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– The Congregational Church in post-Emancipation Guyana.
David Granger’s Congregationalism and communitarianism. The Congregational Church in post-Emancipation Guyana recalls the historic role which Congregationalism played in the struggle of enslaved Africans for their emancipation. It is an aspect of local history which remains underreported and underappreciated.
David Granger defines ‘communitarianism’ as the fusion of the evangelical constitution of Congregationalism with the Church’s communal character. It refers to the social ministry of the Church which “…emphasizes the interactions among a community of people who share a common history or purpose and who live in a shared geographic space.”
The Congregational Church, like most traditional Churches – Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic – suffered a decline in membership and church attendance over time. What cannot be diminished, however, are the historic contributions which traditional Churches – not the least of which is the Congregationalists – have made to education, economic emancipation and community development.
A defining feature of the work of traditional churches has been their social mission. These churches not only erected places of worship but, also, established institutions such as hospitals, schools and benevolent societies which continue to provide services, especially to the vulnerable.
David Granger’s Congregationalism and communitarianism. The Congregational Church in post-Emancipation Guyana provides an account of the contributions of the Congregational Church and the pivotal role it played in African-Guyanese communities. He emphasizes the Congregational Church’s deep roots in present-day villages. The freed Africans after Emancipation in 1838 initiated the great village movement across the coastland.
Congregationalists joined with the freed population in establishing churches within many of these villages. The Church’s local leaders were drawn from the villages and, in this way, the Church helped also to mentor local leaders.
The Church was integral to the community. The history of the African- Guyanese villages cannot be written truthfully without paying due recognition to the contributions of the Congregationalists. The Congregational Church, after more than 212 years, can still boast of thirty-three churches and missions across Guyana, most of which are more than 150 years old. This is an astonishing achievement considering the subsequent evangelical tide which swept across the country.
Congregationalism in the colony of British Guiana was unique. This Christian denomination came to minister almost exclusively to Africans. No other religious order make a similar boast. The Church pioneered education –religious and secular. It made a phenomenal contribution to education for Africans.
Granger notes that, in this regard, Congregational churches led the way by establishing not just churches in many rural communities but, also, schools which were annexed to these churches.
Congregationalism is one of oldest branches of Christianity in Guyana. It was introduced into our country 212 years ago by the London Missionary Society and was part of the ‘reformed’ churches whose origin can be traced back 500 years.
Granger traces the origins of local Congregationalism to the efforts of the London Missionary Society which had close ties to Congregational Churches in England. Interestingly, however, the decision to dispatch the legendary Rev. John Wray to the colony was triggered by a letter sent by a Dutch planter, Hermanus Post, who requested that someone be sent to minister to the enslaved Africans on his plantations.
Two important characteristics distinguished the Congregational Church from most other traditional churches which are administered, and in most instances, dominated, by hierarchical clergies.
First, Congregational churches were models of ecclesiastical democracy. Granger observed that a fundamental and distinctive feature of Congregationalism is the autonomy of its local churches which, organizationally, are governed by their congregations (hence, ‘congregationalism’) and not by their clergies. Power within Congregational churches is vested in the congregations.
Second, they established a model of Church-community relations through which the Church became a midwife of the community. The history of the Church was part of the history of the community; the works of the Church benefitted and involved the community.
The Congregational Church’s social mission and its monumental achievements could not have been a historical accident. This mission was driven by the Church’s own understanding of the role of scriptures and the manifestation of that mission in society. The theological underpinnings of Congregationalism, which led to such grand contributions, have not been explored in this book.
The original doctrine of Congregationalism held that that the Holy Bible – interpreted through common sense and in relation to nature, history and revealed knowledge – should be the authoritative guide in all matters of Christian faith. This, however, does not account for the Church’s rich social mission. A proposition can be made, however, that the Church’s success can be sourced to its practice of ecclesiastical democracy and by each Church’s autonomy. These two factors allowed for each Church to become an instrument of community service, free from overbearing directives from a parent body.
David Granger has expressed what no previous President has publicly proclaimed: “…Guyana owes a debt of gratitude to the Congregational churches for pioneering education for Africans. This work prepared Africans for Emancipation in 1838. The efforts of the Congregationalists laid the foundation for the expansion of mass education in the country.”
This book is an encomium to the Congregational Church. It consists of two addresses which David Granger, as President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, delivered to the 200th anniversary of the Mission Chapel Congregational Church in New Amsterdam Town and to the 175th Anniversary of the Arundel Congregational Church in Buxton Village, respectively. Both events took place in 2019.
This book – Congregationalism and communitarianism. The Congregational Church in post-Emancipation Guyana – should be of interest to all Christian Churches. It forces reflection on the role of the Church. The experience of Congregationalism suggests a possible pathway for the revival of traditional churches, one which revolves around their integration in, and solidarity with, communities, through faith and social action.