“My Story” Chapter 11

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1913)



I will, at this point revert to my church life, beginning from my earliest experiences, and to show how much it influenced my life.  As much as I can recall, when I was transferred to the Anglican school in 1920, the first incumbent was Canon Gregory, an Englishman.  He had his wife and a son, a teenager whom we called “Taddles”.  Taddles would hang around us when we were playing and he would display the coarsest side of his nature, unbecoming his pious father.  Canon Gregory was tall and muscular with the forearm of a weight lifter.

When not engaged in religious work, he was always in his shirt-sleeves, rolled up to his elbows; but he always wore his clerical collar.  He spent much of his spare time in Agriculture.  He cultivated the whole of the four acres of the church lands on which was the vicarage with coconuts, mangoes, tamarind, and ground provisions.  He also had a flourishing grape-vine which was often over laden with the luscious fruit.  He was helped by loyal parishioners with whom he shared the produce.  I recall him sharing a basket of ripe tamarind with the school children.  He did not remain long in the parish for long as he was transferred to New Amsterdam, a small town in the County of Berbice.

When Canon Gregory was transferred, in 1921, he was replaced by the Rev. James Persaud who was of East Indian descent and who had strong views about Hinduism.  He was middle-aged.   In figure, he was of average height and portly.  He had a strong singing voice – almost baritone and he sang the order of the service and the hymns with gusto.  He had two sons, young men; one would sometimes relieve him by doing Matins and Evensong.  He also had two Indian helpers, one a catechist and the other an elderly Indian versed in the Hindi language.  Rev. Persaud was himself versed in Hindi which he used monthly in special services for Indian Christians who did not know English.  I must mention here, that I, too, with the permission of Canon Burgan, his successor, used to continue this practice although the Indians were beginning to understand English.

St. Augustine’s, at this time was a large church both in its building and membership. This Indian priest was able to attract a large membership that was predominantly Africans and they, especially the old ladies, loved him.  He also had as his admiring member, a rich diamond miner by the name of J.G. Stephens.  Mr. Stephens was an astute miner and businessman who did not squander his earnings as many miners did.  He had a large photograph of his priest taken and displayed in the aisle of the church where parishioners would flock around after service to admire.

The church was usually filled to capacity especially on feast days like Christmas, Easter and Harvest. Benches were brought over from the school, and these at times, were not enough, especially at Harvest when members from the other denominational churches attended in large numbers to participate in the festival and enjoy the floral decorations. They admired the many lit candles, the tall sugar canes tied to the pillars and the heaps of the fruit of the land displayed in its abundance on the altar and in front of the nave, all eagerly awaiting the beginning of the service.  With all this congestion, men perspired profusely in their serge and tweed suits as there were no fans in those days, since electricity was nonexistent in the country. Women fanned themselves with their little paper fans, – the odour of powder blending with sweat and perfume.  On one occasion I gave up my seat to an elderly man who took me on his lap, something which I did not enjoy and which kept me uncomfortable during the whole service.

The stillness that pervaded before the beginning of the service was incredible. At length, in the stillness, the opening prayer was heard coming from the vestry; after which the pipe organ broke the silence; the blind was drawn and the cross bearer emerged followed by the choristers in their gray cassocks and white surplices, then the acolytes or alter boys in their red cassocks and white surplices and lastly, the priest resplendently robed for the occasion carrying the chalice.   At this, the congregation rose and the first hymn were announced.

One day in 1923 when I was about eleven, Rev. Persaud spoke to me after the service and said that he wanted me to be an acolyte (altar boy) and that I must get a red cassock and a surplice made.  I was delighted, so my mother got them made and I began my training with a few other boys.   After that I used to visit the vicarage and share the companionship of his sons and I had a good relationship with the family. However, after John Isaac Fox, my head teacher died, I was transferred to the Congregational School, although I still attended the church. Rev Persaud told me after I transferred that I could not be an acolyte anymore because I am not attending the church school.  I took home my cassock and surplice, and my mother, a resourceful person, recycled them into underwear for my younger sister.

Looking back now I see the Rev. Persaud as a pompous bigot. I remember an incident where he insulted a Hindu pupil who attended a children’s service with other pupils of a dual controlled school of which he was manager; saying  that the boy was used to bowing down to wood and stone.  The poor lad however, who got Christian training in the school, was able to do better in answering Christian religious questions which he asked the pupils at question time.


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