By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 04, 2020
A few weeks ago I wrote about the presence of money in our churches. Rev. Henry Richards of St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Tacarigua, absconded with over $1,000,000 in the 1880s whereas Pastor Vinworth Anthony Dayal, pastor of the Third Exodus Assembly Church in Longdenville, accumulated about $31 million, the product of 19 years of tithes. As we contemplate these excesses, we must remember there are better exemplars of God’s words and how His blessing manifests itself to believers.
On January 6, in the same church where Rev. Richards defrauded his congregants and other districkers, we (the parishioners, well-wishers, and friends) came together to celebrate the life of Claire Francois-Stoute, a lay reader of the church. As far as I know, she didn’t die with millions nor rip off anyone of their life-savings. She gave of herself totally so that others could realize the fullness of their humanity.
As I observed the hundreds of people, including Claude Berkley, the Anglican Bishop, and pastors from different Anglican churches around the country who paid their respects to this religious stalwart, I couldn’t help but think that Claire had stored up her treasures in heaven and in the hearts of her people.
While we praise the famous and infamous, sometimes we tend to forget those, who in their small ways, transform their communities through their service to others. Anyone who lives in St. Mary’s Parish (which encompasses St. Mary’s [Tacarigua], St. Aidan [Arouca], St. Philip [Lopinot], and the Maloney Mission) knows of the spiritual comfort that Claire’s vibrancy and faithfulness brought to members of those communities.
Claire was born in Arouca but attached herself to St. Mary’s when she moved into the area. Gradually, she became one of the rocks upon which the parish built its church. Together with Grace Griffith, my former teacher at Tacarigua A. C. School, she started the summer camp (or Holiday Camp) at the rectory in which Richards lived. As Grace grew older, Claire also took over the Sunday school.
Claire presided over the annual sports meetings of the church and conducted classes on religious instruction for the children of the St. Mary’s Children’s Home. She always had a pen and piece of paper handy. She was always taking notes, ready to respond to any emergency that came up or about anything that had to be done.
Claire was a prolific fund raiser. Dianne Bailey, my neighbor, called her the “ticket woman.” Claire was in charge of the tickets any time the church conducted a fund-raising activity. If one needed a ticket for any function, the cry went out, “Check Mrs. Stoute.” She was the all-round, go-to lady of the church.
Professor Fr. Anderson Maxwell, pastor of St. Mary’s, in an eloquent tribute—she didn’t want a eulogy—noted that Claire’s real story was her encounter with Jesus. “She had her own epiphany. He beckoned and she clearly said: ‘I will follow Him.’ I will be a living testimony of His love for the needy, the sick, the disabled, the aged, the poor, the lonely and the suffering.”
Claire was a living witness to Jesus’ transforming power in the lives of His people. Maxwell noted: “She involved the young along the way, encouraged the weak, showed the unbelieving, the reluctant and uncommitted that life in Jesus brings peace and joy and fulfillment and hope in the midst of the brokenness of this life.”
Claire was the embodiment of service to her God, her church and her people. She gave herself totally to others and, in so doing, found her religious self. She did not have money (or worldly goods) but possessed the spiritual abundance, which, in the end, is all that matters to followers of Christ.
Claire was no mere “do-gooder” but acted as a servant of Christ. Fr. Maxwell reminded us: “She followed in Jesus’ way and served Him. She understood that the church is steeped in Christ through whom God redeemed the world. She was not perfect but she was faithful to her God.”
He concluded his tribute with the following words: “Now that Claire has completed her work among us, we commend her to the faithful God she served in this life.” He hoped that those who were touched by her life and witness would be inspired by the Lord’s call to serve Him faithfully.
As I listened to Fr. Maxwell, I thought of the scriptural admonition: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the world and lose his soul.” I asked: “How does one accumulate $30 million and not spend a cent of it on ‘they who hunger and thirst after righteousness,’ but boast ‘Satan trying to make me famous.'”
I cannot envisage any setting in which the servants of God exist to exploit God’s people or to prey on their weaknesses. Tithes and offerings are meant to support the priest and his/her work but also as Noble Philip says, “for the foreigners, orphans, and widows—the needy—in our midst” (Express, January 7).
The more I live, the more I am convinced that Albert Einstein was correct. He said: “The life of the individual has value insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Life is sacred, that is to say, it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate.”
Claire Stoute’s life made the lives of those around her nobler and more beautiful. June Bailey-Sandy, faithful member of St. Mary’s, said, “She was an asset to the Anglican diocese.” I concur wholeheartedly with that sentiment.