Monthly Archives: February 2016

“Change and decay in all around I see”



Article in “The National” newspaper
Religion is losing influence on Scottish life … except in education
SCOTLAND is losing its religion in just about all areas of public life, according to a new report.

When it comes to marriage and moral issues the church is no longer the powerhouse it once was, but in education faith organisations remain strong and influential.

Academics at Glasgow University have carried out an audit of religion in Scots law, poring over legislation to find out exactly what rights the country’s different churches and religious communities have in 2016.

Commissioned by the Humanist Society of Scotland, the purpose of the report was to make sure law- makers and the public were fully aware of the role and the power of religious groups.

Gordon MacRae from the society said the “increased public and political awareness of the changing role of religion and belief in Scottish public life” had prompted the commission.

Key findings include that church ministers receive a 50 per cent reduction in council tax; religious communities where people live, such as monasteries or nunneries, do not need to pay the minimum wage; and blasphemy is still a crime in Scotland, though there have been no prosecutions for well over a century.

Professor Callum Brown, one of the report’s authors, said religion’s place in Scots law was “by and large now being eroded by human rights legislation from Europe, Westminster and Holyrood”, but in education its influence could still be felt. The 11 members of the General Teaching Council of Scotland are required to include one member from Church of Scotland and one from the Roman Catholic Church.

The report said there may also be schools in Scotland that are, in effect, “quasi-denominational schools.” After a Catholic school is discontinued and its pupils are sent to another, non-denominational building, provision is made for those pupils to receive religious instruction four times a week from a Catholic Church representative and one hour a week of religious observance.

Currently in Scotland there are 366 Catholic schools, three Episcopalian schools and one Jewish school. The Humanist Society say that given Scotland’s history and institutions had been shaped by religion over centuries, the report was necessary as the country discusses “where it’s going”.

MacRae said: “Many people in Scotland will be surprised by the quirks highlighted in this report, such as church ministers getting a 50 per cent discount on council tax, religious communities being exempt from the requirement to pay a minimum wage, and the fact that Scotland never quite got around to repealing the blasphemy law. But for us the most significant theme is a weakening of the position of religion in Scots law in all areas, except education; where it has been significantly strengthened in recent years.”


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A Wedding in Sangre Grande, Trinidad

It was, by Trinidadian standards, a comparatively quiet affair – but so respectful and over-flowing with love and harmony that it was wonderful.

A young man who was a member of our church in Sangre Grande (one of our rural preaching points) was marrying a lovely Hindu lassie, who had converted to Christianity. The ceremony was to be conducted at the home of her parents

We met at the home of the Groom’s folks and drove in cavalcade (horns sounding all the way) the short distance to where the Bride lived. Their home was just a plain wooden structure down a dirt track; a small house but filled to overflowing with family, friends and well-wishers.

And what joy! What happiness! What sharing of love and friendship!

Christians and Hindus together, linked together (however temporarily) to participate in this beautiful occasion.

The atmosphere was relaxed and informal.

Immediately before the wedding ceremony itself, the couple became officially engaged (!) – accompanied by loud cheers and applause.

Then the solemn words of the Church of Scotland’s Book of Common Order (there was a degree of surrealism here), before the legal paperwork was tackled.

And, as we finished, a guest spontaneously burst into an unaccompanied solo of the 23rd Psalm.

We then moved outdoors and, under the shade of a banyan tree, the men sat down at long tables,waited upon by the women. Well, it had been the menfolk who had prepared the meal (as is traditional,I was told).

And what food! curried goat and chicken, dhal and channa (chickpeas), rice and roti (like a chapati, but better).

In the background, tablas were being played, hummingbirds were a-humming, crickets chirping – and I tried not to look at the tree to which the poor goat had been tethered before given the coup de grace.

In one corner,a group of old men, hats on head, were huddled together exchanging confidences and recalling past glories; in another, youths boldly flashed their smiles at girls who looked demure and only giggled in response.

What a wonderful day. Here there was no artificiality, not a “wedding-planner” in sight, no videos – just simplicity and innocence and yet, at the same time, great profundity. And, above all else, great joy (why, I even thought I saw two lizards dancing together!)

And then perhaps strange in our eyes – after the meal was finished, all the Groom’s side of the family left, taking with them the young couple back to his parental home.

With car horns sounding, we drove back to another reception there – with more food of a similar kind and of identical large quantities.

Then followed more speeches and warm words of welcome to the girl who was now part of the family and who, from that moment, would be taking up residence with her new husband and in-laws, as is customary.

It may, I suppose, seem strange to some that a Church of Scotland minister should be conducting a Church of Scotland marriage ceremony some 4000 miles away and in unorthodox surroundings.

But Christ knows no barriers.

And seldom have I been given such a warm and sincere welcome on that particular day.

The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a Wedding Feast – that incident was the perfect illustration of it.

(p.s. I got a doggy-bag of my favourite goat roti to take home)


pps   I revisited Sangre Grande on 22 February 2016 – almost 34 years after the events described above.  I went to the home of the mother-in-law of the bride. Almost immediately a photo was produced; it shows the wedding party and myself.

Later, I was to go into town and there I met with Patsy – the bride in the photo.  We embraced warmly.  What a welcome and what a lovely and loving family.





Patsy Dattoo – 2016


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The Rose – Some Thoughts for Mothering Sunday (Lent 4)

Sky Pilot

“Say it with flowers!”   I’m sure florists all over the land have been inundated during the last few days with orders for bouquets, sprays, and posies.

Today, of course, is Mothering Sunday, and what symbolises the love we feel today, and the joy we feel today, than the beautiful gift of a flower….and particularly that of a rose…

“Enough the rose was heaven to smell”  – that’s a fine line….

…yes, there is something special, beautiful, almost heavenly  about a rose.

It is a thing of beauty; a thing of joy.  Roses and rejoicing go well together.

The Prophet Isaiah when talking of the future glory of Zion writes:

The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose

He seems to link the rejoicing of the people with the blossoming of the rose.

The rose – it symbolises fertility…

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Visit to Susamachar Presbyterian Church, San Fernando, Trinidad. 20/2/16










It was a memorable day on February 20, 1871 when Dr. Kenneth J. Grant started a school in a building known as the OLD THEATRE situated on Cipero Street. The spot was known as TOLLGATE and was well located for all the East Indian children in the town, and more so, at a point, which attracted a large number from the country. Church services were conducted in this building and steady progress was made in attendance of both the day school and Church services. From this humble beginning Susamachar Church started.

In 1872 Church services were moved to the first Susamachar Church Building on Coffee Street, San Fernando. When a subscription list was drawn up, the sum of Two Thousand and Sixty Dollars ($2,060.00) was collected for the Church Building to accommodate four hundred (400) persons. It was a wooden structure fifty feet by forty-five feet with a pitch pine floor. In front, on either side, was an imposing tower, capped by a dome. The Susamachar Presbyterian Church, the Church of “Good News” was dedicated on the 7th July 1872 by Rev. Kenneth K. Grant, the founder and first Minister.

As the work of the Church increased, a Board of five (5) Managers was organized in 1875 to assist in the business of the Church. A Session was later formed for the spiritual aspects of the work at Susamachar. In August 1875, Babu Lal Behari and Clarence Soodeen were ordained as the first two (2) East Indian Elders of Susamachar. In 1882, Rev. Lal Behari was ordained as a Minister of the Presbyterian Church. He was closely associated with Rev. Grant for thirty-five (35) years as “a pupil, assistant and teacher combined and a beloved colleague and trusted friend”.

Rev. Grant resigned in 1907 on the grounds of the failing health of Mrs. Grant and returned to Canada. Mrs. Grant died in 1912. The marble baptismal font placed near the Pulpit was presented by the Women of Susamachar in memory of Mrs. Grant. Rev. Angus Firth succeeded Rev. Grant. Unfortunately, he died of a tropical fever the same year.

By 1926, there was urgent need for a new Church building as the first building was too small for the growing congregation. A Building Committee was set up to raise money for this new project. The appeal for contributions had an excellent response. Plans and specifications were prepared by Mr. Maurice Accane, architect and builder. Mr. Emmanuel Lucky was awarded the contract to erect the new Church which was built at a total cost of Thirteen Thousand Dollars ($13,000.00).

The new Church Building was dedicated on the 27th May 1932 by Rev. J. A. Scrimgeour. The door of the building was opened by Miss Sylvin Grant, daughter of Rev. K. J. Grant. Rev. Victor B. Walls was the Preacher. Rev. James Clarke MacDonald was the Minister at that time.

Some Historical highlights are:

April 27, 1932: The Scottish Presbyterian Church of High Street, San Fernando, merged with Susamachar Presbyterian Church.
January 8, 1933: The Stained Glass Window depicting St. Paul’s First Missionary Journey was unveiled and dedicated. This was a gift from the late Thomas Geddes Grant in memory of his father, Rev. J. K. Grant.
May 3, 1933: The Manual Two-Pipe Organ was dedicated in memory of Rev. John Smith Wilson, the last serving Minister of the Scottish Presbyterian Church of High Street.
Other notable gifts from the Grant family include the Lectern, Pulpit, Communion Table, the Minister’s Chair, the Choir Stalls and the Electronic Chimes, which were dedicated on July 17, 1960. The Chimes Cabinet was donated by the Jagroop family in memory of their parents and dedicated on the same day.

The history of Susamachar would not be complete without some reference to Rev. Dr. James C. MacDonald. This teacher, scholar and theologian still lives in the hearts of many who worship at Susamachar. Susamachar’s growth owes much to his efforts and dedication to duty.

The first native Minister appointed to Susamachar was Rev. J. A. Ramjit in 1959. His ministry was fruitful and Susamachar lost a worthy son when he resigned in 1964 to take up an appointment in Canada. He served for five (5) years.

The new Church Hall, an imposing structure at the Carib Street entrance was built through the untiring efforts of the Board of Managers of which Dr. C. E. Hubah was Chairman. Funds were raised to finance this building through systematic giving by the Congregation by way of envelopes. The builder was Mr. A. C. Goberdhan who died during the construction of the Church Hall. The building was dedicated on June 29, 1963 by the Rt. Rev Cyril Beharry, B.A., B.D., Moderator of Synod, Rev. J. A. Ramjit conducted the service and Rev. Dr. J.C. MacDonald brought the message.



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Nikabrik’s Candidate (first blog)

by Gina Dalfonzo
1 . 22 . 16
If you ever doubt that C. S. Lewis was gifted with a prophetic voice, you need look no further for correction than Prince Caspian.
In the story, you may remember, Narnia is in a desperate situation. The Telmarines have taken over, and the citizens of Narnia have been persecuted, silenced, and driven into hiding. When Prince Caspian—a Telmarine himself, but one who sympathizes with the Narnian cause—joins forces with them, this leads to a fresh round of attacks from the other Telmarines and their king, Miraz. The Narnians try to summon help by using Queen Susan’s horn—and they are successful, though not all of them realize it right away.

Drawn to Narnia by the call of the horn, Peter and Edmund and their guide, the dwarf Trumpkin, come upon a handful of Narnians meeting with Prince Caspian. Nikabrik, another dwarf, is angry that apparently no help has come from Aslan or the old kings and queens of Narnia. While others argue that “help will come” if they can wait patiently, Nikabrik contends that there is no time to wait: They are running out of food and reinforcements.

If Aslan won’t help, Nikabrik adds, perhaps another power will:

“The stories tell of other powers besides the ancient Kings and Queens. How if we could call them up?” . . .
“Who do you mean?” said Caspian at last.
“I mean a power so much greater than Aslan’s that it held Narnia spellbound for years and years, if the stories are true.”
“The White Witch!” cried three voices all at once. . . .
This, of course, is the same Witch who killed Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Nikabrik has already gone so far as to recruit a sorceress to raise the Witch from the dead. But the others are horrified—so horrified that a battle ensues, joined by the Pevensies and Trumpkin. By the time it’s over, Nikabrik and his allies are dead themselves.

How could one of the good guys in this story become corrupt enough to seek help from someone whose greed, brutality, and lust for power were legendary? As Lewis well knew, it can happen more easily and quickly than one might think. It’s been happening throughout history, ever since the first time the Israelites turned to a godless nation for help instead of trusting God to save them.

One can make a case that it’s happening right now within the conservative movement in the United States.

Which brings us back to the subject of prophetic voices. Did C. S. Lewis foresee the rise of Donald Trump? Not specifically, I’m sure. But Lewis had a remarkable understanding of human nature. He knew what it was like to feel that all hope was lost. And he knew that fear and despair can drive decent people to look for someone, anyone, who projects an appearance of strength.

Through the character of Nikabrik, Lewis explored the depths to which we can fall through fear. The first time Caspian meets Nikabrik, he is waking up after an accident and hears the dwarf’s voice near him, saying, “Kill it. . . . We can’t let it live. It would betray us.” There is absolutely no room in Nikabrik’s mind for the idea that a Telmarine could be good. And at first we can sympathize; his people have suffered greatly under the Telmarines, and he is fiercely loyal to his people—a good quality. But as Lewis frequently warned us, good qualities can be twisted and used for evil purposes.

Nikabrik’s fears are legitimate. His enemies are real and powerful and committed to the annihilation of his entire race. He is right to recognize the need for help. He is wrong to decide that help must come from a force equally merciless—wrong when he tells Caspian, “I’ll believe in anyone or anything . . . that’ll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces or drive them out of Narnia. Anyone or anything, Aslan or the White Witch, do you understand?”

When his friend Trufflehunter reminds him that the Witch “was a worse enemy than Miraz and all his race,” Nikabrik’s retort is telling: “Not to Dwarfs, she wasn’t.” His own people and their safety are all that matter to him now. Instead of being an important priority, this has become his only priority—and any attempt to remind him that other considerations exist brings only his contempt and anger.

This is how good people with strong, ingrained values—people who have invested time and money in the sanctity of life, religious liberty, and similarly noble causes—can come to support a man who changes his convictions more often than his shirts. This is how people concerned about the dignity of the office of President end up flocking to a reality-show star who spends his days on Twitter calling people “dumb” and “loser.” This is how some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly. As one wag on Twitter pointed out, “If elected, Donald Trump will be the first US president to own a strip club,” and yet he has the support of Christians who fervently believe that this country needs to clean up its morals.

As Joseph Loconte has observed, the Narnia stories offer us “a view of the world that is both tragic and hopeful. The tragedy lies in the corruption caused by the desire for power, often disguised by appeals to religion and morals.” How dangerously easy it is for the desire for power to take on that disguise—and how easily we Christians fall for it.

Tired of waiting for Aslan—who may be nearer than we think—we turn elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if our candidate hates, bullies, and exploits other people, the reasoning goes, just as long as he’s good to us and gives us what we want. Hatred is a perfectly acceptable weapon, as long as it’s “on our side.”

So said Nikabrik as he prepared to unleash a great evil on the land of Narnia.

C. S. Lewis may have lived well before Donald Trump’s time, but he was prescient about the situation. The only fate that awaits a group that turns against its own core values for the sake of security and power is the fate of Nikabrik.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of and Dickensblog.

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February 27, 2016 · 01:03

The Screaming Pastor

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Coming back….but not yet


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February 23, 2016 · 03:38

Day visit to my old congregation at Sangre Grande, Trinidad. 22 February 2016

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February 23, 2016 · 03:03



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February 22, 2016 · 13:51