A bold archbishop retires

Retiring Archbishop John Holder.
Photo by George Alleyne

Anglican dioceses of the Caribbean will soon be naming a new Primate as Archbishop John Holder will retire at the end of February ending eight years of leading eight districts of the church in the region.

Reverend Holder’s retirement will also see Barbadians anointing another Anglican leader as he has been Bishop of that diocese since 2000.

Among the most memorable work during Rev’d Holder’s reign as regional Anglican Primate was his effort at all-inclusiveness, notably seeking to welcome into the fold persons of alternative lifestyles and sexual preferences.

It was a bold move in a region steeped in traditional religious beliefs in which the populace harbours a conservative approach to what comprises acceptable gender relationships and the definition of marriage.

Addressing the matter of churches speaking out against homosexuality he said last year that they seem to be misreading and misinterpreting the Bible, which he said clearly outlines that all human beings are accepted by God.

“I think it is sad when persons get up as Christians and ridicule another human being and give the impression that they are children of the devil and not children of God. That is out for us as Anglicans, we don’t do that,” Holder said.

His approach was remarkable because he dared to venture into areas where Caribbean political leaders fear to tread, or if they go there, walk gingerly.

Fear of angering the electorate and thereby losing precious support of voters have over the years seen Caribbean governments resist behind the scenes pressure from developed countries and international organisations to stop criminalising homosexual acts.

Regional political leaders have shown that they rather lose hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and aid from developed countries and donor agencies than risk the wrath of the religiously conservative Caribbean voter.

But the archbishop persisted by confronting this social core value that has its origins in the church.

“Our clear position is that every human being in this world is a child of God and whatever… their opinions or their orientations, our role is to support them. If we think they are going wrong, our role is to redirect them, but not condemn them,” he said.

“Instead of going after peculiarities, we look at what we have in common and share God’s love and fellowship with all persons, no matter their orientation. The church is here as a servant of God, servant of Christ and we are here to minister to every human being in this world.”

The archbishop’s comments last weekend during a special diocesan thanksgiving farewell service held in Barbados, shows an awareness that the effort at inclusiveness is work that has only just begun.

“My ministry demanded a level of understanding, and a depth of patience,” he said without any reference to acceptance of persons regardless of orientation.

He added, “each of us will move along at a different pace along a common path. But the important thing is keeping our eye on the goal of the journey…to strengthen the ministry of this diocese, especially focusing this ministry on those critical areas of life that often need to be connected to our faith.”

According to Church in the Province of the West Indies, Archbishop Holder entered the ordained ministry as a deacon in 1974 and became a priest in 1976. He was consecrated as the 13th Bishop of his native Barbados in 2000; and he became Archbishop of the West Indies in 2009. A graduate of the Barbados-based Codrington College, where he earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theology and the Diploma in Theological Studies, the archbishop also holds a master’s Degree in Sacred Theology (STM) from the School of Theology, University of the South. In 1985, he was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from King’s College, London.

A specialist in Old Testament Studies, Archbishop Holder has devoted much of his 44 years in ministry to the training of students at Codrington College.

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