The Guyana Diocesan Association and I go back over 25 years to a friendship I built with USPG missionary Canon John Dorman. It was he who planted in me the idea of investing a period of my life in Guyana to assist with training priests.
By 1987 12 indigenous candidates had been trained so that the sacraments were available regularly across most of Guyana’s interior. The invitation, which I took up with Fr Allan Buik and my wife-to-be Anne, at the Alan Knight Training Centre at Yupukari, was to lead training for a second group of six men.
These were fishermen before they were priests and fishermen in another sense after their priesting in April 1990. ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’ Jesus said. (Matthew 4:19) Over the years I have spent involved with GDA I have reflected on the different scale of evangelistic fishing in England and Guyana. The priests I trained have both rivers teaming with fish and communities readily caught up into worship when there is a priest ‘to fish for people’.
Even in the 1980s I was aware of the contrast in size of congregations apparent between the Diocese of Guyana and the Church of England dioceses I have served in. The Diocese of Guyana is not short of ‘fish’, to continue the analogy, though she could always do with some more ‘fishermen’. There remains a great shortage of priests although the last two years have seen encouraging signs of new vocations.
It was tremendously refreshing, as a priest used to small congregations, to sweat away at giving Holy Communion to hundreds of folk week by week. I recall one Sunday Mass in Guyana when I emptied the Tabernacle and had to re-consecrate twice to provide for the multitude that flocked to the rails. On another occasion I recall a Saturday when 1000 young people aged 15-30 turned out for the annual Diocesan Sports Competition, something most heartening. We in the Church of England are said to lose over 1000 young people every week.
I am convinced that giving 3 years of my life to train priests for Guyana was a good investment of my time and talents. I continue through GDA to do all I can to encourage and foster vocations within the Diocese knowing the hunger for God there is in Guyana and how people respond so readily when the meaning and power of scripture and sacrament are made evident.
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’ (Matthew 9:37-38)