The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands

THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN JAMAICA AND THE CAYMAN ISLANDS.

Presbyterianism was born in Europe out of a desire for new theological teaching and a growing dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church. The period known as the Reformation or the “Protestant Reformation” was a time of strife and victimization for those opposed to the Roman Catholic Church. Presbyterianism as part of the Reformed Tradition, was founded on the following beliefs: That God in Christ is sovereign over everything in the life of the individual and nation. The importance of teaching that the bible is the sole authority of the Christian faith. That Christians must be involved in all aspects of life including Government and civil issues. (adapted from : Souvenir magazine, Union Synod 1992) Early Beginnings Presbyterianism came to Jamaica in 1800 when the Scottish Missionary Society a non-denominational agency founded in 1796, dispatched three missionaries to Jamaica in the persons of Messrs. W. Clark, E. Reid and Rev. James Bethune (Church of Scotland). They encountered much opposition from the planters and the work was further hindered by the death of Bethune and Clark from fever. An invitation, extended to the Society by two planters in Trelawny in 1823, provided another opportunity for work among the slaves. Rev. George Blyth was appointed and he arrived in Hampden in 1824. By 1828, he had erected a substantial stone structure, and 70 persons gathered for the Lord’s Supper; the work was on its way, making Hampden the oldest work of the United Presbyterian Church in Jamaica . In 1827 two other missionaries came to Jamaica , Rev. James Watson, who worked at Lucea and Green Island and Rev. John Chamberlain who started work at Port Maria. Quickly following after them was Rev. Hope Waddell, in 1829, who came to Mount Zion . He was followed by Rev. John Simpson and Rev. John Cowan; Simpson went to Green Island then Port Maria, Cowan went to Carron Hall. These early days were not without trouble, noted among them was a plot that was uncovered to tar and feather Watson and run him out of town and two attempts to burn down the Hampden church. All this was being done at the instigation of the Colonial Church Union, an association determined to persecute and expel missionaries. This did not deter the missionaries, they appealed to their Synod for more workers and in 1835 Rev. James Paterson and Rev. William Niven arrived. Paterson , after working in Montego Bay for a few months, went to Manchester , where by 1837 forty-five persons were observing the Lord’s Supper and the foundations of the New Broughton church was laid. Niven settled twelve miles from Lucea and named his station Stirling . These missionaries though working for the Scottish Missionary Society were Ministers of the United/Secession Presbyterian Church. Excursis: The Two Presbyterian Streams It must be noted that two different Presbyterian streams began work in the island during the early 19th Century. There were missionaries from the Church of Scotland, and Missionaries from the United Secession/Presbyterian Church. These distinctions came about because of schisms or disagreements within the church. “The principal separation churches were the Secession Church of 1733, The Relief Church of 1761, and the Free Church of 1843″ (Colliers Encyclopedia vol. 6, p.418). All were Presbyterian Churches and separate from the Church of Scotland. The Relief Church and the Secession Church became one in 1847 and became the United Presbyterian Church. This had a positive impact on the work in Jamaica . Another Union took place in 1900 with the Free Church leading to the United Free Church of Scotland. In 1929 a union of all these separate Churches took place. The years of growth In 1836 missionaries of the United Secession Church and missionaries of the Scottish Missionary Society came together in Montego Bay and formed a Presbytery called the Jamaica Missionary Presbytery. This move helped to co-ordinate and stimulate the work and between 1836 to the 1850s much was accomplished. In 1847, a Union of the United Secession Church and the Relief Church took place. The new body was called the United Presbyterian Church. The impact of this in Jamaica was a resolution to form a Synod with four Presbyteries. On 9th January 1849, the first annual gathering was held at Falmouth . The statistics submitted to the Synod of the united mission showed 17 ordained missionaries, 10 catechists, 4 female teachers, upwards of 4000 members and thirty-five day schools. In the late 1860s the decision was arrived at by the Mission Board in Scotland to make every effort to educate and train a native ministry, leading to the gradual withdrawal of European missionaries. A deputation was sent to Jamaica in 1870-71; they visited every station and came to the conclusion that only a gradual development would allow the mission to reach a point of sustainability. A decision was also taken to close the Montego Bay Academy . The Cayman Connection The shipwreck, in 1845, of the Rev. Waddell on Grand Cayman, led to the beginnings of a mission to that country. During his enforced time he became concerned at the spiritual destitution of the people. Rev. Niven in the same year, while proceeding to Scotland , stopped on the island. Upon his return he brought the concerns of the island before the church; it is reported that a Rev. Elmslie, then stationed at Green Island, said, “If no one else will go I will”. Rev. Niven accompanied him to see him settled and they arrived in Grand Cayman 11th September 1846. Rev. Niven was sadly lost at sea on his return journey to Jamaica on October 6 1846. McNeill makes reference to the work of Elmslie in Grand Cayman as follows “to follow Rev. Elmslie in his work is like reading the Acts of the Apostles. In season and out of season he was searching the island for lost sheep” (McNiell, p.79). Elmslie laboured single-handedly on the island until 1857, when he was joined by Rev. William Whitecross whose tenure was at best sporadic—he was plagued by illness and died in 1866. For the better part of a century, the Presbyterian Church maintained its dominance over Christian witness to the island; the Church invested heavily in education and laid the foundation for what now exists as its system of education. Over the years that have passed since Elmslie and Whitecross, other servants have laboured; numbered amongst them are Revds. J. Smith, H.L. MacMillan, T. Redpath, and W. Pouchie, who is the first ordained native minister of Grand Cayman . In addition to their services must be counted the work of laymen such as Messrs. McTaggart, Webster, Panton and Ebanks and others. By 1911 there were eight stations on the Island and a membership of 1024. The mission of Today Among the great contributions that have been made by all the antecedents in both countries has been the contribution to education at all levels and the witness of the church in the social issues of the two societies. In Jamaica and Cayman the church has engaged itself in the primary level of education and in so doing has helped to lay the foundation for the systems that exist today. Similarly the church has engaged itself at the secondary and the tertiary levels of education. Testimony to these efforts are schools such as Knox College, Knox Community College, Oberlin High, Clarendon College, Meadowbrook High, Camperdown High, St. Andrews High School for Girls (in collaboration with the Methodists) In addition to these were two private high schools Iona High (now public) and the College of Preceptors (now defunct). In Cayman, the John Gray and George Hicks Schools were named after ministers of the church as a witness to their efforts. The Church’s commitment to society has not only been through congregational social projects or the individual action of ministers but also through the actions of the laity. Among them were Mr. James Bowery, Island Chemist and the first layman to chair the Congregational Union, a Governor General in Jamaica and a National Hero in the Cayman Islands .
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