Smith Memorial Congregational Church Celebrates 175 Years – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Smith Memorial Congregational Church Celebrates 175 Years November 25, 2018

Smith Memorial Congregational Church Brickdam, Georgetown

– by Francis Quamina Farrier

We keep hearing from time to time, that “Bad News Sells”, but the kind of responses I have been receiving over the years with the many “Feel Good Stories” which I’ve been producing, it seems somehow to negate that often-times statement about the bad news being good for business.

Anyway, here’s another “feel good story” from me; it’s about the 175th. Anniversary of the Smith Memorial Congregational Church, located on Brickdam in Georgetown. Today, November 25, 2018, there is a special service at that iconic wooden church, at which Pastor Loris Heywood of the Bethel Mission Chapel on Camp Street, Georgetown, is scheduled to deliver the special anniversary sermon.  

Speaking with me last week, Retired Judge, Pastor Oslyn Small, who is the Senior pastor at Smith Memorial Church, related some of the inspiring history of the church from its inception, which was during the period of slavery in the Guianas and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere.

Those were the days when English, Scots, Irish and others of Faith left family, friends and country, and travelled on ships for weeks, south west across the Atlantic ocean, to the South American colony to spread the Gospel. One was the Reverend John Wray, who preceded the Reverend John Smith to Demerara in the early 1800s. When John Wray was transferred to the equally historic Mission Chapel Congregational church in New Amsterdam, Berbice, John Smith was sent by the London Missionary Society from England to Demerara to minister at the Bethel Chapel which was located at Le Resouvenir on the East Coast Demerara.

The arrival of John Smith to Demerara, in February 1817, was two years after John Wray was sent to Berbice, and during the ensuing two years, it was the enslaved African, Quamina, who as the Senior Deacon at Bethel Chapel, efficiently took care of the affairs of the church at Le Resouvenir and ministered to the faithful. That is something which many Guyanese of today are unaware of; the fact that someone who was enslaved, had the leadership abilities to keep the faith and the followers as motivated and disciplined, as any highly trained and qualified free man from a developed country.

At that period of slavery in the Western Hemisphere, it was a crime for anyone to teach an enslaved person to read. Both John Wray and John Smith responded with civil disobedience and broke that law, and gave English lessons to the enslaved Africans. A situation developed which lead to the well-known 1823 East Coast Demerara Slave revolt. That resulted with the murder of Deacon Quamina, and the arrest and imprisonment of John Smith, who was condemned to death for the part he played in the revolt which had resulted in the deaths of many slaves and slave-owners as well as some Malita men.

John Smith died in prison while on Death Row. He was buried at a small cemetery just west of where the St. Phillip’s Anglican Church is located. On November 24, 1843, exactly 20 years after the date on which the Reverend John Smith was sentenced to death, Smith Memorial Congregational Church was opened and dedicated as a tribute to his work and suffering to spread the gospel – the good news – of the Holy Bible the enslaved Africans in Demerara were taught to read. The Reverend John Smith has since been referred to as “The Demerara Martyr”. A bronze bust of him which was on display for many years in the front of the church on Brickdam, was removed by a person or persons during the early 1990s, and has never been seen again.

During more recent years, many notable Guyanese have been members of Smith Memorial. They include the late Minister of government Dr. Kenneth King and the late Headmistress of the Bishops’ High School, Carmen Jervis, who wrote a book on the History the The Bishops’ High School. Also a member of the church, Englishman Hawley Bryant who spent many years in British Guiana, is buried in the front of the church, and like Carmen Jervis,  Hawley Bryant was an educator and composer, and composed some of Guyana’s best-loved patriotic songs, such as “Song of Guyana’s Children”. At present, the oldest living member of the church is 104 year old Cathlyn Headley.

A few months ago, the building of a new manse just west of the church commenced. It is being constructed in concrete and will replace the demolished wooden manse which had been there for many decades.

Editor’s Note: All Photos below were taken by Francis Q. Farrier.

Rev. Pastor Oslyn Small

Seon Greaves with his wife Latoya and their two children after Sunday Service at Smith Memorial.
Hawley Bryant's tomb

The tomb of Englishman Haley Bryan in the forecourt of the Smith Memorial church on Brickdam, Georgetown. Note the pedestal in the background from which the bronze bust of Smith was stolen in the 1990s.

The Smith Memorial Congregational Church on Brickdam, and the new manse in construction

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Comments

  • Trevor  On November 25, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    God is important to our lives, unlike the decadent industrialised countries where Gay Rights, bestiality, atheism and feminism take precedence over religious beliefs.

  • Peter Fraser  On November 25, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    SHARING

  • Jacqueline Hinds  On November 29, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Congratulations once again Francis on your precis of Smith Memorial Church on Brickdam celebrating 175 years of worship. You continue to highlight many historical buildings in Guyana, as you did about St. Andrews Kirk, just a mere few months ago when they celebrated 200 years of continuous worship. Keep up your blogs please because so many of the younger generation don’t know the history/importance of these historical buildings in Guyana.

  • Ian Wishart  On December 4, 2018 at 5:43 am

    I believe Smith was pardoned (or at least his death sentence commuted) by the UK courts, but the pardon arrived in Demerara after Smith had died.

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