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Priest’s passion for people


DONNA SEALY

Priest’s passion for people

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IF THERE IS A MOTTO or slogan that fits Amrela Massiah to a T it would be “people, passion, purpose”.

An assistant priest in the Anglican Church, she will be taking up new duties at St Martin’s Anglican in St Philip, and is passionate about social justice and helping people learn and love.

“I’m very conscious that we live in a broken world and I’m very, very conscious that my brothers and sisters live in dehumanising poverty and so many are discriminated against because of their gender, sexuality and age. I am very, very interested in social justice. That is who I am,” she told EASY magazine.

“Before I was ordained, I was volunteering in Brixton Prison, in the chaplaincy in London. I was part of the chaplaincy team. We also were on the board of visitors at the prison. I would go talk to the prisoners, find out how they were going, what they’re not getting, how they were being treated and we made a report on that. I volunteered in many different areas in London.

“Even before I left Barbados, I taught at the Challenor School after I left Barbados Community College. That has been in me all of the time. Who I am led me to being ordained. I was ordained in the Anglican Church in 2007 and in Pentecostal Church before that. I sensed God was calling me in that direction . . . ,” she said.

Reverend Amrela is passionate about her causes and when she speaks about them it resonates in every timbre of her voice.

Recently she spearheaded the Stiletto Run/walk, which was one of the activities during the 16 days of activism to bring greater awareness of gender violence.

“This walk was made in a second. When I mentioned it to Marilyn [Rice-Bowen] she said yes. The energy was high and we got together really quickly and I tried to contact people to get advertising and get flyers printed.

“ . . . . I get a little bit impatient because my speed is always ever ready battery. My co-chair on the foundation, we balance out each other. She’s very pragmatic and thinks ahead. I do, too, but I can’t see the impossibilities, I can’t see the mountains, I can’t see why we can’t do anything,” she said.

And while she was disappointed with the low turnout, she will be a voice, an advocate for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. She already knows what she wants to do next year including starting promotion of the event which is done in other countries, earlier so more people would be aware and participate,

Until then however, the Foundation School alumna will continue to speak and preach her message of hope and education whenever she gets the chance, whether it is from the pulpit or through her recently formed organisation, the Barbados Literacy Foundation, which seeks to empower people.

“My main thing with the foundation is literacy but I have realised in talking to people that it does not stand alone at all. If we lack adequate functional literacy, it impacts on our ability to earn, our ability to communicate, it impacts on our standard of living. If you can’t communicate your feelings and the only way you can communicate is through violence, it is a vicious cycle.

“I have been asked to do a literacy intervention for a low income family and before I deal with literacy, I had to find a way to alleviate some of what they’re going through in terms of their living conditions,” she explained.

Having returned to Barbados three years ago, she said the country and the evangelical church seems to be more conservative than when she was growing up. She would like to see “more manoeuvrability”.

“I think I’m still looked on as the odd fellow . . . . I have been given the nickname of ‘the priest who doesn’t follow protocol’. I believe in an inclusive ministry. If you come to my church, I’m not giving you any special attention . . . . We are an inclusive church. God sees no difference.

“ . . . . My views have got me in trouble. All through The Bible, it has always been on equality. All are welcome, all one at the cross. God sees no difference and I don’t see why we put up social barriers. We talk about gender, sexuality, age, limitations on people . . . . ,” said the priest, who is officiating services at St Martin’s Anglican during this period of Advent.

On Christmas Eve, she conducted the Midnight Mass at the St Philip church.

Over the years, she has worked at Imperial College in the chaplaincy before going on to seminary, in the Southwark diocese, the Old Royal Naval College. She spent a year as a secondary school chaplain in Hong Kong. She also lived in Minnesota in the United States before moving to England.

“When I look back, if I had remained in Barbados, I don’t know how different I would be from who I am now. I’ve had so many different varied experiences living abroad but I think a lot of my experiences would have impacted on how I think now and how I respond to things, how I live and live out my call to be a disciple,” she said.

Reverend Massiah likes reaching out to parishioners, whether at Christ Church Parish Church where she is based or at any of the other churches in the deanery. She said that “because I am an assistant priest I probably can’t do as much as I would want to do”, but that is not a hindrance to incorporating what she feels strongly about into her ministry.

“I talk a lot about the marginalised and gathering up the fragments so that all can eat. I talk a lot about the international scene as well as what goes on in Barbados. Recently, I’ve been talking about the Syrian refugee crisis and ISIS and our response as Christians. Even though my sermons are biblical based, I see how The Bible can speak to our existential circumstances,” she said.

Her aim is to bring about change, particularly as it relates to gender abuse.

“I feel very strongly that we need to be being something. In conversations, especially with Barbadian men, it seems as if they are totally unaware of how much of what they say and do is sexual harassment. It is just office talk, normal talk. In other parts of the world it is definitely a no-no but we don’t seem to take things very seriously here.

“One of the reasons I will be involved in anything with the Bureau of Gender Affairs and raising awareness [is that] I think that if water drips on a stone long enough it will make an impression and I don’t think we can stop,” she said.

“ . . . . If we talk more about it. If we stop the silence and the empathy and disinterest and we get our men, our women, our schoolchildren and our elderly people on board, then we draw more focused attention on the need to do something about violence against women in Barbados,” Massiah said. (Green Bananas Media)

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