Bethel Congregational Church (BCC), which is part of Guyana Congregational Union (GCU), a CWM member church, hosted a National Commemorative Service to observe the bicentenary of the 1823 Demerara Uprising on 20 August 2023. Its distinguished guests in attendance included Guyana Prime Minister Mark Phillips, Member of Parliament Hon. Dr Karen Cummings, Leader of the Opposition Aubrey Norton, Deputy Mayor of George Town Denise Miller, Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud, Permanent Secretary Elisabeth Harper, Chair of Guyana Reparations Committee Eric Phillips, and Council for World Mission (CWM) Moderator Rev. Lydia Neshangwe.
Through a heartfelt liturgy crafted by CWM, the service honoured the legacy of leaders such as Quamina – a deacon and member of this church – and the sacrifices and valor of nearly 12,000 enslaved people who participated in the revolt for freedom. The 1823 Demerara Slave Rebellion is widely acknowledged as one of the largest uprisings by enslaved people and stands as a pivotal chapter in the history of slavery. The 1923 rebellion, together with a revolt in Jamaica in 1831, contributed significantly to hastening the Emancipation Act. This brought about the freedom of 800,000 enslaved Africans on 1 August 1834. Legislative assemblies in colonies abolished the apprenticeship system and full freedom was granted to all former slaves on 1 August 1838.1 John Smith and Rev. John Wray of the London Missionary Society (LMS), the forebear of CWM, educated the enslaved Africans in reading and writing, and to believe in the equality of all in the eyes of the Lord.
CWM Moderator Rev. Lydia Neshangwe made reference to this when she brought greetings to this commemorative service, reminding those present of the importance of this occasion as the Demerara Uprising laid the foundation for the global and local abolitions that came in the next decade, leading to the emancipation of many. Considering it an inspiring event, the CWM Moderator asserted that the struggle for economic, psychological, social, and spiritual freedom continues, and affirmed CWM’s accompaniment in celebration and remembrance with them, and in mapping out a future together.
The service was lively, peppered with worship songs throughout, with highlights such as Rev. Neshangwe’s presentation of Quamina’s letter to the Guyana Prime Minister, as a symbol of shared history between Guyana, GCU and CWM. The sermon was preached from Galatians 5:1 & 13-15 by Rev. Dr Roderick Hewitt, who is Chairperson of CWM’s The Onesimus Project and President of International University of the Caribbean.
A series of commemorative events will progressively be rolled out over the week. Following the Commemorative March from Mahaica to Parade Ground which took place on 18 August, an exhibition to mark the bicentenary will officially begin on 25 August, with His Excellency President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali gracing the occasion to launch the exhibition. In addition, the University of Guyana and Guyana Reparations Committee International Reparations Conference will be held the next day.