(A Review of David Granger’s The Church’s Mission. Anglicanism and change in East Berbice, 1839-2019.)
The Anglican Church is the established Church of England and is the mother church of the international Anglican communion. The Church in the Province of the West Indies is one of forty member provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Province comprises eight dioceses spread out over much of the Guianas and West Indies.
It is from its English base that the Church’s missionary branches spread throughout the British Empire, with the support of the Crown. One of the places to which the Anglican Church migrated was British Guiana which formed part of Britain’s extensive territories in the Caribbean.
The British government initially established two Sees of the Church in the British West Indies. The first was the See of Jamaica, which catered for that island, the Bahamas and British Honduras (now Belize). The second was the See of Barbados, which incorporated the Leeward and Windward Islands and Trinidad and Tobago and the colonies of Berbice and Essequibo-Demerara, which were amalgamated in 1831 into British Guiana (now Guyana).
Anglicanism became one of the largest Christian denominations in the world through this process of transplantation. While Guyana was no exception, historical circumstances – including limiting religious education for the enslaved population and the introduction of indentured immigrants and their religions and denominations – meant that the Anglican Church never achieved supremacy in the colony as, perhaps, elsewhere in the West Indies.
David Granger’s The Church’s Mission. Anglicanism and change in East Berbice traces the fascinating history of the Anglican Church in East Berbice-Corentyne Region of Guyana. The story began two centuries ago during the Napoleonic Wars and continued through to Emancipation to present-day Independence in Guyana, where he, as President, marked the 180th anniversary of the All Saints Anglican Church of New Amsterdam last year. The book constitutes the text of this address on the occasion of the 180th anniversary of the All Saints Anglican Church on 30th June 2019.
All Saints Anglican Church holds a special place in local Anglicanism and in the country’s religious history, as the former President notes. He credits All Saints with reflecting the country’s multicultural and egalitarian character, bringing together people of all races, strata and backgrounds. The Church also provided succor to the poor and was a source of religious and secular education for Africans. More importantly, he argues, the Church expanded Christianity and Anglicanism in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region.
The book explores the evangelical tradition of the Anglican Church in Berbice. It examines its role in shaping the lives of the 19th century Guyanese ― including African-Guyanese, whose membership increased in the Church particularly after Emancipation. He locates the Church’s history within the broader themes of Emancipation and the country’s emerging multiculturalism.
Granger is not content, however, with merely memorializing the Church. He describes the Anglican Church in Guyana as an institution with a mission ― to save souls and preach the Gospel. It has a spiritual and social mission, one which the former President sees as being integrated rather than separated.
Granger’s deep, personal reverence for the Anglican faith and his sincere belief in its Mission can be sensed in this text. He admits that the Anglican Church is dear to him, pointing out that he was baptised, confirmed and married and will die as an Anglican. “Anglicanism,” he says, “…has shaped my personal, professional and political outlook. Anglicanism is my intellectual inspiration and spiritual sustenance.”
For this reason, he can be forgiven for overlooking the Church’s role in perpetuating the social and racial inequities during the colonial era. He mentions the mingling in the Church’s congregation of both ex-slaves and the great and the good of Berbice, pointing to it as an example of the Church’s egalitarianism but fails to mention how racial segregation and stratification infected the division in seating arrangements in the Church’s pews.
Anglicanism also cannot be divorced entirely from the colonizing experience. The Anglican Church was part of the process of implanting English values, of defending the status quo, of supporting the Crown and the planter classes and, thereby, of being an agent of colonial hegemony.
Granger makes an interesting observation. He says that many of the Anglican Churches in East Berbice-Corentyne bear the names of Saints, most of whom were born, lived and carried out their work in Europe, thousands of kilometers away from Guyana.
The Church’s original mission, therefore, was shaped by a missionary outlook aimed at spreading the word of God and converting souls. It was this imperative which led to the establishment of churches on the coastland and missions in hinterland regions. This was arduous, painstaking work which often resulted in setbacks.
The Church’s missionary outlook influenced its social doctrine. It asked the faithful to accept their lot since a better future awaited them in the afterlife. Its social works were ameliorative rather than transformative. Even in the field of education, the Church was seen as helping primarily to prepare citizens for integration into colonial society.
Granger acknowledges that the Church today has changed, noting that the institution itself is a creature of change and is not immune to the changing character of society. He concludes that All Saints Anglican Church has been faithful to Jesus’ commandment by bearing witness to Jesus and, through this witness, by providing spiritual and material nourishment to the East Berbice-Corentyne. He ensures that the role of All Saints Anglican Church is not diminished by the passage of time. The Church was an important foundation stone in the expansion of Anglicanism in East Berbice-Corentyne. It assumed an important place in the town’s and Region’s history.
The Anglican community will find this book a useful and insightful source of information and interpretation of the Church’s history. All Saints Anglican Church was part of the process of a Euro-centric church developing strong local roots and becoming acculturated.
The Anglican Church adapted to change during the first 100 years of its existence in Guyana. Its experiences – both achievements and setbacks – as exemplified by All Saints Church are instructive for the entire Anglican Diocese. They confront the challenges of remaining relevant and reviving its declining congregations.
The Church’s Mission. Anglicanism and change in East Berbice sends the message that the seeds of evangelization will fall on fertile ground if they are responsive to the social conditions of the time. As All Saints Anglican Church was 180 years ago!
Christians will find David Granger’s book not just an inspiring commentary on All Saints Anglican Church but, also, a resource to help Christian Churches to navigate their present challenges.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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