Barbados paid tribute to Athelston Winston Best at a memorial service held at the Clifton Hill Moravian Church, St Thomas, on Thursday 5th June 2014 at 3.30pm.
Winston Best passed on at Whipps Cross Hospital at 7.00pm on 18 March 2014 and a funeral service led by Professor Gus John was held at All Saints Church, Forest Gate, London on Thursday 10 April 2014.
The Homily (below) was delivered by former Bishop of Croydon and Britain’s first black Anglican bishop, the Right Reverend Dr Wilfred Wood KA, now retired and living in Barbados.
In our first Bible reading, taken from the Old Testament the prophet Micah, more than seven hundred years before Christ, prophesies of this world being at peace with itself, and in perfect accord with God. Why? Because everyone is seeking and heeding God’s teaching. In our second bible reading, taken from the Gospel according to John, Our Lord Jesus makes it clear that there will be more than ample accommodation in the life hereafter for those who in this earthly life, follow His teaching. From the time He left His childhood home in Nazareth, Jesus spent His life on earth, before and after His death and resurrection, as a teacher.
Christ was a teacher for Young and Old alike, but He made it clear that children were the best examples of the values of God’s kingdom and its perfect citizens. On one occasion he scolded His disciples for keeping children away from Him. “Suffer the little children to come to me, do not try to stop them, because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” On another occasion He warned them that the fate of anyone who hurt one of these little ones would be worse than being thrown into fire with a mill-stone around his neck. And when He wanted to bring home to his disciples what were the true values of the Kingdom of God, He took a child and set him in the midst of them, and said: “Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
So as a calling from God entrusted with the future of the human race, teaching is second only to motherhood. Like motherhood, the worth of teaching cannot be evaluated by payment, or public acclaim or social status but only by its accord with the will of God which can sometimes mean great sacrifice on the part of the teacher. For as every good teacher knows, teaching is more than stuffing the pupil with facts and figures.
Some years ago in Britain there was a five-year survey of secondary schools. The survey showed that the quality of schools was not determined by size because there were both large and small schools among the best, and also among the poorest. Neither was it the age of buildings because schools in new buildings and schools in old buildings were among the best and among the poorest. It was not location because there were good and poorly performing schools in cities, in towns and countryside. But what all the best schools had in common, irrespective of size or age or location of Staff or buildings, was the amount of time that teachers spent working with children in after school hours, without payment. In other words, it is the commitment and personal sacrifice of the teacher that makes the difference in the pupil’s response. This will not surprise those of you here who are teachers. For you, as for our departed brother and colleague Winston Best, the essence of a teacher’s vocation is best caught by some words in a book by the late Gordon Bell who was my own form-teacher at Combermere as follows:
“The artist works on canvas, the sculptor in marble, the potter in clay, all of which must some day fall to pieces; so too must be the fate of the worker in wood, and the worker in metal. But the teacher – his material is the living being fashioned in the image of his Maker. To help fill a mind with knowledge, and a heart with understanding – that is to share creation with God.”
Some of you here this afternoon will have parked your cars on the spot where once stood the double-gabled wooden building which housed the Southborough Boys’ Elementary School. That school was fortunate to have among its members of staff, two outstanding teachers, Mr. Guinness Lewis, a multi-talented and gifted man who was the Deputy Head, and the Headteacher, Mr. Frank Barker. Mr. Barker regularly treated the whole school to character building talks in which there were three recurring themes:
When I entered this school, Winston Best, some years my senior, had already left but clearly Mr. Barker regarded him as one of his star pupils because he sometimes mentioned him in his talks, and I remember him reading out a letter from Winston in Curacao in which were the words: “A good pupil never forgets a good teacher.” I also remember Winston paying a visit to the school when on holiday from Curacao.
So, nurtured in such soil of integrity, high ideals and personal dedication, it was not surprising that on migrating to the UK and with all the opportunities open to him, he should choose to train to be a teacher. Neither is it surprising that his teaching should be child-centred rather than subject-centred. This took him into the homes of his pupils to share with parents the common task of caring for God’s children in every aspect of their well-being. As you have heard from the tributes paid to him from all quarters such concern led him to take an active part in West Indian and other Community organisations, and the welfare of fellow teachers. When our Shepherd’s Bush Social and Welfare Association in West London started our Supplementary School he travelled all the way from East London, to help teach the children West Indian folk songs. I can see him now, conducting them in the singing of “Yellow Bird.” He was a teacher, not for employment, but by a God-given calling. Incidentally, He never missed our annual Martin Luther King Memorial Lecture.
Those involved at the time may know that it was largely due to his efforts in collaboration with the then Director of Education for the London Borough of Hackney, Dr. Gus John that a number of Caribbean teachers had exchange experience in London and some from London came to the Caribbean. But I cannot gauge to what extent Barbadians here at home have been able to appreciate the massive contribution that this diminutive, unassuming, intellectual giant of a man from Sugar Hill in St. Joseph made to the lives of thousands who passed through the schools of the Inner London Education Authority. It would be surprising if they did because he had no flair for self publicity such as returning to the Island in triumph and touring radio and television studios to trumpet his achievements. But it is significant that the Head of the Inner London Education Authority Peter Newsam who happened to be a white Barbadian spotted immediately the ability and dedication of this black Barbadian and made it possible for the country of their adoption to benefit from his talents and wide humanitarian concerns. God does move in a mysterious way.
In the true sense Winston was a deeply religious person who did not wear his religion on his sleeve. He never fell to any fashionable “isms” but lived the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. That is to say, he believed from his earliest days that God loved this world so much and in such a way that He sent His only begotten son that those who believe in Him should have eternal life; that the earthly life of this Son as Jesus of Nazareth is the model for humankind in every Age to follow; that Christ’s sacrificial death opened the way for believers to enter eternally the nearer presence of God. That His resurrection assures us of this, and the gift of His Holy Spirit is a foretaste of it.
Let us think of Winston and pray the words which so accurately describe his life and service:
Teach us, Good Lord, to serve Thee as Thou desirest;
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labour and to ask for no reward,
Save that of knowing that we do Thy will. AMEN.
May he rest in Christ, and be raised with Him in glory. Amen.
“Blue Dicks Flower Coon Creek 10 April 2010” by Mike Baird
(Flickr – CC BY 2.0)