* Bermuda Real sat down with the Anglican Bishop of Bermuda, the Rt Rev Nicholas Dill, who was one of many who participated in the prayer vigil on Parliament Hill, in the lead up to the controversial airport debate, after protesters were pepper-sprayed by police outside the House of Assembly on December 2nd. That incident sparked heated community outrage that saw several protesters, including senior citizens, trade unionists, and People’s Campaign advocate the Rev Nicholas Tweed formally charged in court. Their cases, with the exception of one, are now bound for trials in the Supreme Court. But while many turned out to support them, very few, if any clergy members demonstrated support for the one religious leader who has spoken up outside of the pulpit against social injustices plaguing Bermuda – which begs the question: Where does Bermuda’s churches stand on social issues, and why don’t we hear a collective voice on these issues?
In a country with more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world, there was a time when the collective voice of the church spoke as one on Bermuda’s social issues. That voice came by way of the Bermuda Christian Ministerial Association (BCMA), that quietly faded away in the 1990s.
According to Bermuda’s Anglican Bishop, the Rt Rev Nicholas Dill said efforts are now underway to re-form the BCMA, involving a broad cross section of clergymen.
Over the years he said: “There were some key individuals involved in keeping the Bermuda Christian Ministerial Association together who either died or retired, while others became busy in life doing their own thing. It was quite vocal at one point, then it kind of faded away. But since December we’ve been meeting, and we’re now in the process of re-forming it with four different working groups.”
Quietly, behind the scenes ministers, including the Catholic Bishop of Bermuda Wieslaw Spiewak, Bishop Vernon G Lambe of the First Church of God, New Testament Church of God leader Rev Dr Lloyd Duncan, AME and Methodist church leaders, the Salvation Army and others are resetting the dial to constitute the alliance and make it sustainable.
Together they’re forging ahead with plans to create “better fellowship as a relationship building component”. “We’re also looking at what issues we can tackle together within the community, and how we can work with other faith communities including Muslims and Bahais,” said Rev Dill.
He conceded however, that when the BCMA faded away, it created a void in the collective voice of the church in the community on the social issues of the day, including the plight of the homeless, and the struggles of Bermuda’s working poor in terms of food and clothing, to families in need of crisis management.
“We’re also looking at how to encourage the pastoral care for hospital patients to make sure they are being looked after properly.” But he said: “A lot of the churches are doing things already but they’re doing it separately.
“My problem is Bermuda works in silos, and we don’t want to be duplicating, or replicating what’s already being done. But we also want to speak to some of the issues with a common voice as opposed to calling us separately for sound bites.”
And there’s opposing views on ministers proclaiming those news making “sound bites” outside of the pulpit. “If you speak out you’re shut down. Some feel the church shouldn’t speak out at all,” Rev Dill said. “The Anglican church is made up of people from every background and political persuasion” from both sides of the political spectrum.
“I’ve knocked on the doors of MPs, the DPP, the Premier’s office, and the Cabinet. It may not have been quite so public, but that doesn’t mean the church is not engaged on issues like the recent pepper spray incident.
Asked why he decided to participate in the prayer vigil at the House of Assembly, Rev Dill said he was there at the invitation of the Speaker of the House of Assembly.
“My participation was about changing the dialogue,” he said. “I was invited and it wasn’t about stopping anything from happening, it was more about stopping any more disunity and pain, and that it would be handled without it being torn apart.
“In the fullness of time, I was pleased that everyone was there, I was pleased that people prayed, and that it turned out to be a different experience.” But his participation in the prayer vigil and not in the actual protest demonstration drew criticism.
“As a white church leader I got flack from people and was accused of colluding with the establishment, and how do I know anyway,” Rev Dill said.
Politically, in a world of social media, he acknowledged the fact that the venomous racially charged posts, many under the cloak of anonymity, proves that Bermuda is still divided along racial lines.
In the lead up to the next General Election, he said that divide will see “polarisation along political lines”. “I’m dreading the next election because people get carried along by the process and it becomes divisive rather than focusing on the real issues.
“It becomes more about scoring points to make headway one way, or the other. And there’s some hot button issues that you know if you touch them they will create a flame – like issues that have to do with racial tensions, corruption, good governance, and integrity. And there’s an unwillingness to try alternative methods,” said Rev Dill.
“I would like to see real issues being put on the table and a forum where you’re not shouted down but can have a reasonable dialogue about the issues at hand,” he added. In the current political and social climate he said clearly that’s not happening.
“So far we see and hear all the noise. What we tend to forget is that after the election, we’re going to have to live together afterwards. We’re a country that lives on a knife’s edge, we need to be prepared that if we become so divisive that we’re not safe and open for business as a country, then we need to be prepared for that.
“I’m hoping the parties will communicate clearly in such a way that the average man on the street can understand it. Communication has been a big communication problem and no one’s really listening. Everyone’s in a silo with whoever agrees with them and that’s not good.
“When it comes to the two Bermuda’s I think there’s more than two Bermudas. We’re not dealing with just race, class , nationality issues – all of the ‘isms’. And it will be easy to say white versus black, but it’s not that exclusively. It’s more than that,” said Rev Dill.
“As Bishop, I’m considering whether to vote or not, because the assumption is that Nick Dill, a white Bermudian is going to automatically vote for the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA). I also know within my congregation there are many people who support the Progressive Labour Party (PLP).
“I want to be able to stand before them to encourage them to vote as their conscience dictates on the issues without being seen to be biased, and to be able to represent them. I’m more about the issues than parties. Am I considering whether or not to vote PLP – well maybe.
“Sometimes you hear political bias from the pulpit, and I’m not about that. I’m about applying the gospel of Jesus Christ to the particular issues as they’re presented in a way that allows people to use their own conscience.
“A General Election has the potential be very divisive even though we’re families, we live here, and we love this place. And somehow we have become demonised by association, and we don’t have that trust which is creating more polarisation.
“People from the churches have been speaking on issues to do with a liveable wage and issues of race or perception in Bermuda. There obviously is a racial climate, there’s historic issues, there’s polarisation along political lines.
“Then there’s the economic turnaround hoped for. But the subsequent trickle down effect has not happened to the extent that those at the bottom of a marginal society struggling just to make ends meet are seeing it.”
Every week he hears first hand accounts of the economic struggles of people who show up weekly for the free breakfast programme the church runs in conjunction with the Eliza DoLittle Society.
“I talk to the guys and they don’t feel that anyone has got their backs really. I hear them say ‘no one’s really caring about my situation’. This is what the people I’ve spoken to feel,” said Rev Dill.
“What is the role of the church in society? It’s complicated, but the primary role is not social service that is an adjunct because you’re never going to have a perfect government, or a perfect society because of people’s sinfulness, and selfishness.”
On that note, he referred to a quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,who said: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Similarly, Rev Dill said: “Evil passes not between states, political parties or races but through every human heart. And unless you’re dealing with human hearts the problems will just manifest themselves again and again. So the primary goal is to change the human heart, then you change people, and through people you change you change society.”
Without the church in Bermuda he said there would be very few food feeding programmes, help for seniors, people visiting the sick, or helping families with gang members in them, or support for education, etc.
“If you take the church out of society where we would be now? Of course the church should be doing more that’s undeniable,” said Rev Dill. “It’s endless, but it is about one person at a time. Systems and culture needs to change, but that’s a massive change so we do it one at a time.
“We deal with people with all sorts of issues, sometimes it’s someone who needs a food voucher, a letter written on their behalf, a pair of shoes, or they need someone to accompany them to a meeting.
“My way is to partner with other associations who know the deal. So we partner with the Salvation Army on homeless issues, SCARS, Youth Net, Age Concern and other associations engaging with the issues. And as much as we can do we do.
“Everyday I see the effects of the world in which we live. Some of those effects came through personal choices due to alcohol and drugs. For others, it came through a system that has let them down, families that have broken up, or people living without a sense of hope that anything is going to change.
“We’ve been seeing it for a while, and it may have stabilised but it’s not getting better for a lot of people. There are those who have said they’ve accepted it as their lot in life with a sense of hopelessness.”
While he doesn’t underestimate the power of prayer, Rev Dill said: “I will be praying and reminding people that you’ve got to love your enemy and pray for your prosecutor. That doesn’t mean you agree with each other.”
Now more than ever, he said: “It’s important for the Ministerial Association to get back in the game because in a divided community the church is supposed to shine as a community of love and unity. And the church has the ability through its members, to make a difference in the lives of those who are not involved in the church. We hope to have it up within the next six months.”
But in the interim, he said: “There’s people with all kinds of backgrounds who are struggling. We’re here picking up the pieces where we can. No matter what happens, we’re not going anywhere whoever wins the next election.”