartica, St. John the Baptist, when you’re at Auchlyne, Church of Scotland School, when you are at Comenius, Moravian school.
The church and school worked together to ensure that children were brought up; not only learning to count and read and write and spell but also learning values to respect each other. I will come back to what the good pastor had to say. Pastor Victor Horatio talked about values and standards.
And the fourth pillar on which these villages were erected were of course, the farm, where people ate what they grew and grew what they ate. No Churches, no KFC, no White Castle, no oil, no salt, just clean veggie food. That’s why so many people born in those days live to be a hundred. Nowadays people going off early, pack up with oil and salt, sliding into eternity, but those farms sustained human existence and I told the people in the Albion chapter – I think that’s a Congregational body, isn’t that so Reverend? – that when Black Bush Polder was being established people came to Fyrish and Leeds to collect the planting material. So it is untrue to say that after emancipation the freed persons didn’t want to work and they fled. That is how they could feed themselves. They don’t go to Bounty, they don’t go to Mattai’s, they had to feed themselves.
So those were the four pillars on which these villages were erected – the home, the church, the school, and the farm – and I warn you my brothers that if you kick those pillars down the village will collapse. If you kick those pillars down the building will collapse, will fall, and if you go into any community and the schools are empty, the churches are empty, the farms are overgrown and the homes are broken, we are dealing with catastrophe, we are facing catastrophe; so you know where I’m coming from.
To the extent, my brothers and sisters, that we have departed from the covenant of our forefathers – that covenant of a hundred and seventy-five years ago in which they, illiterate people, these were not magnates, these were not big shots, these were not tycoons, these are tough farmers – saved their money to buy homes, to build schools and churches, open farms, and you all know very well on the west coast here, some of you didn’t plant these sapodilla trees or mango trees; the wise people planted them. They cannot buy it in the market; people had wisdom to plant and feed themselves. That’s what I’m doing in Linden at six ’o clock this morning, planting trees because today is the first day of Agriculture Month and we have to plant trees. As I told my colleagues, that if Bartica alone had one breadfruit tree in every yard, Bartica could produce a million pounds of breadfruit every year. Bartica alone could produce a million pounds of breadfruit every year, if every yard planted one breadfruit tree. So I hope that here in West Demerara on the first Saturday of October, people will be planting trees like mad because you’ll be able to feed yourself and stop going to market; but that’s another story.
The point that Reverend Horatio was making this morning in his sermon is that there are clear symptoms of decay, symptoms which never seemed to exist in this volume or with this intensity sixty or eighty years ago. Why is there so much suicide, why is there so much interpersonal violence, teenage pregnancy, school dropouts and a declining church attendance? He quoted some examples; I won’t disturb you further by repeating them, but there was in existence among us, among these villages, some concept of godliness – that there was a Kingdom of God and that we needed to behave in a certain way to inherit that Kingdom of God and that killing yourself was not the way to enter the Kingdom, that chopping your wife’s hands off, that substance abuse, smoking, drugs and all of that, that dropping out of school at twelve or thirteen, or getting a baby at twelve or thirteen was not the way to achieve that Kingdom – and in my view some of these problems we face have arisen because of the abandonment of those four pillars which our forefathers laid down.
So my message to you, simply, is to “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God”. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus refers twice to the Kingdom of God (you never realised that?) in the Lord’s Prayer alone; he refers to the Kingdom of God. He doesn’t mean that the Kingdom is far away in outer space. He means that the kingdom can come right here, if you live a certain way. In the gospels, nearly six dozen references are made to the Kingdom of God, not as a distant faraway place but as a place which is achievable and that is the reality which inspired me to speak about the ‘good life’ because we can have the good life right here on earth. We can have the ‘good life’ right here on earth if we do the things that are prescribed and we live the way that has been designated for us by Jesus Christ.
So all of these references to the Kingdom are meant to guide you to relationships with one another; when people asked Him what is the greatest commandment, He didn’t speak about lies or murder – love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and love thy neighbour as thyself – and if you abide by those two commandments you will see how good life will be here in Uitvlugt. That if you have a neighbour who is Amerindian or East Indian or Chinese or Portuguese or African and you love your neighbour as yourself there wouldn’t be any racism. Racism is against the word of God. You have to love your neighbour as yourself; it’s quite hard, it’s very, very hard to serve God and to love your neighbour but those are the only two things you have to do in order to create this kingdom on earth.
So reverend, pastors, elders, members of St. Luke, visitors, I can only challenge this church and all churches: Anglican, Presbyterian, Congregational, Lutheran, Catholic – all churches, to examine closely and carefully what happened in 1838 and how it was that these 80,000 freed men and women were inspired to save their money to start this beautiful village movement and I could ask you all in Den Amstel, as I did before, you think you can form a group to buy that village if it was going up for sale at today’s prices?
Just as our fore parents had the intelligence to save their money and invest in land to ensure that future generations would have secure lives we too have an obligation to maintain that land and make sure that that land is gainfully used, not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children for the next hundred and seventy-five years. So as you look back to the past let us provide a life for these children here, for the future. The village movement and the churches which were spawned by that village movement, particularly the Protestant churches – Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism – we now need to start a new movement. Not the old village movement but a new movement which seeks to provide Guyanese with that good life.
I think it is possible. And in this regard, I congratulate St. Luke’s on the 175th anniversary. I welcome the words of the pastors and the messages which were brought to inspire us to adhere to the struggles and the lessons and the experiences of our fore parents, but more than anything else to be inspired to use those experiences in order to build for us a kingdom on earth.
May God bless you, may God bless St. Luke’s parish church and all of you worshippers here today.