Rev. Canon Dr. G. Llewellyn Armstrong
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FOR LOVE OF CHURCH
Let me begin here by pointing out that I am a very proud Barbadian who has been serving for 45 of my 57 years of Ordained Ministry as an Anglican/Episcopal Priest in the United States. I retired from the Episcopal Church 12 years ago, and for the past 8 years I have been serving a small congregation as Rector of The Resurrection Anglican Congregation in Brooklyn, New York in the newly created Province of The Anglican Church in North America. So I remain a Priest in the Anglican Communion. I am not ‘canonically resident’ in the Diocese of Barbados, so I am not writing as one who has an official say in the management of Diocesan affairs. Whenever I come home, I am afforded the courtesy of being able to celebrate and preach, especially at my home Church, St. Bartholomew’s where I was baptized and exercised lay ministries until I entered Codrington College for training in 1959. I am therefore free to express my views without any permission from anyone else but the Holy Spirit. So let me tell you why my love for the Anglican Church compels me to write this article.
A good place to begin is by quoting the Prophet Joel 2: 25-28, “It shall come to past afterward that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” I often tell myself that what I could do at 48 I can still do at 84; it just takes a little longer, but ‘myself’ reminded me of a few exceptions. Yes, I am having visions like a 48 year old, and dreams like an old man of 84, and they both have to do with the Anglican Church in Barbados. I have a dream of the Church ‘rising like a phoenix from the ashes’, especially at this time of the Covid 19 pandemic, the Emancipation celebration, much talk of reparations, and the recent deaths associated with abandoned Church properties. There is a saying that the difference between an old person and a young one, is that the old talks about what ‘used to be’ while the young speaks about what ‘can, or will, be’. Since at my age I am still claiming some youthful energy, I will touch on a little of the ‘used to be’, but mostly on what ‘can be’.
There comes to mind here the well- known Prayer of Serenity (attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr), and I quote the first part: “God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the Courage to change the things I can; and the Wisdom to know the difference…” The things we cannot change are history; we can write about it, talk about it, regret it, but we cannot change it. However, we can change the ‘course of history’, that is, the direction in which that history takes us. Therein lies the ‘difference’. The Church of England in general, and the Anglican Church in Barbados, in particular have been sorely criticized (and rightly so) for its role in the slave trade and the institution of slavery. In fact most of our churches were built either by slaves or newly emancipated slaves. That is a fact of history; even though regrettable, we cannot change that. So what course should we take? Tear down the buildings? Seek reparations? Turn our backs on the Church? Let us try to explore the options.
If we think of the Church buildings as ‘lemons’ from the days of slavery, we still thank God that we can make ‘lemonade’ (and some sweet Bajan one ) out of them. As we think of the Church buildings, we change the course of history by thanking God that we have places where we can go to find solace, fellowship, worship and spiritual refreshment for our daily lives. Here is how two hymn writers (W. Bullock and H.W.Baker) put it: “We love the place, O God, wherein thine honour dwells; the joy of thine abode all earthly joy excels. It is the house of prayer…We love the sacred font…We love thine altar, Lord…We love the word of life…We love to sing below…” (CPWI Hymnal # 741) Where else could we have this experience? In addition, most of the churches are used as hurricane shelters and some Church buildings used for community programmes. Great!