All Saints Anglican Church: a mission, not a monument

My friends, it is written in the Holy Bible (in the book of Psalms, 127:1): “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

The hands of men did indeed build this house, indeed, through the Lord’s inspiration, one hundred and eighty years ago but their labour was not in vain. The watchmen stayed awake to keep the town of New Amsterdam safe but they did not wake in vain. Their labour and their watchfulness and were well spent. We are their successors; we have inherited a grand church in a wonderful town and a splendid legacy.

I remarked, at the re-dedication of the Eccles Assemblies of God Church on the East Bank Demerara at the start of this month: “Sacred architecture consecrates our faith. It celebrates our community and our country. It attracts devotees. It dazzles unbelievers.”

I say the same for All Saints. When it was conceived, constructed and consecrated, it was clear to all beholders that this Church was built to praise God and to perform his work on earth.

It was fitting that an edifice such as this would be located in the County of Berbice, now known as the East Berbice-Corentyne region. This is an amazing Region, the country’s third largest with an area of 36,234 km2 – making it bigger than Belgium. It is the only Region with three towns. Its cosmopolitan population of 125, 000 is made up mainly of persons of African, Amerindian and Indian descent and not so long ago New Amsterdam use to have a significant number of Chinese, European and Portuguese residents.

Several villages still bear their Scottish plantation names – Alness, Auchlyne, Kilmarnock, Kiltairn and Kildonan. Others still possess an A to Z of Dutch names – from Anna Clementia to Zorg.

New Amsterdam, Guyana’s second oldest town, is the capital town and the seat of the regional administration. It has its own State House, Supreme Court, its own technical institute, one of the country’s largest municipal markets and some of its oldest and most charming churches, mandirs and masjids and schools.

All Saints Church

This imposing and impressive wooden Church is part of New Amsterdam’s rich architectural heritage. The National Trust has identified it one of the town’s thirty-nine historical sites. We not only the congregation, not only the clergy, but also the government have a duty to preserve and protect it for posterity.

All Saints Church celebrates, today, its 180th anniversary. Its survival helps to explain the initial intention of its construction and its impact and influence on Anglicanism and on the East Berbice-Corentyne.

This Church was a creature of change. The first four decades of the 19th century were a period of transformation in the colonies of Berbice and Demerara-Essequibo. Dutch dominion ended effectively in 1803. The three colonies were ceded to Great Britain, formally, in 1814 and unified, finally, as British Guiana in 1831. The establishment of a single colony, where once there were three, had implications for both political and ecclesiastical administration.

Emancipation of Africans from enslavement in 1838 was the most significant historical development of the 19th century. It marked not only the liberation of the enslaved population but the initiation of the great village movement that transformed a cheerless archipelago of plantations into a series of human settlements stretching along the coastland from the Corentyne to the Pomeroon Rivers.

Emancipation in 1838 was preceded by the abolition of the ‘Trans-Atlantic Trade in Captive Africans’ which ended the ‘legal’ trafficking of persons of Africans descent in 1807. The introduction of ‘Amelioration’ measures allowed limited religious exposure for the enslaved population in 1825.

These three changes – Abolition, Amelioration and Emancipation – encouraged the emergence of a largely Christian population that necessitated the establishment of more churches and the education and expansion of the clergy.

The British Government decided to establish two sees of the Church of England in the British West Indies in the context of these changes in 1824. The first, the See of Jamaica, catered for The Bahamas and the Bay Settlements (later) Belize. The second, the See of Barbados, governed the Anglican churches in the colonies of the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and the Guiana colonies of Berbice and Essequibo- Demerara.

The Anglican Church, at the time, catered primarily for the European planter class and these changes had a profound impact on Guiana. The enlargement of the Christian congregation spawned by Amelioration, Emancipation and the inauguration of the village movement moved the local Anglican Church from being a church of the ‘plantocracy’ closer to becoming a church of the ‘peasantry’ and the people; from a system of exclusion to one of inclusion.

All Saints Church, therefore, erected one year after Emancipation, came at the right time, in the right place and for the right reasons. It was at the epicentre of those changes in East Berbice-Corentyne, the County of Berbice. The Church started as a parish. It did not have its own chapel but shared the use of a building with the Lutherans and, afterwards, with the Presbyterians. The common use of the church building created friction among the Anglican, mainly English and Presbyterian, mainly Scottish, leadership.

My friends, the construction of a new Anglican church was seen as a means to end this unsatisfactory situation. Construction commenced in 1836 and the consecration of the new church, named the All Saints Anglican Church, took place on 30th June 1839 – the event that has brought us together today.

All Saints was not built solely as a parish church. When you consider the grand design – its landmark tower, spire, clock with four faces, weather vane, three bells and imposing structure, seating capacity of one thousand – and its being headed by an Archdeacon suggested that it was intended to play a prominent role in the extension of Anglicanism in the County of Berbice. The Church has played that role. It has been supportive of the work of all the parishes which emerged in this Region.

The origins of this Church’s name are obscure. It is known that ‘All Saints Day’ is a Christian celebration observed on 1st November in honour of all the saints from Christian history. The Christian festival of ‘All Saints Day’, according to certain sources, comes from the conviction that a spiritual connection exists between the ‘quick and the dead’ – those who are living on earth and those who are dead and presumed to be in Heaven or some other place.

All Saints Day, in the Methodist tradition, relates to the giving of God’s gratitude for the lives and all of his saints, including those who were, or were not, famous. Whatever the reason for the name, 30th June, is most appropriate to this Church.

The Church, by its sheer size, stature and status, became the unofficial Anglican ‘cathedral’ of Berbice. It has been a pioneer of Anglicanism in this Region which boasts Anglican churches almost all of which bear the names of Saints:

St. Agnes, at No. 63 Village;
St. Barnabas, at Gilbraltar;
St. Columba, at No. 2 Village East Canje;
St. Joseph’s, at Port Mourant;
St. Margaret’s, at Skeldon;
St. Mark, at Alness;
St. Mary of the Angels, at Albion;
St. Mary’s, at Leeds;
St. Patrick’s, at Rose Hall;
St. Peter’s, at Sand Hills;
All Souls at Kortberaad; and
Holy Epiphany, at Orealla.

The Church’s mission

The Anglican Diocese occupies a prominent place and plays a pivotal role in public and private life in Guyana. Anglicans, today, constitute almost seven per cent of the population. Anglicanism has deep roots in our communities, with churches in every single hinterland and coastland region. Anglicans pioneered missions among Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, East Indians and Europeans.

Anglican Churches were so ubiquitous, when I was growing up in Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara, that I never had to travel more than 30 minutes from my home to worship. The Church, therefore, is part of a long historical tradition, a wide geographical community and deep social roots.

The Anglican Church is dear to me. I was baptised, confirmed and married and will die an Anglican. Anglicanism has shaped my personal, professional and political outlook. Anglicanism is my intellectual inspiration and spiritual sustenance.

Anglicanism is a product of the Protestant Reformation. The Church was created for a mission of which Jesus himself was the author. It is written in the Holy Bible (in the Gospel of Matthew 28:19 20) that Christ instructed his disciples: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

The core of the Church’s earthly mission is the preaching of the Gospel and the announcement of the Kingdom of God. It is written in the Holy Bible (in the Gospel of St. Mark 16:15) that Jesus commanded his disciples: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

All Saints Anglican Church has been faithful to Jesus’s commandment for the past 180 years. It has provided spiritual and material nourishment to the faithful and to the wider community of East Berbice-Corentyne. It has borne witness to Jesus. It has been an exemplar of Christian charity.

All Saints Anglican Church is an emblem of multiculturalism. Its congregations over the decades have included Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, Europeans and Indians as borne out by the Church’s records and the composition of today’s congregation.

The Church evinces its multicultural character though the prominent families with whom it was associated. The nominal roll of congregants includes the Allens, Archers, Baichoos, Brijmohans, Chungs, Dundases, Ganpatsinghs, Henrys, Ho Youngs, Kendalls, Kings, Odeens, Rambarrans, Sams, Steeles and many more.

The Church exemplifies its egalitarian character by showing that persons of different social strata, economic backgrounds and ethnic groups could come together to worship, support each other another and to serve the community. This Church is good example of how differences can unite rather than divide.

All Saints, over the 180 years, has shown its congregants that there is enough for everyone to be happy; that there is no need for conflict or confrontation. Human society is not perfect. Many persons have found themselves in unfortunate and difficult circumstances. Jesus calls us to be our brothers and sisters keepers – to help those who are abused, depressed, homeless, hungry, infirm, lonely and sick. They are part of the Christian family.

Social cohesion is about preserving human dignity; protecting the vulnerable and promoting harmony. The Anglican Church has a vital role to play in building social cohesion.

The bi-centenary

All Saints has a proud tradition of promoting social cohesion. It is closely-knitted faith community which has been of modest service to the Region. It built a school for the education of children in 1853. I commend the work of this Church and, particularly, the efforts of the Mothers’ Union.

All Saints Anglican Church will celebrate its bi-centenary in 2039. The Church transformed itself in 1839 by opening its doors in order to adapt to the greatest demographic revolution that was taking place in Guyana’s history. The Church must not be stuck in the past or, like the dinosaurs which failed to adapt, it will become extinct. This Church is not a museum or a monument. It has a mission that will be relevant for all time. It is a living mission.

Time does not stand still. Change everywhere – in this Church, in this congregation, in this country – is continuous. The Church needs no clearer guidance than the words of Jesus himself.

It is written in the Holy Bible (in the Gospel of St. Luke, 14: 18): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

My friends, I pray that All Saints will fill its pews with the young and the poor and with the prisoners who abound in this town over the next two decades.

The Cooperative Republic of Guyana expresses its congratulations and appreciation to the All Saints Anglican Church for its outstanding and long-standing ministry to our nation.

The Church has helped to implant and promote the growth of Christianity in our land and, particularly, here in East Berbice-Corentyne. May the principles which inspired the establishment of this Church and the precepts which have sustained it over the past 180 years prevail.

All Saints Anglican Church enhanced and enlarged Anglicanism in our country. It fostered inclusion by incorporating free Africans and, later, indentured immigrants into its congregation. It has become multicultural. Its programmes and ministries continue to promote social cohesion.

I urge the leaders and congregants to continue to be faithful to these principles. I commend the Church for its religious stewardship to this community and to this country. I urge the Church, through its ministry, to continue to contribute towards the shaping of a society where differences are respected, the weak are assisted and where everyone, regardless of class or ethnicity, feels a sense of belonging.

Finally, friends, it is written in the Holy Bible (in the Acts of the Apostles, 20:28): “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

I pray that God would grant his grace and guidance to the clergy and congregation of All Saints Anglican Church. It is written in the Holy Bible (in the Book of Psalms, 106): “And let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the Lord”. Ω

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