Minister of Health, Social Services, Community Development, Culture & Gender Affairs (also the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs) at the 12th Biennial Caribbean-Atlantic Assembly (CAA) Regional Convention of the Church of God, at the St. Kitts Marriott Hotel 18 July 2010
Christian Greetings to the Pastors and members of the Church of God and especially to the visiting delegates and friends who have travelled to the Federation to join us here today. Good afternoon and welcome to St. Kitts-Nevis.
I am delighted that we in St. Kitts-Nevis are the hosts of your 12th Biennial Caribbean-Atlantic Assembly (CAA) Regional Convention and I dare say we are gracious hosts.
Thank you, also, for inviting me to say a few words to you.
Let me say at the outset how pleased I was - indeed I was impressed, inspired and encouraged - to learn that you had chosen “Practical Christianity” as the theme of your Convention.
How timely! How insightful! And how very urgently needed.
Your church, the Church of God, has long had a very positive impact on life in St. Kitts-Nevis. You have long been a beacon of hope, and a source of spiritual upliftment for the people of this country. You have been precisely that throughout our years as an independent country, you were exactly that during those many years when we were an Associated State, and we all know that that is exactly what you were during those long and difficult years when St. Kitts, Nevis, & Anguilla was still a British colony.
So, for all that the Church of God has meant to St. Kitts-Nevis, we thank you.
And even as we thank you, we make the point of impressing upon you the fact that today, more than ever, we need the church including the Church of God. We need your energy, we need your dedication, we need your ability to change individuals and societies for the better.
Today, as your theme wisely points out, the world needs, and we need, practical Christianity. Our attitudes must be reflective of the Christ who we are to make our supreme example. In Luke 10 we read of the Parable of the Good Samaritan which was given as the illustration as to who our neighour is. We know the details of the story. But when Christ asked: “Which one of these …. Was neighbor to him that fell among thieves?”, the response was He that showed mercy on him. Christ in turn instructed, “Go and do you likewise.”
We must be mindful of our responsibility to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper; we must show the spirit of Christ in our daily lives. We must be mindful that practical Christianity will demand that we love our enemies, that we are prepared to turn the other cheek, and that we do good even to those who wish evil for us ….Christ did it and we are admonished that this is required of all of us who profess to be followers of Christ.
Your church’s early spiritual leaders like Sister Fraser, Hannibal and Rose Boddie and Sister Maude Bridgewater were good Samaritans who led by example in that regard. I am certain that many of the older ones in the church can testify to the many families who were the beneficiaries of the barrels of food stuff and clothing distributed through the instrumentality of these early missionaries of the Church of God Movement on St. Kitts in the various communities in which they served.
Today the complex social problems with which we are faced call for practical Christian leadership in the church – leadership that will bridge and not widen the divisions in the church and in the communities whether spiritual, economic, social or political.
When I was a child, the challenges facing the world, the challenges facing St. Kitts-Nevis, and the challenges facing the Church were so simple. I was brought up in the Wesleyan Holiness Church on Cayon Street then the Pilgrim Holiness Church. I remember the many complaints to my mother that I was wearing a bandeau to church instead of a hat. I recall the debates about the length of the dresses, the length of the sleeves and how low the neckline should be. Jewellery and makeup were forbidden as sinful. Today perhaps as a part of practical Christianity jewellery and makeup are acceptable within the Christian faith.
At that time on these little islands, there was little or no television. No rap videos. No internet. No cell phones. The main influences on our society were the Government, the schools, the church, the neighbourhood/community and the home. Now all of these traditional shapers of our society have been pushed in the background. And we now find ourselves in the fight for our own identity as a people because these new influences have emerged with a force, an aggressiveness, and an appeal that is very difficult to resist, take on and conquer. And these new influences are eroding societies and cultures in countries large and small…..rich and poor…..black and white….. and everything in between.
What this means, then – and I know that you already know this, or you would not have chosen the theme that you have – is that the churches of the world, including the Church of God, have no choice but to become more practical in their spirituality……more practical in their outreach to the rest of society……more practical in their determination to win the hearts and minds of the old, the young, and the not so young. Because, let there be no doubt, we talk a lot about the young people of our country and of the world having lost their way, but the young people could never have lost their way if we, the older people and society at large, had remembered to SHOW them the way…….INSISTED on the way……KEPT THEM on the way……given them the examples, and the teachings, and the standards that are essential to remaining on the way. And that is why I say that this urgently needed practical Christianity must now reach out - and reach out with skill, intelligence, and insight - not only to the young of this nation, but also to
the old, AND to everyone in-between.
I must therefore applaud the Debt Forgiveness Program of the Cayon Church of God and the decision of the Durant Avenue Church of God to adopt the Irish Town Primary School. These are good examples of practical Christianity that must be emulated.
However, I humbly recommend as regards the Debt Forgiveness Program that the words of Suze Orman, a financial expert, be taken into account as a measure of caution. “Offer encouragement and support – not a bailout”. And so I suggest a structured program with counsellors on money management, prioritized spending and saving.
With respect to the adoption of the Irish Town Primary School I humbly suggest that the church be proactive and initiate a structured mentoring program where youths exhibiting deviant behaviour are identified at an earlier age, for example, age 5, 6 or 7 and all stakeholders – parents, teachers, the community, the relevant Ministry and the church are brought together to work with them.
We must have a new and practical approach to Christianity if we are to solve society’s most troubling problems. And it is this new and practical Christianity that will empower us to realize our fullest potential.
Too many young girls are having babies when they have neither the maturity, the patience, the money, the wisdom, the support systems, nor the selflessness to be good mothers.
We need the type of practical Christianity that will develop programs and approaches that will successfully convince young girls to wait, and to be confident, proud and happy, in waiting.
Too many older men are leading young girls astray.
We need the type of practical Christianity that will successfully empower and embolden members of the community to report these older men to the police – just as you would report a burglar creeping through your neighbour’s window, or a bully beating an old lady, BECAUSE they are all one and the same – they all eat away at the foundation of our society, like termites eating away the foundation of our homes. And without our voices and proactive interventions, they will never be stopped.
Too many of our people especially our young people are lost, afraid, and angry. They have no skills. They have no friends who are law-abiding. They have little or no love at home. They have no idea how to create lives that are stable or safe. They are unable to provide for their families.
Attempting to reach these people FIRST through the reading of Bible verses will not work in 2010. Practical Christianity demands that, instead, we begin by teaching them to read, to play music, to fish, to plant, to paint, to do business, to save – to do something that they do not now know how to do, to do something that will develop their abilities.
It is only after practical Christianity has delivered concrete and tangible changes to their lives, however seemingly minor, that the Bible verses we all know and love will begin to resonate with those who are now being seduced by the gangs or a Cable/internet/television/soaked world. James 2:14-17 says: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’ and yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself”.
The need for practical Christianity is pressing indeed.
So many seemingly stable members of society no longer go to Church. Forgive me, but they say that it is boring, irrelevant, and a waste of time. The Church today, then, must re-assert its importance and relevance to modern society. And to do so, it must offer and project the type of practical Christianity that makes people feel included, uplifted, encouraged, and empowered while at the same time appealing to their spiritual needs.
Is the church on the social networks? That is where the young people are. Does the church have a website posting its views on matters pertaining to the mind, the spirit and the body? The rapid advances in technology have overtaken us and the church must not be left behind if it is to be relevant and an effective force in a modern society.
And then there are so many of us who have turned inward. We look after ourselves and our own – and ONLY ourselves and our own. But no society can prosper, if that is the prevailing way. And so modern society needs the type of practical Christianity that stirs consciences, touches hearts, and impresses upon all the fact that we were put on this earth to think, not only about ourselves, but about others as well. We need to become a people who understand the power of pleasant greetings, good manners and respect …… the power of words of advice to someone going wrong….. the power of words of encouragement to those on the brink of despair – all so seemingly simple, but all ESSENTIAL parts of our humanity that we abandon at our own peril. These small acts of kindness and consideration are what makes us human…..what sets us apart from the lower animals……what keeps live the Divine spark within us all……and within your congregation.
AND this nation must know that that is what you, the Church of God expects, demands, and insists upon. And this nation must know that you make these demands because a people who are considerate towards their fellowmen in the little things will not turn upon them in rage and brutality on the big things.
We do, indeed, need practical Christianity.
Young people need recreation. Young people need fun. Far from sinful, this is normal and good.
Practical Christianity, then, demands that we develop programs and activities for our young people that are enjoyable and appealing, but wholesome and healthy too, as counter-weights to the internet, and the Cable, and the thug-culture videos that appeal to so many today, because condemning these influences without providing alternatives simply will not work.
Arranging community-based hikes, walks, or runs…..showing enjoyable but wholesome movies at community gatherings…..organizing community-based reading clubs, singing groups, dance groups….establishing micro-enterprise clubs in our communities – all of these activities can help our people to tap into their own potential….and their unique possibilities. Most importantly, they will help us to find our way out of the mindless, stultifying influences that I referred to before.
The gangs are asserting themselves.
Criminals are obviously asserting themselves.
Brutal movie and music moguls are asserting themselves.
The marketers of murderous video games are asserting themselves.
Thug culture is asserting itself – to our everlasting peril.
So too, Dear Christian Friends, must we.
The Church must assert itself.
And I know that the Church of God will.
That is why I am so very pleased to be with you today and look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.
Best wishes for a very successful Convention and may God bless your deliberations.