On Sunday, November 20, at 4 p.m., the good people of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Haines City gathered for a wonderful celebration: the 50th anniversary of independence for Barbados. The Coalition for the Barbados Association of Central Florida joined forces with St. Mark’s to provide a celebratory service followed by a Caribbean feast.
The celebration actually started the night before with a gala at the Rosen Palace in Orlando. This was held in a traditional, excellent style to which Barbadians have become accustomed for this annual event. Colin Mayers, the Consul General of Barbados, based in Miami, was in attendance, and it was obvious that he and John Holder, Anglican archbishop for the West Indies, are old friends.
The gala took on a Caribbean flavor with costumed dancers and caricatures of historical figures of Barbados whom most Barbadians would recognize. These honored such people as Sir Garfield Sobers and King Dyal, a well-dressed street person who played the role of a want-to-be-king.
The archbishop was brilliant as he recounted, in a chronological style, the 50-year history of Barbados’ independence from Great Britain.
He asked all Barbadians not to forget who they are, how they were raised, the value of mother and father in the household, how they were educated, and whom they loved and served as their God.
It was nothing short of a pleasure to listen to this native son who has reached this high level in God’s church come to his own in the diaspora to speak and assure them that their island home, despite the modern-day social challenges, is still solid and God-fearing.
Then came the afternoon service. Wonderful hymns were sung, both American and Caribbean. Bishop Brewer was the celebrant, and he recognized Archbishop Holder, who preached.
Holder began by asking the Lord to continue to guide them in all that they do in Barbados. He opened with the text of Deuteronomy 8:7: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills.”
“We all believe that Barbados is a good land, a special gift from God,” the archbishop said. He went on to explain that the current challenges this land faces are the economy, youth upbringing, and the upsurge in gun violence.
“We can all marvel at the distance we have traveled, just like the writer of Deuteronomy,” Holder commented. And he went on to say that 50 years ago, Barbados was struggling with how to live in a white world. They have now mastered cricket and wonderful rum, but they still have a way to go. “The true mark of development is the enhancement of people’s lives through healthcare.” He went on to say that in Barbados, “I am my brother’s keeper.” By this, he meant that people are to be like the Good Samaritan, going beyond the borders and being prepared to take some risks in order to help each other. This would be how to keep compassion.
Addressing the challenge of raising youth, the archbishop said, “We need to teach honesty, forgiveness, and kindness, and that life is a precious gift of God and should not be taken from any one of us.” To the adults, he said: “It is your responsibility to raise the youth. If our youth are going to make the best of what life has to offer, then the adults must be the academy that guides them throughout life, the shepherds. We have to make a good future for them seem possible.”
Holder went on to say about modern-day progress in Barbados, “We must ensure that we do not lose our moral values in the wake of progress.”
In regards to facing the issues in the country, the archbishop said: “We need to make a commitment to deal with the issues or problems, to face them and deal with them sensibly. We must learn some lessons from yesterday to see more clearly how to deal with the issues of today. “
He reminded his hearers that “we can all be thankful for the natural environment, for good governance which has transformed our country so well, and for those who work day and night to keep everyone safe.” He added: “We do not live in a world of easy answers. We live in a complex world. It is only through His grace that we can see Barbados as such a pleasant place.”
Holder closed with these words from the Barbados National Anthem: “The Lord has been the people’s guide for the past 300 years. With him still on the people’s side, we have no doubts or fears. Upward and onward we shall go, inspired, exulting, free, and greater will our nation grow in strength and unity.”
While Holder was here, Father Brathwaite had the opportunity to sit down and have a brief chat with him:
Rev. Brathwaite: Archbishop John, you are here in Central Florida to speak to the people of Barbados and to be with the people of the Caribbean who have made this area their home. You are the spiritual head of many Caribbean islands, including my island home, Barbados. As that leader, what direction do you believe the church can take in the current environment to create change that results in sound moral obligations to family and society and helps keep the church relevant?
Archbishop Holder: The church must continue to preach and live the message of a God of boundless love and compassion; a God who is not restricted by boundaries. This message is the cornerstone of the church’s mission.
The church ought to be the agent in society to break down barriers. The problem with us is that we live in a world with barriers that separate the children of God.
As Christians, we must work to remove these. This is the mission of each parish. Barriers of race, class, gender, social standing, sexual preferences, and socio-economic standing cannot reflect the gospel message of a God of love. We must move away from creating barriers and then hurting each other in order to preserve them.
Rev. Brathwaite: Bishop, you are a world figure. You go to more places than most, and you interact with people at all levels for the sake of the gospel. How does your traveling form your message and mission?
Archbishop Holder: My travel does two things: It shows how much we as human beings have in common with each other and it also serves to highlight our differences.
My travel encourages me to work with what we have in common to emphasize the value of each and every human being.
[When] one gets a chance to see how far away some people are from having the necessities of life, of course, it encourages you to do all you can, in your own context, to ensure that persons are living the type of life or standard of life that can help them to experience the goodness of God and understand that God is a God of love. We do this standing firmly on the principle that every human is a child of God.
Rev. Brathwaite: As a world figure, you are obviously in tune with the occurrences of the recent U.S. presidential elections. It was difficult to tune out the narrative—pro or con, wise or simple, upsetting or embracing. How do you mesh all this in one statement that would uplift the disappointed and calm the jubilant?
Archbishop Holder: As an outsider, I must respect the results of the American election. Democracy is probably still the best system or process we have in electing our leaders, but like every human endeavor, it can be unpredictable, so that sometimes expectations can be thwarted.
In any democratic election, the first response is always about winners and losers, when indeed it should be about how competing interests have worked together for the common good.
If we see democratic elections in this way, they then become simply part of the process that facilitates our efforts to do what we perceive as offering the best for our country.
From this perspective, I have no doubt that all those involved in the most recent elections will continue to love their country and will continue to make it the best it can be.
A few in attendance at the Caribbean dinner were willing to share their thoughts about this event. A woman from the St. Mark’s vestry table commented: “It is very exciting and inspirational to have everyone from the Caribbean come together as one. I am from Trinidad, so it is nice to come together as one and have the archbishop here.”
A member of the Barbados Board of Directors said, “We have lived to see the 50th anniversary of the independence of our country.”
Overall, the excitement could be felt throughout all the celebration happenings. This was an event not to miss.