Calling Pastor Kwame in his Right Name

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 10, 2008

CrossThe following headline was blazoned across the July issue of The Anglican Outlook: “Hundreds say Farewell, Canon Griffith,” the former pastor of St. Clement’s Anglican Church. The photograph that accompanied the story showed his colleagues carrying his casket to its final resting place. Bishop Calvin Best presided at the Holy Eucharist while Lystra Bernice Griffith Brown, the canon’s daughter, delivered the eulogy.

Anyone reading that story would never know that Canon Griffith had abandoned his slave name and adopted an African name: Kwame Mohlabani, Chief Echefu 1 of Okapala, Nigeria. Pastor Kwame, as we called him fondly, reveled in his African heritage and pronounced himself an African man. He erected a cross in front of St. Clement’s and his home that reminded the world of the millions of Africans who died during the middle passage.

Each July he celebrated Kwanzaa in which he honored our heritage and celebrated our resilience. Although this festival is celebrated from December 26 to January 1, Pastor Kwame felt that July’s closeness to Emancipation Day allowed us to concentrate on the special flavor of that festivity. He and his committee honored those whom he felt had contributed to the upliftment of their people.

The Outlook did not carry any of this information. It told us when he was ordained (1972); the site of his first curacy (Port of Spain Cathedral); the vicarages in which he served (Newtown, Rio Claro and Siparia) and St. Clement’s. The most touching part of the news report announced: “Canon Griffith was robed in his vestments and had a Chalice in his hand. As is the custom, the canon’s casket was taken out of the church by his colleagues on the Cathedral Chapter which he joined in May 2001 when that announcement was made at Synod.”

Why was the Outlook silent about Pastor Kwame’s African orientation; called him out of his name, even as he “marched upward to Zion/The Beautiful city of God?”

The same issue of the Outlook carried another story that announced the activities of the 136th Session of the Synod in the Diocese which meant it has been carrying on its business since 1872. In seeking to extend its social outreach, His Lordship “reminded the Synod that members of the Church are called by God to be agents of transformation,” a challenge Pastor Kwame embodied.

The photograph that accompanied the story above showed His Lordship in the presence of Assistant Bishop Rawle Douglin whose father, Philip Douglin, served in Rio Pongas, West Africa as a missionary of the West Indian Church Association for the Furtherance of the Gospel in 1867. In 1882, he was appointed acting chaplain of Sierra Leone’s major Anglican Church. After suffering a dreadful illness he sailed for England. Thereafter, he was sent to St. Clement where he served from 1887 to 1902.

In 1889, Bishop Hayes conferred an honorary Canonship on Rev. Douglin that made him the only Canon in the Trinidad Church, and the first black canon in English Church.

Canon Douglin was also an African nationalist. In August 1888, on the fiftieth anniversary of the emancipation of slavery he gave a stirring address in which he reminded his audience about the devastating psychological impact European slavery had on the enslaved.

Canon Douglin was a staunch Pan Africanist throughout his life. In 1901, when Sylvester Williams returned to Trinidad from London to spread the news of Pan Africanism and to recruit followers, Canon Douglin became one of his most ardent supporters. He was elected as the secretary of the San Fernando branch of the Pan African Association. When he died, the Mirror said: “Canon Douglin was a Negro, proud of his race and was at times ready to associate himself with any cause having for its object the uplifting of the people, and holding himself up as a pattern…In his death, the Church has lost a hard-working member, and the Negro Race, a staunch and sympathizing friend.”

This was Pastor Kwame’s spiritual lineage and the tradition he upheld. The Anglican Church should have celebrated Pastor Kwame’s spiritual outreach to Africans that was initiated by Bishop Richard Rawle, the principal of Codrington College, who sought to reverse the slave journey by sending Africans from the Caribbean to “serve/save” their brothers in Africa. In this, Canon Doughlin was one of Bishop Rawle’s chosen vessels of faith.

On July 21, 1902, Bishop Hayes paid the finest compliment to Canon Douglin. He acknowledged: “Rev. Douglin loved his race, and took a lively interest in everything pertaining to the welfare of the people.” He saw no contradiction between Canon Douglin serving his church and his people simultaneously.

Canon Mohlabani followed in the footsteps of Canon Douglin as he served his church and his people. It would have been gratifying if Bishop Best had uttered a variation of Bishop Rawle’s sentiments at the death of Canon Moshlabani. It would have been even better if the Anglican Outlook had called him in his correct name as it proclaimed: “Farewell to Canon Mohlabani” as he joined his brother in Christ.

May he rest in Peace.