April 19, 2014

Priests of the Caribbean: Fr. John and Lucille Gishler in St. Vincent

Santa from Canada and Fr. Brooker
We arrived in our Companion Diocese of the Windward Islands in November to be in place for Advent and the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year. They really celebrate things here so Advent begins with a huge gathering (1,200+) of the eight parishes in an outdoor stadium with all the clergy in full vestments and the Bishop celebrating the Eucharist. I was able meet the clergy, address the gathering and present a special purple cross, blessed by Bishop Kerr-Wilson to Bishop Friday. Bishop Friday loves to joke and noted that he was already wearing a cross so this might be a double cross.

Lucille and I met with Bishop Friday and Dean McIntosh to work out exactly what we would be doing. The Bishop was very interested in the Alpha Course and Cursillo so we began planning to train Alpha group facilitators and invite each of the eight parishes to send two people for training and another four to attend the course as ‘guests’. Our thinking was that Alpha would also be good training for future Cursillo team members. The Alpha teachings, group discussions and Holy Spirit Weekend have helped Twenty-eight people develop their personal faith and learn how to share their faith with others. We will be leaving the training video, Leaders Guide and Alpha Course DVD with the Diocese so these people can roll out Alpha in their home parishes.

In addition to Alpha “Fr. John” is attached to the Cathedral in Kingstown where I lead worship (sometimes at 5.30 am!) preach, lead a Bible Study group, support a Prayer Group and have been invited to speak to the clergy on Healing Ministry. Our Rectory is on ‘Sion (not Zion) Hill beside the Church of the Ascension where I also lead worship and preach. And ascend we do -the Island is a volcano so everything other than the airport is on a hill. Hills of 45 degrees rise are not uncommon. Fortunately we have a jeep to drive. Lucille’s friend cannot get her car up our driveway. The Third point of the Cathedral Parish is “Transfiguration which is a fifteen minutes of white knuckle driving around hairpin turns up steep grades over roads with four inch deep potholes. Then there are the taxi vans that pass you with only inches to spare before colliding with oncoming trucks or driving over a hundred-foot embankment. There are no bad drivers on St. Vincent – only good drivers and dead drivers.

Our main work here, in terms of hours of work, has been the development of a very small School Library at Bishop’s College Kingstown. Last year when we came to ‘scout-out’ the possibility of a mission to St. Vincent we found a small half-classroom with shelving, crude study desks and a pile of very old books on the floor in one corner. Lucille and I are both professionally trained Librarians and have been setting up libraries and developing Records Management systems as “The Gishler Group: Knowledge Management Consultants” since 1985. We had serious doubts about developing this pile of old books into a library and told Dean McIntosh – who is also Chair of the Board of Bishop’s College. This is a Church run high school that gives about 400 children who do not have the grades for entrance into the free Boys High School or Girls High School or tuition for one of the private high schools a second chance to succeed academically and potentially lift a family out of poverty. The fees are low and there is no budget for buying library books or even text books for the children. Our reaction must have motivated the School. When we returned in November the books were off the floor and on the shelves which had also been painted. We felt we could at least start the development of a library with what they had; hoping this would inspire some funding for new books and at least demonstrate the value of a library in a largely oral culture with a shocking level of adult illiteracy. We began by actually throwing out over 400 books – pre 1980 science books, torn and dirty paperbacks etc. Next we setup a simple Microsoft Access database to act as the Catalogue, Index and source for printing spine labels and manual book-card labels. We developed a job description for a “Teacher-Librarian”, got a commitment on staffing and began training staff in cataloguing and processing books. During the last week in March I gave every class an orientation and short teaching on library research and we began circulating books. It has been one of the most fulfilling things we have done.

Our time here has been a wonderful learning experience. While I have been sharing my knowledge and experience with Healing Prayer with clergy here, they have taught me that the deep psychological and spiritual wounds of slavery continue to fester and imprison people in the lie that black people are different than and inferior to white people. I was shocked to learn that the Anglican Church, two hundred years ago was teaching the lie that black people do not have souls and providing the theological justification for the inhuman treatment of slaves. This taught me that we were not here by accident. Our most recent learning in Healing Ministry was that many people need to be freed from curses and lies that have been deeply imbedded in their souls through the sacramental process of personal repentance and confession for believing the lie followed by hearing the words of absolution and accepting this of absolution. It was also probably not an accident that the speaker at the Clergy retreat also urged Clergy to see Healing as the essence of pastoral ministry. The Holy Spirit is alive and working in the Caribbean!

As we leave St. Vincent and the Grenadines for Canada (April 23) we are being showered with love by these deeply religious an spiritual people.

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