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Prayer vigil held for Tweed

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A vigil last night brought out hundreds in support of activist and pastor the Reverend Nicholas Tweed, whose work permit has been turned down.

The prayer vigil at St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hamilton, where Mr Tweed serves, packed the church hall, with more standing, as a succession of pastors led the congregation in prayers and songs.

The religious service, billed as a show of unity for fairness and justice, was a testament to the popularity of Mr Tweed, who started a three-year term as the church's pastor in January 2013 — but may have to leave the island if he is unable to obtain immigration approval.

The pastor has never shied from politically loaded topics: in his first year at the church, which has a proud tradition of activism, Mr Tweed decried the quoting of biblical verses to support discrimination against gays — and backed the exploration of casino gaming as a business opportunity.

However it was his prominent role in the People's Campaign, starting in May 2014, that brought Mr Tweed particular public attention as a strident critic of the Government.

He is a leader of the pressure group, along with union presidents Chris Furbert and Jason Hayward.

Immigration reform has been one of the campaign's hottest topics, as well as with the airport redevelopment project.

The role was seen as natural for the pastor, whose father, Kingsley Tweed, took part in the island's anti-segregation campaigns that gained momentum in 1959.

Controversy started in September when Mr Furbert announced that the work permit for Mr Tweed, a non-Bermudian, had not been renewed since its expiration in July.

Although he has started his second term at the church, the standoff intensified this week with the revelation that the Department of Immigration had declined to renew his permit.

The church swiftly condemned the move, vowing to “support any necessary action to reverse this decision”, while the pun hashtag #LegalizeTweed spread on social media.

Sources told this newspaper that Mr Tweed's application had contained errors, also claiming a church member and advocate for Mr Tweed had denounced an immigration department request for clarification. A church spokesman on Tuesday branded the allegation “completely and utterly false”.

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the Minister of Home Affairs, defended the department's policies, updated in 2014, as one of “fairness, not favouritism”. Policy includes either advertising a work permit position, or applying for a waiver.

Mr Tweed, who came to Bermuda after serving as presiding elder of the AME's New York district, was greeted warmly at last night's vigil, where he moved through the crowd welcoming the congregation. He was not available for comment.

United we stand: Reverend Nicholas Tweed at his prayer vigil at St Paul AME Church (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Supportive spirit: the congregation stands united at St Paul AME Church (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Hundreds last night came out in support of Reverend Nicholas Tweed (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 26, 2016 at 1:24 pm (Updated October 27, 2016 at 10:17 am)

Prayer vigil held for Tweed

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