I forgive you, sister
Hyacinth Bennett’s caustic criticism of the group of Christians who have volunteered to clean up Kingston and other sections of the island in preparation for next month’s Cricket World Cup was yesterday greeted with sympathy and forgiveness by the chairman of the group, Reverend Errol Rattray.
“She has my sympathy; she has my forgiveness,” Rattray said in response to Bennett’s tongue-lashing of the group at a youth forum on crime held at the Light House Assembly church in Spanish Town on Saturday and reported in yesterday’s Sunday Observer.
“At the same time, I extend an invitation to her to come on board, because I think, had she known the depth of this thing, she would have been one of the key players in the programme,” Rev Rattray said.
Bennett, in her address, had labelled the group “hypocrites and Pharisees” and accused them of disgracing and dishonouring Jesus Christ’s name.
“I am ashamed of the church,” she said. “To be cleaning up today when for years and for decades this country is filthy and dirty. Where were they? I call them hypocrites. I call them Pharisees.”
Under the umbrella group HOPE 2007, the Christians, who represent several denominations, started beautifying sections of the capital over the weekend in partnership with the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation.
Earlier this month, Rev Rattray told journalists at a news conference that the intention was not only to make the country presentable to visitors, but to use the event as an opportunity to minister the gospel in the hope of winning souls for Christ.
But on Saturday, Bennett chastised the church for remaining silent on the Government’s spending of billions of dollars on the international cricket event while the needs of poor Jamaicans were neglected.
“When poor people can’t get medication in the hospitals, when there are not enough beds, when the roads are not fixed, the youth can get no employment, and over $8 billion is being used to throw on World Cup? Something is wrong. We must speak out as Christians, no matter who is involved,” Bennett said.
“Where is the voice of the people of God when monies, scarce resources are being thrown at World Cup Cricket? Over $8 billion? When there’s so much poverty? When poor people go to hospitals and can’t afford to pay the entry fee and some of them die and can’t get surgery? And church people close their mouths?…Why is the church so silent on so many things and going out today with machetes and hoes and rakes claiming they’re cleaning up?” she asked.
Yesterday, however, Rev Rattray, splashes of white paint still on his hands from his involvement in the beautification drive, displayed no bitterness towards Bennett.
“From time to time there are persons who misunderstand the intentions of persons and organisations without talking to those who are involved,” he said in an interview at the Observer’s Beechwood Avenue head office. “They make comments and statements and sometimes when they end up recognising what the thing is really all about, they have to withdraw, or if they don’t publicly withdraw it, they will call somebody and say ‘boy, I’m sorry I said that’.
“I think when she does get the full detail, and the context in which we operate, she will clear her conscience by asking God’s forgiveness,” said Rattray, who declared he wasn’t questioning Bennett’s Christianity, nor was he seeking an apology.
He reiterated that the concept of HOPE 2007 was the church’s attempt to seize a moment that was ripe with opportunities. “God has caused Cricket World Cup to come to Jamaica,” he said. “We can either let the opportunity pass or we can seize the moment. The moment has arrived for the church. The moment has also arrived for evangelism.”
Yesterday, thousands of Christians continued what was originally slated to be a two-day clean-up. However, the drive will continue next weekend, Rattray said.
The Christians, who came from about 40 different church organisations and denominations, cleaned up Constant Spring Road from the Inland Revenue Department to Mandela Park, Windward Road and Mountain View Avenue in East Kingston, the area surrounding the Ward Theatre and St William Grant Park in downtown Kingston.
“It has been very good. Everything has gone according to plan,” Rattray said. “Now that the message is out, people know that it wasn’t just talk. When they see the work, they are going to start to rally to the cause.”
Rattray, who also heads the Errol Rattray Evangelistic Association, said there are plans to implement, under the supervision of the minister’s fraternal in all 14 parishes, smaller versions of HOPE 2007.