1. A Brief History of the ELCG 1743 – 1993:BIRTH PANGS OF A NEW CHURCH
On October 1743, a meeting was called by Mr. Abbensetts at his plantation about 85 miles up the Berbice River. These persons confessing the Unaltered Augsburg Confession decided to ask for the “free exercise of the Lutheran religion” apart from the stated recognized Dutch Reformed Church, and also asked for help in getting a Pastor from the Netherlands. The date of this meeting is considered the birthday of Ebenezer Lutheran Church which is now in New Amsterdam, Berbice.
The first Pastor, Johan Henrik Faerkenius, arrived on 15 October 1752 and died 5 December 1754. He held services at Fort Nassau, Berbice River. Climate and health conditions made it difficult for people from the temperate climates to keep their health. The first four pastors served a total of less than ten years.
The third Pastor, Solomon Fridericus Muller, fled during the early part of the Berbice Slave Uprising that began 23 February 1763, at Canje, Berbice. That rebellion was led by Cuffy, a house-slave who had come to see the hopelessness of the slave situation. The uprising came to an end by the close of the year, but the bitterness and scars continued for many years. The Lutherans had no success in finding a pastor to serve them from 1779 to 1818, but regular worship services continued with lay leadership exclusively by and for the white planter class.
The Lutheran Church in Guyana later became a more inclusive Church in the nation, reflecting membership from African and mixed, East Indian, Amerindian, Chinese, Portuguese, North European – the ethnic groups which have shaped the history of Guyana.THE MOVE TO NEW AMSTERDAM
In 1803, the British took control of the colonies of Berbice, Essequibo, and Demerara. The original Dutch settlements had been upriver and now in this period, the colonists migrated to the coastland where significant amounts of land had been reclaimed from the sea, as had been done in the Netherlands. The Lutherans applied for land in the new town of New Amsterdam and in 1795 were granted their application for the land the Church now occupies at Lutheran Courts. Tradition says that Ebenezer Lutheran Church was floated on a raft from Fort Nassau to New Amsterdam around 1800.
From about 1818 to 1822 the Lutherans were again served by a Pastor sent from Amsterdam, Holland, Domine Rudolph Scheffer: It was during his ministry that the Lutheran Church began to examine whether “coloured people and Negroes” could be members of the Church. The Church followed the footsteps of the efforts of the preceding decade of ministry among the slaves by such persons as the Rev. John Smith, a Minister of the London Missionary Society, who came to be known as the “Demerara Martyr” because he died in prison following his arrest for allegedly serving as an advisor to an 1823 slave rebellion. In 1825, the Rev. Johannes Vos arrived from Amsterdam, Holland, to serve the Lutheran Church in Berbice. He tried valiantly to work among the slaves, but not without opposition from some Lutheran members.
In this period there is evidence that a Lutheran church existed in Demerara and Essequibo. Little is known about it, though four of its engraved sacramental vessels are still in the archives of the Lutheran Church in Guyana, in New Amsterdam.
The last of the Dutch pastors to serve the Lutheran Church in Berbice was the Rev. H. W. P. Junius, who served from 1830 to 1841. Pastor Junius was handicapped by not being able to speak English well in a time when English was becoming the language of the land. It was during this period, in 1831, that the colonies of Berbice, Essequibo, and Demerara were joined to form the colony of British Guiana. The population at that time was 98,000: 86,950 African slaves, 7,521 free Coloured and Black, and 3,559 White. God’s spirit was alive and working hard in the land and by 1838 slavery was completely abolished.LUTHERANS ARE ON THEIR OWN
The Lutherans in Berbice were informed in 1841, by the Lutheran Consistory in Amsterdam, Holland, that the Dutch Lutherans were severing their connections with Berbice. In the ensuing years, the Lutherans valiantly looked for a Pastor, though without much success. On a few occasions, the Church was also served by both Presbyterian and Methodist Clergy.
In 1866, only eleven Lutherans were left and they asked that the Lutheran Church in Suriname (which had begun in 1741, just two years earlier than the Berbice Lutheran church) send a Pastor once a quarter to administer the sacraments. While the Rev. Johan H. H. Sander from Parimaribo, Suriname, was associated with Ebenezer Lutheran Church, he became acquainted with John Robert Mittelholzer, who was then a Congregational Minster. Pastor Sander instructed him in Lutheran doctrine. Mittelholzer went to Parimaribo, in 1878, was examined and confirmed a member of the Lutheran Church by the Vestry and Minister of the Lutheran Church in Suriname. The Rev. Mittelholzer first preached as Pastor of the Lutheran Church in Berbice on 15 September 1878, and celebrated Holy Communion in November 1878.
Pastor Mettleholzer was born in 1840 in British Guiana. His father came from Switzerland. His mother was a native Dutch creole. He was the first Guyanese Lutheran Pastor. He served the Church for 35 years until his death in 1913. During his ministry the church grew from 11 communing members to 378. After reorganizing and strengthening Ebenezer Church, Mettleholzer began an expanding ministry by serving Amerindians in the Berbice River. The Ministry continued at three points where he began work: Maria Henrietta, Ituni, and St. Lust, now part of the Reformation Parish, Berbice River. In addition to this, Pastor Mettleholzer and his wife were teachers in the secondary school established in their home and he was the leader in the affairs of the town of New Amsterdam.NEW RELATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES
The Lutheran Church in the then British Guiana took a different turn towards the end of the century when the Vestry of the Ebenezer Lutheran Church contacted the East Pennsylvania Lutheran Synod in the United States and became recognized as a parish belonging to that Synod. In 1890, Pastor Mittelholzer sailed to the United States to visit the Lutheran church there and was approved as a pastor of the East Pennsylvania Synod. The new relationship with the Lutheran church in the United States was followed by increased financial and spiritual support.
After the emancipation of the slaves, plantation owners continued their search for cheap and steady labour for their sugar plantations. In May, 1838, the first immigrants arrived from India as indentured servants. From then until 1917, when Indian immigration ended, 238,960 Indians came to British Guiana. They were often ill-treated and misunderstood under what came to be seen as a new form of slavery. Many died on the plantations as the result of disease and working conditions. Indentured immigration from Portugal and China also took place for a time during this period.MINISTRY AMONGST EAST INDIANS
The first Churches in British Guiana to bring the gospel to East Indians were the Canadian Presbyterian and Anglican Churches. They found the work more difficult because East Indians maintained their Hindu and Muslim religions. An East Indian man was baptized in the Lutheran Church around 1890, but it was not until about 1915 that more forthright ministry began by Lutherans among the East Indians.
After Pastor Mittelholzer’s death, missionaries came from the United States to serve the Lutheran Church. During his brief stay of just a few months, in 1914, the Rev. Milton H. Stine assessed the needs of the church and made recommendations to the Board of Foreign Missions of the General Synod, which then decided to take responsibility for the work in New Amsterdam. The Rev. Ralph J. White was the first missionary appointed by the General Synod to serve in the Lutheran Church in British Guiana. It was during his ministry that mission work began among East Indians. Pastor White, who served from 1916 to 1923, hired Anglican Catechist Charles Bowen in 1918, who was born in India of Indian parents. Catechist Bowen had grown up in a Lutheran orphanage in India after the death of his parents and had come to Dutch Guiana as an indentured immigrant. He worked mainly in Ebenezer Church until his death in 1924. Many leaders of the Lutheran Church in Guyana came from his family, including the Rev. Aubrey Bowen, who served as President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in British Guiana.
In 1925, after Catechist Charles Bowen’s death, Catechist Paul Masih Das continued mission work amongst East Indian until his death in 1948. It was he who introduced the use of Indian musical instruments into the Hindi services of the Lutheran Church. These services continued at Ebenezer until the 1940s. It was during his ministry that the St. Thomas Congregation in Locaber, Berbice, was organized. It was the first congregation comprised of East Indians. In the 1920s, the Lutherans established an industrial school at Ebenezer for teaching woodwork and painting and helped organize the Young Men’s Christian Association in New Amsterdam.MORE GUYANESE PASTORS – THE CHURCH EXPANDS
After 190 years of Lutheran Ministry in Guyana, there were only six congregations. The church began to move in a new direction when a policy was established for training Guyanese for the ministry. In 1936 the Rev. Aubrey Roy Bowen was ordained and began the first Lutheran work in Georgetown and environs. In 1938 Patrick A. Magalee, who had served the church as a printer and business manager before going to the United States for seminary training, returned to Guyana and was ordained. He took on the work of ministry in Berbice when Pastor Bowen left to begin the efforts in Georgetown.
In 1943, 200 years after the founding of Ebenezer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in British Guiana was constitutionally organized. Pastor Patrick Magalee became President of the Church from 1943 to 1949 and was succeeded by his colleague, Pastor Aubrey Bowen, who was President from 1949 – 1966.
As more Guyanese were ordained and missionary personnel increased, there was a rapid expansion of the church from 1943 to 1953, when the church grew from 12 to 42 congregations. In addition to the ministry in Georgetown, the church expanded up the Berbice River as far as Kwakwani; up the Corentyne to Crabwood Creek to West Coast Berbice, East Coast Demerara, and eventually East and West Bank Demerara. These efforts continued under the leadership of the following Church Presidents: Pastor Winston S. Bone, 1966; Pastor Victor R. Munro, 1966-67; Pastor Hector Magalee, 1967; and Pastor James B. Dookram, 1968-1972.
The Lutheran Church has always emphasized the importance of Education. By 1939, the Lutheran Church had established four primary schools. In 1944, the Church expanded its educational work by founding a primary school and a secondary school in Georgetown and Skeldon, respectively. By 1961, the Church had 19 Schools. These schools served the nation well. Then in 1976 they came under full Government ownership and control.
British Guiana gained its independence from Britain on 26 May 1966. Just a few months earlier, in February 1966, the Lutherans, sensing the spirit of the times, adopted a new constitution and the name Lutheran Church in Guyana. In 1964, Ebenezer dedicated its third building, which succeeded the one which had served the church for 150 years. In 1966, the Lutheran Church in Guyana dedicated the Lutheran Old Folks’ Home in New Amsterdam. It was the first institution in more than 100 years operated from local offerings.
In the years since Guyana’s independence, the Lutheran Church in Guyana worked with the Lutheran Church in America toward a time of financial self-support by 1980. After 1983, missionaries no longer served the church. During this period of stronger self-identity, the following persons provided leadership as Presidents of the Lutheran Church in Guyana: Pastor Paul T. Jagdhar from 1972-76, Pastor Samuel G, Seeram from 1976-78, Pastor Samuel Pillay from 1978-82, Pastor James Lochan, 1982-96; Pastor David R. Udit from 1986-88, and Pastor Jams Lochan from 1988-92.
By the mid 1960`s the Church began a deliberate search for Guyanese persons who would be trained as pastors at United Theological College of the West Indies (UTCWI) in Jamaica. This policy was established as a way of providing theological education for Pastors that was regionally based and culturally appropriate. It was hoped thereby that Pastors would be more inclined to serve the Church in Guyana for a longer period. A number of fine Pastors have received their theological training at UTCWI and served as Pastors of the Lutheran Church in Guyana.THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN GUYANA by 1980s
From 1970 onwards, the Lutheran Church in Guyana increased its participation and leadership in the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Caribbean Conference of Churches, and the Guyana Council of Churches. As a sister church of the LWF, the Lutheran Church in Guyana established a new relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which included some financial support of projects and programmes as well as sharing of ordained and other personnel for pastoral and educational ministry in the Church.
Pastor Rodwell G. Thom was elected President of the Church in 1992. The Church faces a challenging future in Guyana, where a fresh wave of hope and renewed zeal came in the wake of a new government elected in October 1992. The economic, political, and social history of Guyana meant great hardship for Church members, for Pastors, and indeed for society as a whole. The Lutheran Church in Guyana continued to reach out to receive new members from all walks of life in the face of emigration of many Guyanese to other parts of the world. The Church served 52 congregations in 14 parishes throughout the country with 12,000 baptized persons as members of the Lutheran Church in Guyana. The Church’s membership and leadership are an ethnic and cultural microcosm of the nation as a whole.
God’s Spirit is alive and well as the church continues to proclaim what Peter announced in Caesarea: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:34-36)
It is to the glory of God and the well-being of all of God’s people that the Lutheran Church in Guyana has ministered all these years. We look forward to God’s continued blessing in the challenging years to come.
By The Rev. Paul A. Tidemann, Missionary Pastor of the ELCG 1974 – 1978. 1993.
2. SOME REFLCTIONS ON THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN GUYANA (May 1979)
We live at a time when our Guyanese and Caribbean people, like all former colonial people, are seriously engaged in the search of an identity. The arts, literature, and music of our Region, indeed the rise and growth of the Rastafarians as a sub-culture of Jamaica, constitute a symbol of Caribbean man’s search for ‘roots’. Politicians encourage us, indeed command us, to eschew all that is colonial and foreign and to affirm all that is truly local and Guyanese. To wear a shirt and tie today is not only colonial but reactionary. A shirtjac and the Cariba are visible signs that you are progressive and with it. Thanks to our politicians, our people have developed some self-awareness and self-understanding. We do have a sense of history; we may not know dates, names, and places with historical accuracy, but we know from whence we have come. India, Africa, China, or Europe. We do know something of the plantation system with slaves and indentured workers. We are mindful of the evils of the past and many of us like to read or recite Martin Carter’s poem, ‘I come from the Nigger Yard.’
I am afraid, however, that as a small community who call ourselves Lutherans, we do not have a sense of our history and the notion of an identity as a church seems to elude us. Assuming then that we are seriously interested in forging an authentic identity as a church; knowing who we are and what we are, where we are, and whence we are going, I make bold to suggest that our quest for our identity must begin with the past, for the community we now call the Lutheran Church in Guyana, like Guyana itself, has literally come from the nigger yard. Let us, therefore, delay no longer but turn to a rapid historical resume of our church.
The Lutheran Church in Guyana, unlike many other churches, was not founded by missionaries. The Lutheran Church was founded by a group of Dutch planters who knew themselves to be Christians and Lutherans subscribing to the ‘unaltered Augsburg Confession.’ And so on October 15, 1743, this group, eighty-five miles up the Berbice River and in the home of Mr. Lodewyk Abbensetts, decided to plant their church. They decided,
“. . . that petitions should be forwarded to the Honourable Court of Policy (the colonial legislature) and to the Most Honourable Directors of the Colony, and their High Mightinesses the States General of the Netherlands, praying for the privilege of the free exercise of their religion, and that at the same time applications should be made by letter to the Reverend Consistory, of Amsterdam, soliciting their aid and cooperation in this urgent matter and also their good services in procuring a clergyman for the community.” (Beatty, p.4)
It is important to note several things here. The decision to establish the Lutheran Church comes about through lay initiative and the decision is made in spite of obvious difficulties: permission to worship as Lutherans since the established church was the Dutch Reformed had to be obtained from the Colonial powers --- ‘their High Mightinesses’ ---; they did not have a pastor, and they did not know how they would have financed the enterprise. Yet for all these problems, as Beatty remarked, The Lutheran Church was planted in the land of great rivers and far stretching seas by men of hope and vision.
Let us all note in passing that the colonial authorities gave no financial support whatever and consented to the Lutherans’ request to found their own church on condition that they would continue to support the established church. Likewise, the Lutheran congregation in Amsterdam, while showing a willingness to find a pastor, did not contribute financially to the project. In fact, they seemed to have first secured sound financial guarantees from the planters in Berbice before sending the pastor, and it appears that travel money was advanced with the clear intention that the planters would make good whatever was expended.
What were some of the limitations in the founding of this Church? It was a church of the planters, by the planters, and for the planters. There was no concern to share the Gospel with the slaves and Aboriginal Indians. How different the history of this church would have been and possibly of this land if the Gospel was shared with all?
Now I would like to leave this period of the founding of the Lutheran Church in Berbice (1743), pass over a period of 133 years, and pick up from the Mittleholzer Period (1878-1913). However, before we get to Mittleholzer, let us note in passing that Berbice passed into the hands of the British in 1803; that the last Dutch Lutheran pastor, Rev. H. W. P. Junius departed in 1841 with the announcement that the Consistory in Amsterdam was discontinuing its relationship with the Church in Berbice; that Lutherans turned to other churches for help and were without a regular pastor for 37 years; that the small group of Lutherans began to disburse the funds of the Church among themselves; and that it was the intervention of the Court of Policy (1876), which saved the Lutheran community from annihilation by ordering her remnant to re-institute a regular ministry (See Beatty, pp. 55-56). The Lutheran Church in Berbice, during these days and years, ‘seemed like a lost stelling, about to topple into the river, and float out to the sea, when the government intervened to save it.’ (Beatty, p.43). Today we look back on this intervention of the civil authorities and interpret it the way in which God chose to save His Church.
The order of the Court of Policy (1876) to institute a regular ministry in the Lutheran Church in Berbice led to the call and appointment of the Rev. J. R. Mittleholzer, a minister of the London Missionary Society (Congregational Church) with which communion the Lutheran Church had made arrangements for the services of a pastor following the termination of the agreement between themselves and the Methodist Church in August 1876. The Methodist Church supplied a ministry to the Lutherans from May 1849 – August 1876.
Under the order of the Court of Policy the vestry apparently negotiated with Rev. Johan H. H. Sander, Pastor of The Lutheran Church in Surinam, to serve Lutherans as the acting pastor. With his help Mittleholzer went to Surinam where he was examined and confirmed a member of the Lutheran church by the vestry and minister of The Lutheran Church in Surinam (August, 1878). He assumed charge of The Lutheran Church in Berbice on his return, preaching his first sermon in September 1878. Holy Communion was administered in November 1878 and, thereafter, on the first Sunday of each quarter. Pastor Mittleholzer’s ministry extended from September 1878 to his death on August 22, 1913 – a period of 35 glorious years. When he became pastor, the Lutheran congregation had a membership of 11. By 1890 the congregation had grown to 195 (12 years), and five stations/congregations were founded on the Berbice River. While ‘parish life was being so dramatically revived’, problems arose between Mittleholzer and his vestry, the latter charging that Mittleholzer was not a Lutheran pastor and asking for his dismissal by a court order. Mittleholzer won his case and then turned to the East Pennsylvania Synod for affiliation. Actually, it was the vestry that opened up negotiations with the East Pennsylvania Synod.
The Lutheran Church in Berbice with its five congregations was received into membership of the East Pennsylvania Synod. Pastor Mittleholzer’s ordination was accepted thus making him a bona fide Lutheran pastor, and from this time and for the next twenty-one years, the Lutheran Church in Berbice paid an annual apportionment of $300.00 (U.S.) to the East Pennslyvania Synod.
The East Pennsylvania Synod never gave any subsidy to The Lutheran Church in Berbice and in 1894 when Mittleholzer requested help to open work in Georgetown, the matter was referred to the Foreign Mission Board of the General Synod, but nothing ever came of the request.
It is arguable that it is under Rev. Mittleholzer that the Lutheran Church became a denomination of six congregations with fraternal links with another Lutheran Church. Mittleholzer had done much to save a church that was on the verge of toppling into the river and floating out to sea. However, it should be noted, and this is all the more important in view of the charge that is frequently brought against the Lutheran Church that it is an Indian Church, that at the time of Mittleholzer’s ministry when other churches were trying to evangelize the East Indians, no effort whatever was made by the Lutheran Church to meet the needs of these immigrants. The baptismal records of the Lutheran Church show that one East Indian young man was baptized prior to 1890. but there was no special attempt by the church to reach the East Indians until about twenty-five years later. (Beatty, p. 71)
Up to this point in her history we can say that the Lutheran Church in Berbice with her five congregations, for all her limitations had a clear identity and integrity. It was a self-sustaining and self-propagating church. It was more. It was a sending church and it did exhibit a zeal for the Gospel and a sense of mission in wanting to found a congregation in Georgetown. But slowly, inadvertently, and imperceptibly this Church loses her identity and becomes a Mission of the Board of Foreign Missions of the ULCA. To put it in blunt political terms, it is at this point in time that The Lutheran Church in Berbice with her turbulent but proud history became colonized and not surprisingly surrendered her status as an independent church for that of dependent mission, The Lutheran Mission in New Amsrerdam.
Upon the death of Mittleholzer (1913), the vestry of Ebenezer wrote to the East Pennsylvania Synod advising that body of the death of their pastor and requesting the services of another. The Rev. Dr. Milton H. Stein, chairman of the Advisory Committee in Home Missions, decided or rather volunteered to go. Again, it is most significant to note that Ebenezer pledged $1200.00 (U.S.) for his salary and agreed to pay the travelling expenses of Pastor and Mrs. Stein. Up to this time The Lutheran Church in British Guiana had received not a blind cent from The Lutheran Church in the U.S. and was certainly not looking out for any financial support. Stein arrived with the intention of serving for one year, but after three months he returned to the U.S. and recommended that the Board of Foreign Mission of the General Synod accept responsibility for the work. That recommendation was accepted by the Board on March 25, 1915: ‘Resolved, that the Board of Foreign Missions hereby take over the New Amsterdam Mission as part of its regular work.’ This decision was the beginning of the illness that has afflicted us over the years. To put it in the language of one of our ex-pastors, ‘with this decision, a leperous hand touched us.’
‘Consistently for the next quarter of a century the Board handled all its dealing with the church in British Guiana through the ‘missionary in charge’. (Beatty, p. 76)
The role and power of this ‘missionary in charge’ were analogous to those of the colonial governor. The Mission in New Amsterdam was run single-handedly by ‘the missionary in charge’.
It is surprising, as Beatty rightly remarked, ‘that the Ebenezer Vestry, which in the past had so strongly epitomized the independent spirit of the traditional Dutch ‘Kerkeraad’, so readily accepted the new situation.’
Home rule came to the Lutheran Mission in New Amsterdam when the Mission was renamed and reconstituted under the title Evangelical Lutheran Church in British Guiana in 1943, amenable to The United Lutheran Church in America. The Treasurer of the Church, for example, had to be appointed by the Board and the ‘church was free to act on its own initiative as long as it acted in a way which the Board could accept. (Beatty, p.97)
To mark its bicentennial anniversary the following goals were set: the founding of 15 congregations, 10 Preaching Points, 900 communing members, greater self-support. All these goals were achieved except the last.
“From the end of 1938 to the end of 1943 the following increases were recorded:- pastors – 33%, catechists- 233%, congregations – 217%, preaching points – 333%, communing members – 149%, local offerings – 313%, subsidy – 344%,. It is evident that the number of congregations and preaching points was increasing considerably faster than the communing membership; the number of catechists was increasing tremendously faster than the number of pastors; and the subsidy was increasing so fast that the rapidly increasing local offerings were not sufficient to prevent a decline in percentage of self support.” (Beatty, p.97)
Four congregations were organized with less than 5 communing members, and Seafield, which is today one of the smallest and weakest of our congregations - struggling desperately for survival -, was organized with the largest membership, 49 communing members. Ralph Winter, in his study of the LCG, ‘The End of the Beginning’ (1971), refers to the period 1936 – 1947 as “The Fabulous Eleven Years” when the LCG grew from 262 to 1768 and goes on to say, ‘Even the spectacular growth of the Assemblies of God in the last two years (doubling from 1,000 in 1963 to 2,000 in 1969) is not quite equal to the record of the Lutheran Church during the ‘the fabulous eleven years’ 1936-1947. I doubt if any church in Guyana has a record like that.’ (Winter, p. 9)
This phenomenal growth was based on the ‘mere decision to expand.’ But to what extent was this growth genuine and would the Evangelical Lutheran Church in British Guiana have been able to achieve this and more without American funds and administration, style and flair? These are questions which must not go unanswered. A vision more than a creation would have been better by far, and would The Lutheran Church in America not have done better to have given us a truly independent status setting us free to ‘do our own thing’? To restore to us, as it were, the identity which they inadvertently took from this Church? Did any of our local or native leaders see something iniquitous in the whole scheme of glory, romance, and power? Were we not saying then, as we are saying now, that the transcendent power of the Gospel really does not belong to God but to the Almighty dollar? Thus to ask what has gone wrong with this Church today is to overlook our history, to deal with symptons and not the cause of our illness, to want glory and romance, and not the power, grace, humility, suffering that the Gospel offers.
In 1966 the Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana adopted a new Constitution which made her a politically independent church. Whereas, the 1943 Constitution made the Church amenable to the Board, the 1966 Constitution established a truly independent church. However, since the LCG still depended heavily on subsidy, political independence turned out to be a paper independence and an empty symbol. Again, we need to raise the question why did not the BWM/LCA make that 1966 Convention the date for complete withdrawal of funds and personnel? When questioned in 1967, Dr. Erb said that would be totally irresponsible. More importantly, why did not our local leaders, the President and Executive Council, make 1966 the cut-off point for subsidy, if not personnel. The answer is simple. We bought the myth that without subsidy we could not be a church, and for all three years we continue to believe that myth, hence our malaise, our depression, our fear, our anxiety.
Let me quickly mention two further dates which are of importance for us. In 1967 the LCG conducted a high-powered study conference in co-operation with the BWM/LCA. It was a significant conference and in many respects mapped out useful strategy for the consolidation, growth, and development of The Lutheran Church in Guyana. Promising were the beginnings of follow-up, especially note-worthy were the work of the committees on Indigenization and Financial Potential. I think good work was also done by the Committee on Education. What, we may ask, have become of these committees, their efforts, recommendations, etc.? Of overwhelming importance were the studies undertaken by Schaller (1968) and Winter (1971). We shall have cause to refer to these documents later. Suffice it to say that these documents are invaluable to us in terms of strategy, mission and ministry, growth and development. They clearly outline for us a modus operandi, and we need to make them indispensable tools in the planning of our mission and ministry.
The next date I want to mention is 1980, What is so significant about 1980? Is there a sense of hope, joy, expectancy, maturity? Or is it one of fear and uncertainty – the beginning of the end or the end of our beginning? I think 1980 should be the year when The Lutheran Church in Guyana finally becomes an authentic and credible Church with an identity it has long sought, with a vision that is glorious, and with a mission and ministry that is of God.
However inadequate this historical overview has been, it is abundantly clear that The Lutheran Church in Guyana was never able, never did try, to develop a truly indigenous character, except for the one period of the Mittleholzer’s years. The Lutheran Church began with the Dutch model and when the work was taken over (1915), this model was supplanted by that of North America. None of us is so base as to deny the nobility and tremendous worth of both missionary and native leadership. We shall always remember with thanksgiving the native fathers of this church; P. A. Magalee, A. R. Bowen, W. A. Blair, A. T. Williams, Paul Masih Das, T. C. Menzies, R. L. Singh, and others whose names I do not know. Nor will we ever forget the missionary fathers Hass, Matchetzki, Wolff, Parker, Beatty, and with us today our own Paul G. Hansen and Elaine Wagner. For all their limitations, these are the saints, fathers, and founders of the Church – saints, fathers, founders who have left footprints on the sands of time and given us a ‘goodly heritage’ and who are worthy of our love, admiration, and deepest respect. Yet, we have to say that they accepted and we perpetuated the American model of the church, its organization and administration, and its approach to mission and ministry, and that acceptance ipso facto bound this Church – enslaved, imprisoned - in a stultifying relationship of dependence, a relationship what has made us psychological cripples with a beggar’s mentality.
Now with 1980 in sight, The Lutheran Church in Guyana for the first time has the opportunity that has long eluded her to be truly authentic, independent, and an indigenous Lutheran Community in fellowship and partnership with all Lutheran and other Christian bodies engaged in mission, ministry, and service. What shall we do about this glorious opportunity? Whether we mature, grow, develop and expand, or whether we conduct and manage our own affairs well and with pride and dignity, or whether we acquit ourselves with competence and integrity, or whether our mission and ministry reflect the power of the Gospel and the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, are precisely the questions which must constitute the challenge that is set before us and provoke us to ferret out the right response and attitude, knowing the answer and attitude will finally frame and determine our identity.
But before we can properly speak of challenge and response, strategy and integrity, there is a prior and crucial question of far, far greater importance. That prior and crucial question is how do we interpret our call to the ministry? And how do we answer the question, What think ye of Jesus Christ? And correlatives to this question are: What do we understand the Lutheran community under the name Lutheran Church in Guyana to be? What do we expect of this community and what does this community and the larger Guyana society expect of us? What is the primary function of this community or church anyway? The philosophic or theological answer we give and the stance we take must be prior to the issue of plans, programmes, and strategy. On a previous occasion I mentioned to you – and since it is not irksome to me and (hopefully) is safe for you – I will mention it again that individually and severally we must be convinced of the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ over our lives – life – church – and can have no reservation on the power and proclamation of the Gospel. Living as we do in a Socialist State when the demands are great for involvement in various civic and community activities – all hopefully noble and altruistic in intention and purposes – there cannot be, there must not be, an equivocation about our commitment and priority. Unless we are clear on the questions of who we are and what we are as a church/community, we will run aimlessly and box as one beating the air. Unless we can define simply and clearly who we are and what we are about, people within and without the Church will do that for us. With some justification, they will see us as hirelings not shepherds; actors not pastors; an organization not a church; men and women who are inauthentic and pale useless facsimilies, afraid to get drunk because we know little of sin and less of salvation; men who remain on the pay-roll of the Church because we cannot do better elsewhere. Assuming, then, that we understand and interpret aright our call to the ministry and that we are convinced that the primary task of the Church is the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what can we say of strategy in a Church that must live authentically and creatively, without U.S. dollars but with and under the Grace of God sola.
As I said earlier, the Schaller’s Report, ‘Planning for Tomorrow’s Church’ (1968) and Winter’;s ‘The End of the Beginning; (1971) are two invaluable and useful documents which set forth all the possible approaches and strategies which the LCG can use as she seeks to fulfill her mission as one of God’s agents in Guyana. Let me mention a few things from these reports as well as my own reflections.
I believe that the Executive Council is burdened with too many housekeeping matters and as a result has little or no time for the projected and overall planning of and for The Lutheran Church in Guyana. I am, therefore, convinced that either the Executive Council take on this important function or else appoint a competent person as chairman of a committee to deal with the matter of planning, consolidation, growth and expansion. I am further convinced that unless we engage in some serious and aggressive planning with a sense of urgency, this Lutheran Church in Guyana will continue to shrink, become more warped and introverted, with our pastors ready to disburse the funds and real estate of the church and disband, a community that would simply die of atrophy. How would we grow and expand without foreign aid? This is the thrill and secret of the whole enterprise and that is why we should read, study, and implement Winter’s proposals. You may dismiss Winter as a cockeyed optimist, but listen to him anyway:
‘In fact I am tremendously impressed by the potential within the church in Guyana. I came away with the unshakeable confidence that it is perfectly possible for the church to triple its membership by 1980. This means having not 52 but something like 192 congregations, having 16 Guyanese pastors and 192 trained, ordained Deacons . . . . . here you can at least see that I believe that the Lutherans in Guyana, because of the combination today of a number of factors, have arrived at the end of their beginning, and that the greatest and most significant role of the church is ahead and not behind. There are only several things that are necessary for this dream to come true. The most significant has to do with the development of new kinds of leaders.’ (Winter, p. 13)
To be fair to The Lutheran Church in Guyana Winter;s proposals were received and accepted and studied, and the attempt to create ‘a new kind of leader’ in the ordained deacon through the formation of the Guyana Extension Seminary was made but not sustained. I think I am on safe grounds in saying that what the Guyana Extension is today is not the sort of structure Winter envisaged. Guyana Extension Seminary the way Beatty and Tannassee organized it, without a penny or paperclip from anyone – certainly nothing from DWMEor the LCG – is the way that effort should have continued. What it is today is a classic example of how U.S. funds can destroy things. Whatever are the merits of the Guyana Extension Seminary, and they are many, that programme is simply not meeting the needs of this church in terms of what I have said, and we need to think seriously of launching our own programme. (The Guyana Extension Seminary operates on a $70,000 budget.)
This leads me to say that as a Church we need to study the Lutheran concept of ministry. We must begin to develop a clear understanding of the various offices that can be instituted for the service of the church. All of us do not have to be pastors, and ordained deacons need not see the office as a step to becoming a salaried pastor. Let me also say that the ordained deacon programme can only succeed to the extent that pastors understand the nature and diversity of ministry within the church and congregations.
The Lutheran Church in Guyana must begin, in addition to its deacon programme, a seminary for the training of pastors. This is not the place to discuss the founding of a seminary even in its broadest outlines, but I am convinced that for the Lutheran Church to have an adequately trained clergy, the organization of a seminary is necessary. This venture can be launched with the minimum of funds and personnel, and we should be thinking of September 1980 as the time when we embark on this project. Perhaps it would be an appropriate symbol for a church come of age. Theological Seminarians in the Region would not be considered redundant but options, and as institutions which would strengthen and supplement whatever is done here in Guyana. *See Schaller, p. 44; Winter, p. 22ff; Minutes #421 No. 7, 1974.)
The LCG should actively and prayerfully pursue all possible ecumenical ventures, not because we want to ensure the survival of each other, but because this ecumenical approach will provide the opportunity for small struggling congregations and groups to pool and manage their resources in such a way that the Word of salvation and healing will go forth to many, and those within the community of faith strengthened and nourished for greater and more effective service. No one who has read, even superficially, the two reports to which I have referred can fail to appreciate the dynamic and possibilities that are inherent in this church for change, growth, and expansion.
Let me mention one other thing before concluding. (I have gone on much longer than I anticipated.) I mentioned earlier that before we can speak of plans and strategy for mission and ministry, growth and expansion, we must be certain about our call and confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ; we must have a healthy and clear identity of ourselves; and we must be clear as to what the true purpose of this or any church is. Permit me to mention also, that there must be an immediate end to strife, party spirit, dissension, indiscipline, bitterness and spite among us as pastors and leaders. The problem of the Church at Corinth was not so much problems without as within and unless we, by God’s grace, are resolved to settle our differences, we will never be worthy and effective instruments of His peace and reconciliation. I am not that naïve to think that a community, Christian though it may be, is not afflicted with the sins which beset every man and every community. Human as we are, we must have our conflicts, personality clashes, persuasions and strong feelings on this, that, or the other thing. But when these things lead to chronic hatred, malice, and spite; and when we see that both the community and ourselves are wasting away because the cancer is eating deep into our systems; and we persist on the path of destruction, then as Paul puts it in Romans 1, “we become senseless fools with darkened and perverted minds exchanging the glory of the immortal God with the blessings of life, health, and peace for a mean, base, and animal existence.”
I have attempted in this rather inadequate overview of the history of The Lutheran Church in Guyana to show that by 1980 the LCG would have the opportunity for the first time of establishing and asserting her identity as a free, independent, and indigenous church and community, eager to put aside and behind her the burdens and difficulties of yesterday and anxious to become a more effective instrument of God’s Love and Reconciliation by adopting creative, dynamic, and exciting approaches to the Proclamation of the Gospel, mission, and service in this ‘land of great rivers and far stretching seas’. In this connection I have sought to call attention to the importance of the Schaller and Winter studies and reports of 1968 and 1971. Both reports project an exciting and glorious future for The Lutheran Church in Guyana with the sky as the limit to what can be accomplished in terms of growth and expansion. But I have been careful to emphasize that the prior and crucial question to those of planning and strategy, consolidation, growth and expansion, has to do with our individual and corporate call and commitment and a clear understanding and immoveable conviction of what is the first and true purpose of this or any other church. Starting with this premise, I went on to advocate a radical modus operandi, based on the studies of Beatty, Schaller, and Winter, which will not only help us to decolonize our structures and mentality, but free us to get on with the task that God in His mercy has given to us. I tried to say that internal party strife, hate, and bitterness among us as pastors and leaders of the LCG can become a deadly cancer which can annihilate this church, and that we either by God;s grace develop and nurture the will to live and work, love and serve together, or defy God’s grace and take the path of the pigs possessed by the demons and rush down a steep precipice.
The challenge and opportunity are before us and for us? What will our response be?
I began this paper with reference to Martin Carter’s poem, ‘I Come From The Nigger Yard’ and asserted that in a literal sense The Lutheran Church in Guyana has come from the nigger yard; for we are all descendants of slaves and indentured workers. Carter closes that poem with the beautiful, sublime and moving lines:
‘From the nigger yard of yesterday I come with my burden. To the world of tomorrow I turn with my strength.’
By God’s grace we say this and more, ‘. . . having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart . . . We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us . . . Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true, as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.’ (Words taken from the Book of II Corinthians.)Rev. Geoffrey G. Tannassee
United Theological College of the West Indies, Jamaica /
Former ELCG Pastor of Ebenezer Parish. (1966 - 1979)