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Archbishop writes in The Jamaica Gleaner

Sunday 29th January 2012

The Archbishop of York, The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, will today preach at a service at the Webster Memorial Church in Kingston, to mark the beginning of Jamaica’s celebration of 50 years of independence.

Guests of the Jamaica Government and the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the Archbishop and Mrs Margaret Sentamu have had the opportunity during the past week to visit churches, schools, church projects and sites of historical and cultural interest from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. Today’s services mark the climax of their visit.

Archbishop Sentamu writes in The Jamaica Gleaner:

‘We were given a lovely welcome on arrival at airport from the Minister of State, Damian Crawford, and his team from the ministry for Tourism and Entertainment, as well as from the Rt Revd Bishop Howard Gregory at Montego Bay. It was very good to meet the newly appointed minister and to hear of the new government’s commitment to developing not only tourism but also to seeing justice and equality spread right through Jamaican society. Fairness and equality have always been very important to me, so I am encouraged to hear how open your government is about these principles in these early days. When I met the Prime Minister on Friday she reaffirmed to me her commitment to social justice and prosperity for everyone – a commitment I saw in action on my last visit in 2007 when I spent three hours walking with her around her constituency. I shall be praying for Jamaica that this vision for development and justice becomes more and more of a reality as time goes by.

Last Sunday’s welcome in the Churches in Montego Bay was fantastic. I am so impressed at how seriously the Christian people of Jamaica take the responsibilities of citizenship – especially in this Independence year. Your Jamaica National Anthem puts it so well:

Teach us true respect for all

Stir response to duty’s call,

Strengthen us the weak to cherish

Give us vision lest we perish…

Jamaica land we love…                                  

I told them last week that in Cricketing terms this is 50 and not out. There is much to give thanks for, and no doubt much still to do in the quest for justice and equality in this most beautiful and creative of nations.  

On Monday we visited St Mary’s Montpellier. It was such a delight to see the primary school there - quite by surprise as it wasn’t in the official programme. The Revd Tony Ottey had helped raise funds to build this years ago when he was in England. A number of us from the Association of Black Anglican Clergy used to contribute. It was fantastic to see how much progress has been made and to see children with so much to offer. We hope to gather the funding to help them finish their current building work.

But at St Mary’s Montpellier we saw the historic church building – what a story lies behind it about the plantation there and the cholera hospital for sick slaves which later became the parish church. There is a need to preserve a place like that so as to keep the story alive – the story which tells of the past which led to the present from which we can look to the future. We have found this elsewhere – the sense that more needs to be made of the history – even of the unpleasant and painful bits. In some of the tourist sites it almost seemed as if the pain and struggle of the centuries of slavery was dealt with too quickly in a short paragraph. Another day we visited the Seville Great House: what a beautiful stage for so terrible a drama – the enslavement and the brutality wrought there upon the estates slaves, to all intents and purposes presented as morally acceptable, whilst to us so hideously evil. The same was true when we were in Porta Maria, visiting St Mary’s there. It was amazing to see how the story of Tacky, about whom so little really is known – continues to inspire the local community where he gathered his Easter Day Rebels, inspired by the resurrection of Jesus (and the  fact their ‘owners’ were all in church that day.)   Local enthusiast and poet Derrick Robinson has been in touch with me to see if I could help find out more about Tacky. I have offered to help find out more about Tacky, by making researches in England and in Ghana with the Ashanti King. Perhaps once we have finished this is something that may be taken further.

It does no harm to remember – a society that loses its memory becomes senile. And this is a story that needs to be told and told again if human beings are to avoid such brutal and dehumanising behaviour in the future.

On Tuesday  we were at the Muschett Home for the Aged. This was built more than 50 years ago and today provides top quality care for older people in a context where they have only the most basic accommodation and equipment. We could learn a lot from this in the UK where caring for older people has become a nettle that has to be grasped. What a fantastic thing that the Church has been such a faithful servant of the wider community, providing this service to everyone regardless of their faith background.

We have also visited many tourist destinations – I shook hands with Mitch the Dolphin at dolpin cove, climbed up to see the view from Mystic mountain, wondered at the glorious gardens at the Prospect Etate, tasted the peace  of Noel Coward’s Firefly hilltop retreat, and Ian Fleming’s beachside Goldeneye home. Our hosts have accommodated us in some magnificent hotels, where we have been very warmly welcomed. What has struck me is the way in which, done properly, the tourist industry can both respect the dignity of the local people, and engage constructively in developing the local economy.  All too easily tourism creams off most of the money for the already rich. No doubt Jamaica is doing all it can to enable tourism to benefit everyone – especially the disadvantaged.

We paid a brief visit to the Branson Centre for Young Entrepreneurs – and to hear about the fantastic help offered to people starting up businesses to help them get the skills and vision to grow their businesses in order to generate more jobs and more wealth for themselves and others. Just a drop in the ocean so far, but perhaps working in partnership with such schemes more could be done to spot young people with particular potential to find opportunities for themselves and create them for others? And good to see the tourist industry putting something back into the communities where it focuses its own development.

Amongst a number of schools we visited was St Hilda’s High School for Girls in Brown’s Town. What a fantastic school – it was great to see the confidence, energy, and enthusiasm of the girls who sang us their award winning Bob Marley Medley.  It just shows what a difference a good secondary school head and staff can make, with the support of their local community – and in this case the Anglican Church. 105 years of Anglican support and energy put into education in that place is reaping a rich harvest. In England we are finding, surprisingly in a way, that there are more opportunities now for the church to engage constructively with secondary education.  It is good to see this is very much a positive here in Jamaica also.

In the evening on Friday we were treated to another great cultural feast – Barbara Gloudon’s production, ‘Anansi and the Goat Head Soup’. This special pantomime was written for this Independence year. It is vibrant, colourful, and dynamic production – a great night out. It is the 70th annual LTM National Pantomime. Congratulations to Barbara and all her cast and musicians! I was only sorry that there was no goat head soup available.

Coming up today we have 50th Anniversary services at St Jago and Webster Memorial Church, and a number of visits in Kingston tomorrow: Bishop Robert Thompson is taking us around some of the areas of Kingston where life is more challenging , where we hope to see some of the important work of the church as a servant in the community at All Saints and St Albans.  

What can I say – so much colour, vitality, spice, such beautiful flowers, such high principled, engaging and friendly people. Peace and love!  Yah man!  I see Christ in these wonderful people of Jamaica and find in them my sisters, my brothers.  It is a privilege to share in these celebrations, and I shall return eager to encourage Jamaicans and others in the UK to come and enjoy this paradise island in the sun.’

+Sentamu Ebor



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