PEP COLUMN – We salute Reverend Comissiong!
Who are the real heroes of Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean?How do we assess and rate the life of a man such as the Reverend Vivian Comissiong, who was laid to rest a few days ago at the age of 94 years? Perhaps we should let the facts speak for themselves.Vivian Arthur Comissiong was born into a staunch Methodist family in the then British colony of Grenada during the years of the First World War, and he came to maturity during the revolutionary decade of the 1930’s.His very first job was as a journalist at the famous “West Indian” newspaper of the foremost Caribbean integrationist of the day – T. Albert Marryshow – under the editorship of the exiled crusading Barbadian newspaperman – Clennel Wickham.By 1938, however, he had felt and received in his soul the “call” to become a minister of the Lord, and as a result, set off for Caenwood Theological College in Jamaica for training as a Methodist minister. The highlight of his three years in Jamaica was the undertaking of an open air preaching tour of eastern Jamaica, travelling on bicycle.Upon graduating in 1941, the young Reverend Comissiong was sent on a four-year probationary assignment to the rural Charlotteville circuit of Tobago. At the time, the Second World War was at its height, and life in Tobago was full of scarcity and privations.However, the young minister quickly settled in, and set about giving pastoral care to the people of rural Tobago with his own unique blend of cheerfulness, humility, love, politeness, Christian zeal and deep spirituality. From the very beginning of Reverend Comissiong’s ministry, it was clear that he considered the entire West Indies to be his parish, and that he understood that the only truly effective way of loving God was to spend himself bestowing loving care and respect on the children of God.Such was his impact that when, after four years, he left Tobago for a St Vincent appointment, members of his Charlotteville congregation wrote to him as follows:- “You have caused every one you came in contact with to love you – because you always show kindness and love to all . . . .”Reverend Comissiong went on to serve the Methodist Church in no less than six different Caribbean territories – Tobago, St Vincent, Barbados, Trinidad, St Lucia and Guyana – and after each assignment the verdicts of his congregation were always the same – he had fed them with sermons of deep spirituality and intellectual substance, he had shown them respect and had allowed them to participate in the decision making and work of the church; he had always made time to attend to their spiritual and worldly needs; and he had strengthened their church as an institution.Reverend Comissiong served the Methodist Church of the Caribbean for more than 60 years, and his long and productive life was interwoven with many of the major historical developments of the Caribbean in the long march from colonialism to Independence.Almost immediately after the Methodist Church of the Caribbean secured its autonomy and independence from the Methodist Missionary Society of England in 1967, the Caribbean Church elevated Reverend Comissiong to the leadership post of Chairman of the South Caribbean District.Reverend Comissiong also provided leadership in the “Ecumenical Movement” of the Caribbean, and in addition to serving as Chairman of the Barbados Christian Council, it was largely through his initiative that the Council of Evangelical Churches was formed.We in the PEP consider him to be a Caribbean hero, and we thank God for his life and service!•The PEP Column represents the views of the People’s Empowerment Party.