Five years ago Bishop Cornell spoke to our Guyana Diocesan Association of the challenging yet exciting task of becoming Bishop of Guyana in these words: ‘When one considers the scarcity of the population in such a large country, the many natural resources, the warm and kind temperament of the people and the strong influence of people of faith, among them Christians, the country is poised to make some serious steps ahead. This requires the coming together of all, not to simply shape policy and develop programmes as important as these may be, (but) it is the coming together to lift the spirits of people who for generations have been on the sharp end of socio-economic and political experimentation that burnt many bridges’.
As I read these words from November 2010’s El Dorado magazine they reminded me of the man of God who, like me, became a man of Guyana for the sake of God and his Church and did so much to fulfil the aspirations he listed five years ago. His warmth engaged what he called ‘the warm and kind temperament’ of Guyanese. His faith made him one with people of faith across this land and, though he has developed programmes over his five years most of all he has lifted the spirits of the people.
As His Excellency the President of Guyana, David Granger has said Bishop Moss’s assignment to the diocese from the Bahamas in 2009 “came at a time when there was need for spiritual guidance and physical rehabilitation of the church’s property; as an Anglican I was very happy with his all too brief tenure as he re-invigorated the Anglican diocese in Guyana and provided quality leadership. He is a great loss to the diocese and to the country.”
This invigoration is cause of our joy as we say farewell to this much loved Bishop who build well yet briefly on the legacy of Archbishop Alan Knight and Bishop Randolph George under whom I served in the 80s and 90s training priests. In my regular visits to Guyana over 25 years I have seen how this Diocese has an exceptional honouring of young people which Bishop Cornell made high priority on taking over from Bishop Randolph.
I am myself in regular ongoing contact through the GDA Facebook group with some of them and many of their elders and they are sign of the invigoration the President spoke of. I should also mention in this context of legacy Duke Edwards School which my own school at St Giles, Horsted Keynes has supported. My children loved the Bishop and sent a large card to the Diocese and Duke Edwards expressing their sorrow at the news of his passing which is cause of today’s gathering.
Children, people, were dear to this warm and compassionate man whose death brought tears to many who had even brief contact with him. As our head said to me after his first visit to take school assembly, ‘he’s a real charismatic isn’t he’ and she meant it is the old sense of the word, though Jerome believed in the power of the Holy Spirit alongside that of the holy, catholic church whose travails often burdened him. I was honoured to be asked by him to present to Diocesan Synod last year on the arguments for and against female ordination. He was concerned Anglicans should weigh heavily the authority of Scripture and Tradition along with what is reasonable in changing and varied contexts.
Vocations to the priesthood were top of his agenda, and confidence in and within the ministerial priesthood but that prioritization came naturally to him alongside deep commitment to lay empowerment. He showed in his own style of priesthood how faith in the priest or Bishop as Jesus’ man is no cause for self importance, for the ministerial priesthood is given to be servant of the servants of God. The paradox our Bishop noted five years ago to GDA in El Dorado, of an immense land scarce in people, was paralleled in his book by the scarcity of priests, and its underlying vocational crisis, set against the demands of ministry to so many Anglicans spread across the immense land mass of Guyana.
Bishop Jerome’s last message in El Dorado magazine thanked GDA for its contribution to funding or acquiring funding for three men to be ordained priests and two made deacons on his fifth anniversary as Bishop in December, which was joyous land mark for him. GDA also helped cover his health insurance which facilitated his care and ability to continue active as Bishop right to the premature end of his life. In his last message to us he mentioned that ongoing problem of staffing, which the new ordinations do something to offset, as do priests called to serve from afar. His death presents us with as acute a staffing issue as there could be, though I feel his legacy of empowerment serves a Spirit given dynamic that will soon bring one among us to lead who is ‘good to us and to the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 15:28).
In that last letter Fr Cornell spoke also of his inaugurating the Archdeaconry of the interior under the title of St Barnabas with first post holder Fr Terry Davis as, I quote, ‘indicative of my seriousness in bringing the entire Diocese together for more effective Mission and Ministry’. Whenever I met the Bishop he would draw out from me what wisdom he could find from my experience, for example as Principal of the Alan Knight Training Centre. These conversations weren’t always easy. Cornell Jerome Moss had a capacity to see into people and I found it hard to answer him truthfully at times.
His basic honesty always appealed, as did his need to be given all the help I could give him for his most challenging office as Bishop both of the coast and the interior wanting the Diocese to pull together more.
Given the high moral tone he set I am honoured to have been made his UK Commissary and Canon of St George’s, though I remain challenged as we all should, clergy especially,by those last words of his in last November’s El Dorado: ‘As clergy, and laity, we must be wholly committed to the standards of Christ and accept nothing else. As custodians of the resources of the Diocese we must be honest, transparent and responsible in our leadership. As persons of faith, we must daily avail ourselves to the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us in this work… the mission I am committed to is one where there can be no retreat, no digressing. It is forward march. All are invited to join what St Paul calls this ‘triumphal procession’ which will engage and empower us as servants of the True and Living God, create clean hearts within us, hearts to love – and set us on our way to glory’.
Cornell Jerome Moss, peace be with you, we are marching forward catching the momentum lent you and to us through you in extraordinary fashion by the Holy Spirit!
May you rest in peace and rise in glory at the prayers we offer, here, in the UK and across the world!
Ecce sacerdos magnus – behold a great priest.
God raise up another from his store!