President David Granger: As the Bible said, “I was glad when they said unto me; let us go into the house of the Lord”. I am happy for this invitation and I am glad to be able to attend here today, with my wife Sandra. I grew up in Oronoque Street and Sandra grew up in Anira Street so it is a small community; a lot of things have happened in Queenstown and I will tell you about them but this is only one and yes, I did attend Comenius Moravian under the well-known Basil McGowan- legendary headmaster.
Reverend Nigel Hazel, Worship Leader; Reverend Brynmore Paul, Preacher; Reverend Victorine Kellman; Reverend Leroy Levans; Brother Noel Adonis; Chairman; Elders and Officers of the Moravian Church of Guyana; visiting religious leaders; congregation; guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen: True, I did attend Moravian about sixty-five years ago and I have always remarked that the relationship between church and school are so intimate that there was always a fusion between religious values or the sacred values and the secular values.
I spent much of my childhood at Bartica where I attended the Saint John the Baptist Anglican School and went to the Saint John the Baptist Anglican Church and of course, when I go to Bartica on Sunday, they’ll invite me to St John the Baptist Anglican Church and then I went to the Corentyne where I went to Auchlyne Church of Scotland School and I did worship at the Saint Xavier’s Presbyterian church.
Then I came here to Comenius Moravian but then I went back to Christ Church where I was baptized and I ended my primary education at Sacred Heart in Main Street; the Roman Catholic School, but what struck me on each occasion was that you could look out of the church window and see the school or you could look out of the school window and see a church and sometimes I wonder if we didn’t throw out the baby with bath water because now, as you can clearly see, there needs to be a fusion between academic education and spiritual education. There needs to be a relationship between the values that you learn here in church and the values which ought to be taught in school and I don’t think the divorce between the two could necessarily erode or destroy our social values. I believe, in a way, that relationship helped to build social cohesion. A few days ago I was at Saint Stanislaus; I was at Saint Rose’s graduation ceremonies and you could see that because of the secularization of education; if you want to call it that, those schools are much more integrated, there is greater social cohesion now than before. When schools tend to be exclusive it meant that the Headmaster had to belong to that denomination and then the pupils had to belong to that denomination. So the schools, in a way, were exclusive but now they have become inclusive; but we, as Guyanese, have to find a way of ensuring that by being more inclusionary we don’t lose the values which the church traditionally brought into education.
So being here, this afternoon, you know, it is a bit of nostalgia for me and for my wife Sandra although she didn’t come to school here; a lot of things happened in Anira Street, I can tell you that. You know, sometimes people think weekends are free so this is a good time to ask the President to come; a lot of people think weekends are free so the President must have free time on a Sunday. Well, sorry to say, on Thursday I was at Kako in the Mazaruni River, on Friday I was at Lusignan, on Saturday I was at Vreed-en-Hoop and this morning I was at Eccles at the Guyana United Mystical Council and regrettably I’ve had to ask Brother Noel Adonis to allow Sandra and I to leave early because of another engagement. So I’m very disappointed that I can’t stay for the entire service, but let me warn you that weekends are busier than weekdays and if I want time-off I have to try to get some time weekdays because this is what I do on weekends.
My brothers and sisters, this is a very important ceremony for me and that is why I came. I don’t regard it as a chore or a burden or an ordeal, I think that the message of the Moravian Church is one which has been broadcast throughout this country and obviously this year, in fact, last month the world observed the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. You know that Martin Luther on the 31st of October 1517, am I right 500 years and 26 days ago? He launched a protest against the abuses and the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church by posting what he called Theses – 95 Theses or criticisms on what the Roman Catholic Church had published on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. Luther was a German and his action on that day, it seemed simple at first, actually triggered the most significant change in Christian practice. I’m not a priest but I will say that since Christ’s crucifixion nothing so significant as the Protestant Reformation occurred; that is my view but the world, year before the last, in 2015, paid little attention to another significant anniversary, that was the 600th Anniversary of the Bohemian Reformation. That Reformation occurred 100 years before Luther’s Protestant Reformation and that reformation challenged the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church in much the same way as Luther was to do in 1517.
The Bohemian Reformation; some people call it the Czech Reformation because it took place in what is now called Czechoslovakia. Some people call it the Hussite Reformation because it was inspired by Jan Huss. Jan Huss was a theologian and he was burnt as a heretic in July 1415. The followers of Jan Huss later on, in 1457, established what you now know as the Moravian Church; committing themselves to four principles, which as Moravians I’m sure you know:
• The Bible is the only source of Christian doctrine that is the most important. If it is not in the Bible it didn’t happen, you cannot come afterwards and invent legend and stories and tales which have not been recorded in the Holy Bible.
• The second principle is that public worship should be modelled after the early Apostolic Church.
• The third is the Lord’s Supper, which of course is related in the Bible was to be received in faith
• And the fourth is that a Godly Christian life is essential as evidence of saving faith.
These were the fundamental precepts which were expelled by the unity of brethren in Latin. I see you got some Latin around here; the unity of brethren the Unitas Fratrum – unity of bothers or brethren and these were the precepts that were embraced at the turn of the 18th century and spread to other parts of the world, including the Caribbean. The Moravians were here long before the Lutherans and the Anglicans and the Catholics too. The Moravians established a mission in Saint Thomas in 1732 and in Jamaica in 1756 and they were the true pioneers of Christianity in the British Caribbean, particularly among the enslaved peoples.
The Moravian denomination was implanted here in 1738, when two missionaries of the unity of brethren came to Berbice, which was at that time a Dutch-owned colony. The Moravians were prevented from evangelizing the enslaved Africans; they were prohibited from preaching to the enslaved Africans and they had to concentrate their efforts on administering or ministering the gospel to the Amerindian people in the Berbice area and they established a mission at a place they called Pilgrims hoed it is a Dutch word or two Dutch words for “pilgrim’s hat”. I don’t know if it was because the sun was so hot, but that was a hundred and sixty kilometres inland, well upriver.
Life was very hard for the Moravian missionaries, progress was very slow but they persevered and by 1753, just 15 years later, they had a community of only 260 believers. It’s a very small congregation but by 1763 as you know, those of you who know Vlissengen Road, there was a man called Kofi from the Berbice River who launched that great revolt in February 1763 and it was because of that many of the Indigenous people went deeper inland and the Moravian missionaries were unable to follow them and they were forced to abandon the first mission at Pilgrims head.
It took a long time for them to come back to British Guiana as we were then. By that time the Dutch had left in 1814 and the British took over from the Dutch. So when they came back in 1878 it was under the British regime and they opened a new mission, at Plantation Graham’s Hall which I think is a source of some controversy or litigation, but I don’t deal with these matters.
The Moravians set out to spread the message that salvation could be attained by living in accordance with Jesus’ teachings. Christians seemed to pattern themselves after Jesus’s teachings therefore had to ask themselves, ‘how does one know when one is living the ideal Christian life?’ Jesus of course was unambiguous in His answer. We go back to the Holy Bible, right Moravians, the true source, in the Bible according to St Matthew we’re told that a Pharisee, a lawyer – I don’t want to put in the lawyer because sometimes there might be lawyers in the congregation. Jesus didn’t seem to have a very good relationship or opinion of the lawyers and I don’t know why this tradition seems to have come through the ages. Anyhow this lawyer asked Jesus, “Master which is the great commandment in the law?” And Jesus answered, in the words I’m sure you know, “Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.” This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” and these two commandments had all the law and the prophets, these are the words you read in the Bible. He could have talked about adultery, he could have talked about murder, he could have talked about breaking the Sabbath; but Jesus selected two elements which he felt were the great commandments; love the Lord thy God and to love thy neighbour. You can’t beat Jesus. You can’t do better than that. You cannot do better than that. Who better could explain God’s commandments than Jesus himself? So Jesus linked love of God to the love of your neighbour. In a way, you cannot love God unless we love our neighbour. Love of one’s neighbour is inseparable from love of God. Now you understand why I had to marry somebody from Queenstown.
Jesus at that time of course, was living among gentiles, and Jesus had to explain who was and how you could determine how best to love your neighbour. Who is your neighbour and how best to love your neighbour – and this is important for us Guyanese because when you look around we are living among people who don’t always look like us. We live among persons of African descent, of Amerindian descent, of Chinese descent, of European descent, of Indian descent and of mixed descent. The question is who is your neighbour? To me, this is a correct Christian question and the answer to that question is at the core of the concept of social cohesion in this multicultural country of Guyana. That is the question that we have to answer. Every day the newspaper columns, on Facebook, you know articles, we have to ask ourselves the same question the lawyer asked 2000 years ago, who is your neighbour?
So, I believe my brothers and sisters that the Moravian church in Guyana has a historic role to play particularly at this Second Biennial Provincial Ceremony. The synodal theme which is printed on the banner, “Fulfilling the Mission, Advancing the Kingdom in the 21st Century” emphasises the church’s founding principles and of course the church’s timeless mission to mankind – a 600-year mission if you judge from the time that Jan Huss was executed and let me go back to that moment. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, the word kingdom is mentioned twice, only in the Lord’s Prayer. And throughout the New Testament, it is mentioned about five dozen times. So Jesus had to have a reason for emphasising the importance of the kingdom and it is, mind you, again, I am not a man of the cloth, my collar is black; it is my view that on every occasion that Jesus referred to the kingdom he was speaking of the kingdom here on earth, that you should see the kingdom and you can reach that kingdom by following His commandments. You could reach that kingdom by loving God and loving thy neighbour. So the kingdom isn’t some place far away that you can do what you like on earth and by some miracle end up in the kingdom of heaven. You got to get it right here.
So I do believe that the mission of the Moravian church, the message of the Moravian church, that the theme of this seminar are all correct, that we have to advance the kingdom here in the 21st century. This is the time, this is the place and I do believe that the message of social cohesion of which Guyanese in this multicultural society can learn to love one another despite the differences in colour or complexion, we’re all God’s children and we have to learn to love one another and this church and every other church and the government and civil society and the Hindus and the Muslims must all work towards loving one another.
I don’t know if it has happened before but last Diwali anybody walking down Main Street would have seen a row of diyas leading to State House. I’m saying it was the first but I know Diwali 2017 was celebrated at State House in recognition of that important festival of our Hindus. Similarly, at the time of Eid the Muslims didn’t exactly break their fast but they had a meal celebrating Eid at the end of Ramadan, their holiest month. So State House has come to symbolize that social cohesion that it is a place where Muslims can go, where Christians can go, where Hindus can go and a place where they could share their ‘Guyanese-ness’. We will forever be a mixed nation. Nothing will ever ‘unmix’ us, we’re mixed forever. As old people say, we’re mixed for good. So, I leave with you this afternoon what I feel I’ve learnt from the Moravian church 65 years ago, that the message and the mission of this church, this synod should be to invite believers and unbelievers to love God and to love their neighbours.
My brothers and sisters, I extend best wishes for the success of the synod of the Moravian church and I urge you all to persevere in the church’s mission and may God bless you all.