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 eight 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 pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream, 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 speak 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 their 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!
I have read recommendations that the Anglican Church in Barbados should pay reparations, and I ask, “To whom?” I find it interesting that some of those advocates of reparations are already reaping the benefits of ‘reparations’. They are well educated, well positioned socially and economically because they had a good educational foundation, either directly or indirectly, through the Anglican Church.
I can think of schools like Coleridge and Parry (formerly two schools, named after two Anglican Bishops of Barbados), which has produced two Governors General, Clifford Husbands and Elliot Belgrave; the late former Prime Minister of Barbados Owen Arthur; Bishops in my time, Bishop Brome and the late Bishop Sehon Goodridge; excellent educators, and civil servants.
Historical research will show the contribution of the Anglican Church to the other Government Secondary Schools. In addition, the Anglican Church is run by well educated and well trained clergy, both male and female, who benefited from the education in these institutions before going to Codrington College. These would include the Rt. Rev. Michael Maxwell, Bishop of Barbados. So, you see, reparations have been, and continue to be, made all along, both ‘in coin and in kind’.
There are some former Anglicans who have turned their backs on the Church, for one reason or another, and gone to other Churches. Fine! As I am pointing out in my third book (soon to be published) entitled, “Can A Denomination Bring You Salvation?”, there is no one denomination that has a monopoly on God’s truth. Our choice of a denomination is driven by our ‘spiritual comfort level’. So whether we worship with ‘smells and bells’ or tambourines, our ultimate goal is to have a personal relationship with Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, loving our fellow human beings as ourselves, for God’s sake. So we need to respect the godly ministry of the many other major and minor denominations.
By God’s grace, the Anglican Church made me who I am today and granted educational opportunities at Codrington, UWI, Columbia, Toronto, London, International Seminary, and Oxford, where I delivered a lecture at the Oxford Round Table, in addition to post-doctoral studies; with the opportunity to bless the Asantehene, King of the Asante, in his palace in Kumasi, Ghana; to be the guest of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa; to be invited to the White House with a few other clergy by President Jimmy Carter, to name a few of the notable opportunities. I could not have had these opportunities in any other profession. To God be the Glory. So let me now expand on my dreams for the Anglican Church in Barbados.
I have a dream of a Church that focuses less on status and more on mission outreach. The Church, through its dedicated clergy, has done some very good work in the community, but many people do not know, because the Church often does not tell. That should change.
Think of our Lord’s injunction in St. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven.” Tell of your good works for the glory of God. If you do not already have a ‘Press Officer’, then appoint one, to begin to tell of the Church’s outreach mission to the least and the lost: the illiterate, ex-prisoners, ex-prostitutes, deportees, etc.
I have a dream of the Church having an outreach programme in primary schools to children with reading difficulties, by inviting retired educators in the Church to exercise stewardship of time and talent in helping them to be able to read, and ultimately be able to cope with their studies and avoid delinquency. Educators know that literacy problems among youth are the basic cause of crime.
I have a dream of the Anglican Diocese having an outreach to ex-prisoners through what I call a Barnabas Second Chance Programme, based on the story in Acts 9: 26 about Barnabas introducing Paul to the Church. Maybe some of the former rectories, now abandoned, can be repaired with the help of people who can use them for training programmes, etc. Vacant lots, ever so small, can be rented to interested people to grow food.
I have a dream of the Church providing an opportunity to former prostitutes who want to change their lives and method of making a living in order to feed their children. There are those who just need help in making a new start. The Church is the best place from which to seek help because any serious request should be met with compassion and confidentiality. Remember that ‘street woman’ called Mary Magdalene? Because her real need for genuine love met with the unconditional and life-transforming love of Jesus, she became the first real ‘Apostle’, sent by Jesus to tell the others of her Resurrection experience with Him.
I have a dream of a Church that reaches out to deportees, who have to start over their lives with little or no resources, no family, and often, no friends. This can work; I know because I tried it with two people on different occasions: one I knew in the US, the other I met at home in Barbados. Now they both have their own small businesses. Yes, there are some who are redeemable; they just need a ‘second chance’. Remember that “The Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital (not hospice) for sinners.”
I commend these dreams to the Diocese of Barbados with a vision of them being favourably received and implemented. There is nothing original about these dreams, but as they came to me at this time, I feel compelled to share them with Barbadians in general, and the Anglican Church in particular. I know of Parishes that are sponsoring some of these programmes. The vision that I have is for these programmes to be sponsored by the DIOCESE through Parishes.
I am very much aware of the fact that these programmes need to be funded. The question is – how? Well, since the Church is a ‘Community of Faith’, let us look at Jesus’ first reaction before He fed the large crowd (including men, women and children). He was “moved with compassion”, not pity. When he shared with His disciples the challenge of feeding everybody, he was given a very realistic answer; they did not have the funds. It was Andrew who told Jesus, “There is a lad here with five barley loaves and two fish…” So He used what was available – a boy’s snack – to perform a great miracle by offering it up to God for the blessing, and in an organized manner, was able to feed the multitude.
Herein lies the answer to the funding source; we begin with what we have, ever so small, ‘a child’s portion’, offer it to God through His Church as good stewards, and look for the miracles of changed lives. My first book, entitled, “Let The Church Say ‘Amen’ To Tithes And Offerings” (By G. Llewellyn Armstrong) is available on Amazon. I am dedicating proceeds from the sales to the Diocese through St. Bartholomew’s.
This ‘old lad here’ is willing to offer the little he has to help perform a miracle in at least one person’s life. For example, if there is anyone in any of the above-mentioned situations who genuinely needs a new start, please contact me at 718-552-3008 or 718-552-3027 or e-mail: [email protected] I have already set up an Armstrong Scholarship Fund at my home Church of St. Bartholomew’s to help needy children, primarily of the Parish. So, with the permission of the Priest and Church Council, I will be willing to help, using them as the local contact.
So then, I have shared with you some of my ‘dreams’, as an old man, and ‘visions’ as one who is ‘young at heart’. Take them for what they are worth. To those who say that I like to ‘show off’, I say that I am glad that someone noticed, and I assure them that it is not really about me, but about God’s love in my heart working through His Church. To Him be the Glory.
In closing, let me strike two national notes; one happy, the other, sad. I commend Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her Cabinet for the very good job they are doing, especially at this time of economic challenges as well as the pandemic. I mourn with Barbadians at the passing of the former great Prime Minister Hon. Owen Seymour Arthur, to whom I owe a personal debt of gratitude. He walked with kings, but never lost the common touch. My sympathy and prayers go out to Barbados, the Caribbean, to his wife, children and other family members. May he rest in peace and rise in Glory. Amen.
G. Llewellyn Armstrong (Rev. Canon Dr.), Rector: The Resurrection Anglican Congregation, Brooklyn, NY.