By Samuel A. A Hinds, Former President and Prime Minister
Much respect to the late Bishop George for daring like Daniel to stand alone and to be unpopular even in his own church, voicing and acting out his dissent with the 1968 solution of rigged elections to keep the communist Dr Jagan and those different people of the PPP out of office. Much respect too for providing us an example of reaching out to bridge remaining gaps between our different peoples. In a short sketch at the back of the funeral programme, Canon Thurston Riehl tells of Bishop George’s bringing of a pragmatic and prophetic approach in the challenging situation of Guyana in the 1970s and 1980s.
As one of the young Guyanese not yet 23 at our independence in 1966, I and many of my generation who had chosen to stay in Guyana were feeling by the mid 1980s that our lives might have been wasted in fruitless sacrifice. Then, for me, there was that letter from Bishop George comforting and consoling and raising hope that there may be many who would want to turn away from that 1968 solution. The arguments for doing a seeming small wrong to avoid much greater wrongs is always seductive but often lead to outcomes and consequences which everyone later regrets but find difficult to move away from.
Recall the controversy when at the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Anglican church of the Transfiguration on Mandela Avenue, Bishop George’s offering to Dr Jagan, a born Hindu who by all appearances had become an atheist, and Dr Jagan partaking in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It was said that Bishop George had invited Dr Jagan as Dr Jagan had made the land available to the Church during Dr Jagan’s 1957-64 period in office as Premier. This was not desecration but demonstration of reaching across gaps between us, having worked together to achieve something.
That Communion story resonated with me. Today, most of us whatever our religion play phagwah but at an earlier time we would have been uneasy. I recall my grandfather, a parson, telling me in the early 1950s about the time in the early 1930s when his friend invited him to play phagwah. He thought about the admonition in the Bible about not taking part with non-Christians in their non-Christian ways but this was a friend with whom he had experienced many of the vicissitudes of life, in minding a few heads of cattle and in reading the almanacs of the day which purported to predict days of sunshine and days of rain, as they sought to determine the best day on which to plant their rice. The hand stretched out by his friend was not to be rebuffed but to be grasped. He had some phagwah sprinkled on his shoes. Being a child of just ten, to be seen and not heard, I thought silently to myself – people may not have seen but your God in heaven would have known about the phagwah on your shoes.
We Guyanese speak easily, too easily in my thinking, of our six peoples coming together as one, with no apparent recognition and hence no readiness for the sore testing and painful reshaping which it may be our lot to undergo. We see the other person as evading and retreating from the call to nationhood. Bishop George did not evade nor did he retreat.
We of the PPP and the PPP/C have long looked to us six peoples steadily, gradually converging as we make shared, common experiences both good and bad, as we work together to make a better life for each of us, bonding together as we work together.
The funeral service of Bishop George was well attended as it ought to have been – it may well be that the contribution of Bishop George in bringing us back from the 1968 solution and all that inevitably followed, could be more easily acknowledged at his passing than in his life. May this time of his passing be also the time for turning those pages of our history?