THE DIOCESE OF THE BAHAMAS AND THE TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS
THE BISHOP’S CHARGE TO THE ONE-HUNDRED AND FOURTEENTH SESSION OF SYNOD
AT THE SYNOD OPENING EUCHARIST IN CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL, NASSAU
ON MONDAY, 6TH FEBRUARY, 2017, AT 7:30 P.M.
We welcome you all into Christ Church Cathedral this evening at this Opening Service of the 114th Session of the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of The Bahamas and The Turks and Caicos Islands.
Her Excellency, the Governor General, Dame Marguerite Pindling
The Rt. Honourable Perry Christie, Prime Minister
The Honourable Deputy Prime Minister
The Honourable Loretta Butler-Turner, leader of the Opposition and Mr. Turner
The Honourable Hubert Minnis and Mrs. Minnis
Senators, Members of Parliament
Senior Government Officials
Dr. Ranford Patterson, President of the Bahamas Christian Council, who just brought us greetings, and Mrs. Patterson
Various Heads of denominations or their representatives, with their spouses.
Archbishop Drexel Gomez and Bishop Gilbert Thompson, Archdeacons, Canons, Clergy of the Diocese and their spouses
The Chancellor, Justice Bernard Turner, the Vice Chancellor, Mrs. Diane Stewart, the Registrar, Mrs. Tonya Bastian-Galanis, other diocesan officials and their spouses
The Director of Education, Mrs. Italia Davies, the new Chief Development Officer for Anglican Schools, Mrs. Jennifer Basden, who joined us in January 2016; Principals, Administrators, and students of our four schools
Lay Delegates to the 114th Session of Synod.
We welcome the hard-working Diocesan Office Staff, acknowledging especially Archdeacon James Palacious and Mrs. Sonja Balfour, Financial Comptroller, and Miss Linda Farrington, who leads the Synod preparation process, and all those others who have helped us to be where we are this week.
Catechists, Lay Readers, Servers, My brothers and sisters
We welcome those sharing in this service via ZNS TV 13, in The Bahamas, The Turks and Caicos Islands, the Caribbean and South Florida, and those who join us via live stream and on Facebook all over the world. Thank you for sharing with us.
We are grateful to the Very Rev’d. the Dean, Father Colin Saunders, Precentor, and Staff of the Cathedral, Mr. Adrian Archer, Mr. Henderson Burrows, Mr. Christopher Smith and all of the ministries that have come together to make this service possible.
It is our privilege to convene this 114th Session of Diocesan Synod and to declare it open in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To God be the glory.
Micah 6:8, “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice…”
Micah spoke at a time when Israel and Judah, after a long period of peace, were coming under attack from the expanding Assyrian Empire. Micah challenged his hearers to pursue justice for all because national well-being was not just withstanding the Assyrians, but also how ordinary citizens fare. Power in the hands of countries, leaders and citizens must be used to enable the well-being of all citizens. This remains the responsibility of the state, the Church and of all citizens, not to further inequality but to empower and to liberate.
Micah was inspired by a basic premise: “God has been so good to you and so the least that you can do is to give back to God through your society. You have been blessed in so many ways. What is it that is required of you, from your position of blessing?” The response is, “Do justice!”
The Hebrew word used here is mispat. Justice is something we do. It is not enough to yearn for justice, to talk about justice, to wish for justice, or to complain about the lack of it. There is a dynamic concept here which calls us to DO JUSTICE: to work for fairness, equality, a level playing field; work for it, strive for it, agitate for it, on behalf of those who cannot get it otherwise or who cannot achieve it for themselves, for the weak the disenfranchised, the powerless.
Doing what is right is the job of all of us in the church and in the state. The Church is called to preach the gospel and to instruct and encourage members to bring their lives into line with Christ’s expectations. When this happens, our personal lives, our relationships, our work, our studies all take on their full potential. And we are empowered to do what we need to do in terms of impacting the wider community, changing lives, addressing national issues, speaking out against wrong, speaking the truth to Power and to Influence…But it begins with our faithfulness to the gospel. Then, our faithfulness to the gospel spills over into every other area.
In this regard, I want us to look at a number of issues which face us all:
The National Birth Rate
Mr. Richard Lightbourn, Member of Parliament for Montagu made some remarks at the Free National Movement’s Convention in July 2016. The Venerable James Palacious, Archdeacon for Administration for the Anglican Diocese, made some remarks at the 50th Majority Rule Day service. There were varied reactions to these remarks, but one thing is certain: the remarks speak to a national issue that has far-reaching and crippling implications on the current reality and on the future of our beloved Bahamas: While the birth-rate per capita has actually declined over the years, as a general rule, too many people are having children that they cannot afford to maintain materially, parentally, emotionally or financially.
We know that the right to have a child is a personal one and that no one can stop anyone from mothering or fathering a child. We know also that many single parents have done a fine job raising children but, if we are honest, we have to admit that this is becoming less and less the case today as too many young people are having babies. They are not fully mature themselves. They are not socially stable in terms of their living circumstances. They are not financially self-sufficient. They cannot create a stable, ordered environment for a child to grow up in. Yet they are having babies because “they is man!” or they is woman!”
Some not-so-young persons are mothering and fathering children and do not have all of the resources to care for a child. Too many people are having children and have not asked,
“Can I afford a baby or another baby?”
“Do I have the order and stability in my life to sustain a child?”
“Do I have what it takes to provide for this child?”
“Is this child going to have a fighting chance?”
For too many of our children the game is over before it even starts. They are born into “no-win” circumstances.
Dear friends, these are the realities that are affecting this country every day, creating hopelessness, giving no options for success, recycling poverty and underdevelopment and hurting Bahamaland. We cannot build a sound society on a shaky foundation.
Not every mother or father is doing this. There are many fine parents, single and married, who are doing the skill of parenting proud. But far too many fall into the category that I have outlined.
No one has all of the answers to this dilemma. We ALL have to work together on this. The government through its efforts and agencies is trying its best but let us all redouble our efforts. I do know that we have to talk more to our young people from the primary school and high school levels. I am not talking about conversation for the sake of having it, but real, honest, frank, practical discussions on this topic and on related issues. Yes it has to happen in schools and churches and Sunday Schools and Sabbath Schools and youth groups. And it has to happen OUTSIDE of those walls as well. We have to teach the value of life and healthy choices and responsibility for one’s actions. We have to teach that the body is still the Temple of the Lord and, for those with no Christian foundation, just let them know that the body and its functions and its capabilities are precious.
Teach that sex is not a recreation, it is a sacred act; and that a baby is not something you have to prove that “you is man” or that “you is woman”; that it is a bad idea to have a baby to keep a man or as a meal ticket – because the long term responsibility is too big for one moment of satisfaction.
We have to talk aggressively and to teach this: parents, teachers, clergy, youth groups, curriculum people.
And we need a national information/education initiative to reach those who are out of school, to the wider citizenry.
We cannot just have children because we have the biology. We have to consider the long-term implications.
This is a matter of foundational national urgency, never mind how politically sensitive it is or how much furore it generates on the talk shows. There is urgent need for a more Comprehensive National Family Planning Programme.
I wish to say a word to the media which in print and word and image responded to the remarks of Messrs. Lightbourn and Palacious. Instead of generating excitement, I think the media should have led us into a keen discussion on the national reality. Why not interview experts from the field: the Department of Statistics, Social Services, the Healthcare system, the Ministry of Education, the Police? These are the people who can speak to the issue.
As a nation, let us have the discussion. Let us do the right thing.
50th Anniversary of Majority Rule
The Anglican Church joins with the country in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Majority Rule. The event was a part of a process that began long before January 1967, and continued long afterwards – even up to the present day. The process marked, among other things, the transfer of political power from a minority group to the majority group.
It was not simply a racial event since the majority attained by the Progressive Liberal Party was comprised of white and black men. It was about allowing all Bahamians to have a stake and to feel a sense of ownership.
The era of opportunity for advancement and education ushered The Bahamas into a new chapter of economic growth, national development and diversification. With more people having more opportunity and access, it meant that they ultimately had more options for self-determination and for power. This meant that poor, middle class and merchant class and wealthy Bahamians benefitted from Majority Rule from the very beginning.
In my opinion Majority Rule is the single greatest historical event outside of emancipation in 1834-38 – such was its exponential effect upon The Bahamas.
It is unfortunate that Majority Rule, an historical evolution and an event impacting all Bahamians in a way that I have just outlined, has become so politicized and appears at times to belong to one party, over and against the other, and not to the country as a whole – especially since ALL Bahamians ultimately benefitted from it.
Because it has not been set up as a national institution based on historical reality – and because, in my view, neither government has even made an attempt to do this, then what happens: unwise or indiscreet PLP’s get to behave like its theirs to use for political mileage, especially in seasons like this; unwise or indiscreet FNM’s seek to distance themselves from it because someone is behaving like it is all about Pindling and the PLP.
This is unfortunate and many of us are guilty because we have not done a good job of presenting it as a national historical event or setting up its celebration like it is a national historic event.
We have to be so careful that the fact and spirit of the Majority Rule Process is not lost in our mishandling of it. We have to be careful that in all of our efforts we achieve the real empowerment, equality and opportunity that the original process sought to accomplish.
It is not too late to do this. Let’s do the right thing!
Independent Boundaries Commission
I wish to renew my call for an independent Boundaries Commission. Successive governments continue to use their majority influence over the boundaries exercise as a way to attain political advantage, e.g., chop off here and add on there to make sure my person gets in. Boundaries Commission work should be based on numbers, demographics and geography, not political whim. I was once told by a sitting Prime Minister that he wanted it but that the Members of Parliament on both sides were all vehemently against it. I cannot say that I am surprised if it can be used to personal and partisan advantage. But we need an independent body, especially in a country where there is so much familiarity, inbreeding, corruption and circumventing of laws and procedures – when it suits our fancy. We need an independent Boundaries Commission that draws lines objectively and that reports on time.
Let us do the right thing!
I call again for serious campaign finance reform. Parties need to be held accountable for what they collect and what they spend, with appropriate limits put in place for each. The Opposition and the Governing Party need to say where their money has come from. This is foreign to us and may even seem offensive, but it is standard practice in well-run democracies worldwide. It also keeps everyone honest and encourages campaigns and countries to be run on issues rather than by special interests and self-preservation.
TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS
And now, let us turn our attention to the Turks and Caicos Islands for a few moments.
We welcome to the Turks and Caicos Islands and to The Diocese the new British Governor, His Excellency Dr. John Freeman and Mrs. Corinna Freeman. We wish them a happy, productive and peaceful time here in our midst.
On 15 December 2016, the Turks and Caicos Islands held general elections, the second since the new Constitution was introduced in 2011.
The Hon. Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson is the new Premier leading the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) majority, the official Opposition is the Progressive National Party (PNP) and is led by the Hon Washington Missick.
On Thursday 29 December, 2017, I had the privilege of attending the National Ecumenical
Service held at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Grand Turk, followed by the first session of the new Parliament. At that time, I said in my sermon what I now repeat: all must work together to build TCI.
Positive Election Atmosphere
The country is to be commended for:
- A free, fair and more efficient election-day process
- Much less acrimony among people than in the 2012 elections – indicating a more mature citizenry
- A smooth handing over of Government with modest winners & gracious losers
When the British government was forced to suspend portions of the Constitution and to take over the running of the country, it was an upsetting time, but, in my view, the British government did the best thing. The process of streamlining, of stricter management and more accountability and transparency has been a good thing for the country, and has put it in a better place. The Bahamas could learn many things from this.
Commendation for Accomplishments
At this time of post-election transition the country must be commended for what the interim British administration and the former PNP government were able to accomplish as we recognize the stewardship of both.
- bringing the country back from the brink of bankruptcy
- paying off a $170 million debt that the government had incurred through mismanagement before the suspending of the Constitution
- having preparation in place to start a Sovereign Wealth Fund (Reserves)
- achieving a second consecutive BBB + Standard and Poors (S +P) rating
- pursuing infrastructural works of which some are completed, e.g., the first phase of the Long Bay High School in Provo. There are others in progress, e.g., the Lighthouse Road in Grand Turk
- having more young Turks and Caicos Islanders in key leadership positions
- the reemploying of many skilled and suitably- educated locals who were made redundant from the civil service four years ago
- increasing the minimum wage and increasing salaries for some public servants
These are but a few of the noteworthy accomplishments
I call on the new PDM government, among other things, to have the following as its focus:
- Notwithstanding a clear majority, commit to work with the Opposition and other stakeholders
- Commit to be ever mindful of Christian morals which MPs must promote and maintain to be true to their baptismal vows.
- Heed the counsel of the Church and the religious leaders to build the spiritual fabric of the nation
- Respect and provide the resources for the various agencies that ensure good governance – The Integrity Commission & The Office of the Complaints Commissioner
- Be a Government for all the people: practice fair and transparent decision-making and give equal opportunity for all citizens
- The Constitution is a living organism. It should be reflected upon, analysed and reviewed as a matter of routine.
- Seek to resolve the financial and overseas travel issues associated with the functioning of the National Health Insurance scheme
- Seek to study and to resolve the many issues surrounding illegal immigration.
- Address crime, especially since there are now more guns on the streets
- Enforce the law in every sphere: work permits, business licenses, customs duties, road traffic regulations, etc.
- Ensure that the country remains among the top regional competitors in attracting tourists; and arrest the decline of cruise ship passengers arrivals
- Continue to encourage sound, sustainable, TCI- beneficial foreign investment
- Continue to insist on the best use of crown land
- Pursue AGGRESSIVELY, efficiency and productivity of the Public Service – facilities and processes cannot be stalled because only one person has the required key responsibility in a department and he /she is away from office.
- The performance of employees, including those in senior positions, must be appraised with a view to improving the Public Service
- The British-appointed Chief Financial Officer is expected to leave in March. Fiscal prudence and accountability must be maintained, monitored and enforced.
In addition to these challenges to the PDM government, I stress the need for the British Government to give more assistance with national security: resources and training for the police and prison officers, better resources to detect illegal boats which bring illegal immigrants, poachers and guns.
The overarching reality that all stakeholders must address and seek to ameliorate is improving understanding and dialogue between the various national groups. If you have a country of 35,000 and more than one half is expatriates and you have 19,000 persons on work permit – that is cause for discussion, understanding, working together and fair opportunity. It is a dialogue that ALL of the stakeholders in the nation need to be involved in to find a just, and optimum way forward where native TCIs are not disenfranchised but where those same native TCIs take a realistic and sensible view of reality AND are prepared to pull their weight and play their part.
I have found that sometimes, some local Turks & Caicos Islanders have a sense of entitlement that is unrealistic and unhelpful to real national development.
God bless the Turks and Caicos Islands.
And now, back to the Bahamas.
As the “silly season” kicks into high gear I wish to urge all involved to conduct themselves in a decent Christian manner: dignified, respectful, and commanding respect. Be a person that our young people and the entire population can look up to and emulate. This is not unreasonable or farfetched. It is what people have a right to expect from their leaders. Stick with the issues and leave personalities out!! There is no place in our society for the character assassination that has characterized Bahamian politics over the years. Our people deserve better than some of us give to them. The electorate needs to know how you will govern the country and is not interested in how well you can demonize and malign your opponent.
Of course, persons who stand for public office must examine very closely what their motives are: real, honest contemplation on why you are offering yourself and what you can really offer. We need more statespersons and fewer political animals. The citizens ought to be able to hold their elected officials in the highest regard because of content of character and integrity rather than what they can get out of the deal for themselves.
And now, back to The Bahamas.
It is time for Local Government to be implemented in New Providence so that these populated communities could have more of a sense of ownership of their areas rather than an unhealthy reliance upon Central Government or the local M.P. Let us begin to discuss this seriously. Remember that the best leaders/management systems DELEGATE duties and responsibilities rather than hoard them.
Over the past year, we have seen an increase in the number of illegal immigrants being picked up at sea or stranded on one of our islands. While we are sympathetic to our brothers and sisters who leave their country in search of a better life for themselves and their families, we have to protect our borders so that the country would not be overrun by a migrant population.
Once again, I call upon the government to continue to enforce the Immigration laws of our country and to repatriate people who are here illegally, while we give status to others who might have legitimate claim to it. Persons born in this country to non-Bahamians should not have to wait so many years before they receive a reply to their application for some kind of permanent status – if they return a reply at all.
We must commend the Immigration Department in its valiant efforts to apprehend and repatriate illegal immigrants. We must also say special thanks to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force for stepping up its patrol of all over the archipelago and for apprehending poachers and others.
In light of the huge increase in the number of Cuban nationals picked up recently, I strongly urge the government to appoint a Citizens Advisory Committee that would visit the Detention Centre regularly in order to check on the overall management of the facility and the welfare of the detainees. This is particularly important in light of the negative publicity we have had from Cuban Americans who accused our officers of cruelty to their compatriots. Such a committee could speak truth to the issue and the government would not have to defend itself against false accusations.
Royal Bahamas Police Force
The Royal Bahamas Police Force is doing a tremendous job and we wish to commend them highly. We encourage them to keep up the good job they are doing; we are all encouraged by the overall decrease in serious crime for the past year, but there is still too much crime. Lots of work needs to be done to reduce that rate even further and all of us have a part to play. It is not just the job of the Police force. Folks, help them out. Let’s do the right thing! And let us heal more of the wounds of our society and thereby stem the spread of crime at its root.
Bahamas Christian Council
I highly commend the Officers and members of the Bahamas Christian Council for their ecumenical thrust. There is so much more that we could achieve when we work together for the common good. We need to tackle cooperatively the national issues AND some of the problems experienced by residents of the inner city; crime, overcrowding, lack of education, poverty, unsanitary living condition, poor parenting, etc.
I am pleased to note the efforts at community involvement and development that members of the North Eastern Pastors Alliance are spearheading. The Rev. Beverley Strachan of the Assemblies of God is the current President. Their efforts in the training of mentors for young people and at parenting classes have been very helpful. Their establishment of centres for children suspended from school is worthy of praise. This started from humble beginnings in the Kemp Road area and there are now 13 of these across the island. The Ministry of Education is partnering with the group in this regard. Our own Rev. Angela Palacious works closely with this group, which is co-directed by Pastor Dale Moss of the Church of God of Prophecy. The headquarters for this programme is housed in St. George’s Church’s Outreach Building on Montrose Avenue opposite the Church.
It is very easy for us to engage in a continuous analysis of what’s going wrong in the society. To use the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must not become victims of the “paralysis of analysis.”
We must rise up and confront these issues. We don’t need people to predict rain and bad weather. Anyone can do that. We need some Noahs to build arks and take our people to safety. We must be equal to the task!! Let’s do the right thing!
We commend the government for its effort in collecting taxes and urge the government to keep the pressure up. I call on citizens and residents to pay their taxes that they owe. On the other hand, no stone should be left unturned in the effort to wipe out corruption, theft, wastage of time and resources from the various government departments and agencies. The cost of doing business is still too high and the time it takes to process things is still too long.
It is just totally unacceptable to have so much money unaccounted for in some of these agencies. People need to be held accountable for our money and publicly prosecuted when theft takes place. The culture of deceit, dishonesty and corruption is too deeply entrenched in our so called “Christian Nation.” My brothers and sisters, we cannot build a country with this handicap.
While taxes are necessary for the government to fund goods and services that it delivers, many more people would be less hostile to paying taxes if we could be more convinced that the money was being spent wisely!! There needs to be more reporting of these matters to the public and real, dispassionate accounting, not pat phrases and sound bites given in passing.
National Health Insurance (NHI)
I wish to commend the government’s effort to bring National Health Insurance on stream. It is LOOOONG overdue – and even that is an understatement. Since 1983 successive governments have made key decisions in this direction, so there is bi-partisan agreement on its necessity. Let us have wide collaboration, sound planning, realistic deadlines, clear accountability, attainable milestones and a heart for the nation’s well-being as we move forward. Remember that, in addition to the scheme itself, systems, facilities, attitudes and work ethic must be in place for it to work.
Regardless of how effectively the National Health Insurance will work, ultimately we are each responsible for our good health. We are our own primary health care giver. Let us take more care of our own health. We have the dubious distinction of being the most obese people in the Caribbean. Non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension are rampant.
All of us must be on board to make it work for all of us.
National Development Plan
I wish to commend the work of the Vision 2040 exercise which is the National Development Plan of The Bahamas. The Secretariat, based in the Office of the Prime Minister, is lead by Dr. Nicola Virgill-Rolle.
The exercise looks at the current state of The Bahamas and seeks to lay out a plan of development that will chart the future of the country as a whole, irrespective of which government is in power.
Every citizen and resident should be KEENLY interested in this.
Persons from the Secretariat will be addressing the Synod in our Practical Ministry segment on Wednesday afternoon. Throughout the history of these islands the Anglican Church has been a key player in national development and we cannot stop now.
Dear people of God, Justice is something that we DO. The Church, the government, the schools, the private sector, social and civic organisations must individually and collectively agitate and work for it in every area so that, in the words of the Prophet Amos, Justice will “roll down like a river” (Amos 5:24) all over the Bahamas and The Turks and Caicos Islands
Key in all of this in our personal choice: choosing to follow in our own lives, living our faith. This should spill over into everything else that we do.
As the bishop of the Diocese, I call on all Anglicans, and upon the wider community, to focus on that personal relationship with God: nurture it, strengthen it, rekindle it if you have to, or start it for the first time. Live for God. Let His light shine into our lives…and then let His light shine FROM our lives. We have to get back to basics. We have to live for God. We have to live the Gospel. We have to put arms and hands and legs on the Gospel.
Our theme in the Diocese this year is “We have a Goodly Heritage – Build on it!” Our Christian heritage is rich. God has been SOOO good to us. He has given us life. He has given us this Church that has shaped us all, and given us each our wonderful identity. He has given us His Son, Jesus, who died for our redemption. My friends, let us claim God, name and claim Gods’ place in our lives, and move forward from this foundation to live for Him, to build on the glorious faith with which we have been entrusted.
In this year I call on the whole Anglican Family, individually, in parishes, in your various ministries and in every sphere of existence, to build on God’s heritage in your life.
Set about building a spiritual house. Set about ordering your affairs in God’s ways.
Again, my sisters and brothers, we have to speak it. We have to live it. We have to bring our lives and our living into line with what God wants from us, and we have to help each other along the way…to be what God wants us to be.
This is the only way that the Church and the state can DO JUSTICE, as Micah calls us to do. Won’t you commit to this task today?