On Monday, 10th February 2020, the General Secretary of Council for World Mission (CWM), Rev Dr Collin Cowan led a delegation, comprising Rev Wayne Hawkins, Deputy General Secretary, Mrs Rose Wedderburn, Board Director, and Mr John Ellis, Treasurer, to pay a courtesy call on the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Brigadier David Granger, at the State House. The delegation was accompanied by Rev. Valeska Austin, Chair of the Guyana Congregational Union (GCU) and Rev. Keith Haley, General Secretary of the GCU. The GCU is a member of CWM.
The Board of Directors met in Guyana from 8th to 13th February for their first meeting of the year. This meeting, hosted by the GCU, comes on the heels of the landmark decision made by the Board at its meeting in November 2019, that CWM will come forward and publicly acknowledge its part in the Transatlantic Trade in African people through its predecessor organisations – the London Missionary Society (LMS) and the Colonial Missionary Society; to make reparation for the profits gained from its participation and complicity; and to commit itself to a lifestyle based on God’s justice and peace for all.
During the visit, His Excellency President Granger expressed his appreciation of the historical role of the GCU in the struggle for the liberation of the people of Guyana, and for CWM’s continued work in the service of the church and his country. The GCU played an important role in the history of the church and society’s resistance to enslavement. A deacon of the Congregational church, Quamina, now considered a national hero in Guyana, and his son Jack Gladstone, were leaders of the Demerara rebellion of 1823. The Demerara rebellion was one of the largest slave revolts in the British colonies before slavery was abolished, which, in Rev Dr Cowan’s words, ‘contributed in no small way to the emancipation from slavery for the people of this country’.
The story of the Guyana Congregational Union began with the arrival of LMS missionary John Wray on 6 February 1808. It was at the request of slave owner Hermanus Hilbertus Post, ESQ, who intended to guide his slaves into subservience, unconditional obedience and unquestioning loyalty so as to increase their market value. Besides preaching the gospel, Rev John Wray, however, took an interest in their social conditions and secretly taught them to read and write. His successor John Smith arrived in 1817 to minister to slaves who, after being educated, began to assert themselves as people, not slaves. One of the slaves influenced by Smith’s teachings was Quamina. Many churches were planted throughout Guyana; and the pantocracy and the British government were being challenged to look at the brutality of the slave trade system.
President Granger sang high praises of the GCU even as he challenged them along with the wider church community to raise the standard high and inculcate values of respect and decency among the children and young people of the land. He was grateful for the courtesy call from CWM, which lasted for a full hour despite the very busy schedule of the President with general elections only a couple of weeks away. In turn, CWM affirmed President Granger for his efforts to lead with honesty and integrity and wished him God’s guidance in the unfolding future. Following a presentation of a gift, bearing CWM’s vision, “Fullness of life, through Christ, for all creation”, Rev Cowan offered prayers for the President and people of Guyana, bringing to an end a most inspiring and insightful visit at the start of the Board’s three-day deliberations.