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The island of Jamaica lies about one hundred miles south of Cuba and southwest of Haiti. Covering an area of almost 11,000 sq km (4,243 sq miles) with a population of nearly 2.6 million people, Jamaica is the most populous of the English-speaking Caribbean islands. The first inhabitants were Arawak Indians who had inhabited the islands for 800 years before the first Europeans came. Christopher Columbus first visited the island in 1494, opening the way for European influence. Disease and bad treatment introduced by the Europeans caused the decimation of the native population by the end of the sixteenth century. Seizing control of the island in 1655 the British established a slave-based society producing sugar on large plantations. Autonomy was granted the island in 1739 but slavery was not abolished until 1834. Full independence was finally granted in 1962 though Jamaica remains a part of the Commonwealth recognizing Queen Elizabeth II as the Constitutional Monarch. The island is governed by two legislative bodies, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Services, largely tourism, account for 63% of the island economy with agriculture remaining a strong component, accounting for 25%. Sugarcane, bananas, coffee, cocoa and other fruits are the main cash crops. Rum distilling, printing, textiles and food processing are important industries. Bauxite has been mined since 1952, much of it being exported as ore, making Jamaica the world’s third-largest producer. Bauxite counts for 50% of the island’s exports.
Protestant traditions, mainly Anglican, Presbyterian-Congregational (united in 1965) Baptists and Methodists, account for approximately 70% of the population. Roman Catholics make up approximately 8% with the remaining population (22%) being Rastafarians, those who believe the only true God is the late Haile Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia. The official language of Jamaica is English.
The history of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Jamaica can be traced back over 150 years ranking it among the oldest of the fellowship around the world. Julius Oliver Beardslee (sometimes Beardsley) was one of five graduates of Ohio’s Oberlin College who were sent to Jamaica in 1841 in response to a call from a band of former slaves who had established a small congregation in the village of Metcalfe, St. Andrews. Beardslee, then a Congregationalist, served seventeen years in Jamaica with three congregations –including Oberlin Congregational, and Mico College. After this productive period he returned to the United States for a brief time in which he became affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. Beardslee returned to Jamaica in May of 1858 under the auspices of the American Christian Missionary Society as only their second missionary. (He had been preceded in mission work by James Turner Barclay’s Jerusalem Mission.) Soon Beardslee founded the “Christian Chapel” located at 48 Church Street in Kingston, with six people, mostly members of his family. Within two years the congregation grew to thirty-seven members and by 1862 172 people had been immersed. Later the congregation relocated to 70 Duke Street and became known as the Duke Street Christian Church. For more than 140 years Duke Street has been the “mother” church of Jamaica and was honored in 1982 appearing on the Jamaica Christmas stamp. By 1860 Beardslee had founded a second congregation, the New Bethel Church (Dallas) and the following year the Oberlin Congregational Church that Beardslee had founded eighteen years previous joined the Disciples of Christ. This marked a new pattern of growth in which the Movement grew in Jamaica by assimilation. Several congregations connected loosely with other denominations, many Baptists, soon changed their affiliation and became Christian Churches.
Beardslee’s work was interrupted because to the American Civil War and Beardslee, an abolitionist, was forced to return home due to a lack of mission funds. He left a half dozen or so congregations without missionary leadership. Difficulties within the Society and the Movement delayed a return to the Jamaica mission for more than a decade following the close of the War. In 1874 the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio and sought as its’ first efforts to re-open the work begun in Jamaica two decades before. Soon the CWBM was able to employ the W.H. Williams family to go to Jamaica with the express desire to plant self-sustaining congregations. Arriving early in 1876 the Williams’ found the church in Kingston had dwindled from 150 to about 50 members and soon set about re-building the congregation. There was no public school system at that time so a small school was opened in one room of the Williams home. By 1878 Jennie Laughlin was sent by the CWBM to help with the educational segment of the mission. The Williams family was soon forced to return to the United States owing to the poor health of Mrs. Williams. Shortly after returning home she died, the cause of death given as a general break-down of health due to the Jamaican climate. Such was the case with many of the early missionaries thus in the first years of the Jamaican mission growth was slow due to instability of the missionaries and lack of resources.
Stability came when in 1885 Englishman C.E. Randall came to the CWBM from the Jamaica Baptist Union where he had served since 1859. Randall had been brought to the Movement through the influence of CWBM missionary Wilson Kendrick Azbill who served in Jamaica from 1882-1886 (for more on W.K. Azbill see Japan profile). Randall gave leadership to the Jamaica mission for much of the next twenty-five years, until his death in 1912, at which time he was recognized as the father of the Jamaica Mission. In more than forty years of the CWBM operation in Jamaica more than sixty missionaries served in the field.
On January 14, 1907 a terrible earthquake rocked the eastern half of Jamaica, the part of the island where the mission was located. Fourteen of our church buildings and mission houses were either partially or completely destroyed. Over one thousand people were killed including at least two family members of the missionaries. In the wake of the terrible destruction a revival occurred amongst all the churches. Special services were held; out of their peril and helplessness God was lifted up. As a result fifteen hundred people were added to the churches in the five months following the earthquake.
The congregations of Jamaica worked cooperatively in the early days on the island and were known as the Jamaica Christian Association. Many Jamaican workers were trained to take the leadership in local congregations, many of whom were sent to the United States to study at Southern Christian Institute in Edwards, Mississippi, and several later studied in the Christian colleges. In 1919 when the CWBM merged with other agencies to form the United Christian Missionary Society (UCMS) statistics showed twenty-two churches with twenty-five hundred members, twenty-one of these had Jamaican preachers and teachers, twenty Sunday schools with seventeen hundred members, nine day schools with eight hundred in attendance and there were nine woman’s missionary societies with four hundred members.
The strength of the churches in Jamaica (by this time known as the Jamaica Association of Christian Churches) continued to grow in the early twentieth century with the support of the United Christian Missionary Society, though there were never drastic increases in churches or attendance. Also in the 1930s the first independent work began to take shape, which will be detailed later. Among the leaders of the Jamaican churches in this era were Tom Lawrence, C.S. Shirley, E.W. Hunt and others. Gladys M. Harrison was the first Director of Christian Education. Cyril A. Robertson, later the minister of the Oberlin Christian Church, was asked to give leadership to Oberlin College (later Oberlin High School) which had begun in January of 1946 with three prospective students. Through the efforts of Robertson and his wife, Dorothy (Gladys Harrison’s sister), enrollment soon began to grow and the school outgrew the classrooms of the church building. The women of our Canadian churches responded to this need contributing funds in 1950 for the erection of a building with four classrooms, known as Canada Hall. The school continued to grow and was aided substantially in later years, in part through special projects sponsored by supporters of the World Convention. Richmond I. Nelson, one of the earliest graduates of Oberlin High school, succeeded the Robertsons as head of the school and gave it leadership for many years. During Hurricane Gilbert of 1988 Oberlin High School, as well as more than twenty church buildings and parsonages, sustained damage. An estimated $7 billion dollars in damage across the island was recorded.
In the 1950s the Disciples of Christ in Jamaica achieved full local autonomy. Herbert Shirley was the first Executive Secretary and Horace McKay the first Treasurer. By 1974 Act of Parliament the Disciples of Christ in Jamaica became a legal Corporation and all titles and properties held by the United Christian Missionary Society were handed over to the Church in Jamaica. Also in the 1950s the Disciples of Christ in Jamaica began to be involved with other churches in ecumenical work, especially church planting and theological education. This saw the development and involvement with such institutions as The United Theological College of the West Indies and community churches. Initial dialogue with Presbyterians, Moravians, Congregationalists and Methodists led to the establishment of a Jamaica Church Union Commission with the eventual hope of a church union. However talks were stalled over the issue of baptism and the episcopacy. The Presbyterian and Congregationalists merged in 1965 to form the United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman. Talks continued between the United Church and the Disciples for the next twenty-five years until 1992 when on December 13th the two entities merged to form the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. There were approximately 40 Disciple congregations at the time of the merger. By 2003 the United Church reported a membership of about 40,000 administered by four Jamaican councils and one in the Cayman Islands. Worship in the land that gave birth to reggae music is increasingly contemporary and church planting continues to be a focal point. Distance learning has considerably increased the number of students preparing for the future and further discussions with other denominations regarding merger continue to happen. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada continue to support efforts in Jamaica through financial gifts and Common Ministry Personnel.
Another effort at New Testament Christianity began in the 1930s when Lt. C.Vincent Hall, of English descent and ordained within the Congregational Church, came to the conclusion that the correct model for congregational life was to be found in the New Testament and began establishing churches in Jamaica after that pattern. Many of these congregations were located in the Mocho Mountains in the Parish of Clarendon. Some of these congregations are said to be active to this day. Through the pages of the Christian Standard Vincent told of the wonderful potential in Jamaica and appealed for additional workers. Answering the call were Mr. and Mrs. Luke D. Elliott who went to Jamaica in 1938 (also the year given for the founding of Jamaica Christian Mission) and helped to open a Seminary at Mocho to help train indigenous leaders. The work of the school was interrupted with the Second World War and the Elliotts were forced to return to America.
Returning in 1945 the Elliotts reopened the school in Ewarton and the first class graduated in 1949. Several other missionaries joined the work in the 1950s including Donald and Maxine Fream, Woodrow and Marjorie Phillips, the Grayson Ensign family, Harold and Adele Hill, and Fred and Vicky Hintz. A terrible hurricane hit the island in 1951 and many church buildings were damaged and some were leveled. The following year the Seminary was moved to a large tract of land in the Constant Springs area of Kingston. More than thirty students received training at the school before it closed in 1959.
With the closing of the seminary several of the missionaries returned to the US while others remained to carry out the work and additional recruits from the American Christian Churches and Churches of Christ answered the call to Jamaica. Among those who remained were Harold and Adele Hill. Through the leadership of the Hills and many others the Jamaica Christian Mission began a Christian preparatory school, summer camps, Youth Jamboree, Leader’s Retreat, started congregations, trained Jamaican leaders to oversee the churches and began an Annual All-Island Rally. By 1994 the mission and the Jamaican congregations were sufficiently strong enough to open Jamaica Bible Seminary in Kingston. The first class consisted of sixteen students and soon the number of instructors grew to twelve in the first four years.
The Jamaica Christian Mission has grown to be a large and successful mission with a number of American families serving in Jamaica and providing short-term mission opportunities for American youth and adults. Among the families currently working in Jamaica is Carlton and Pansy Mullings of the Church of Christ Mission – Jamaica, supported by Canadian Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. The Mullings’ ministry includes Saint Ann’s Bay Christian High and Vocational Academy which opened in 1993. More than six hundred students have graduated and been employed as a result of the education received at St. Ann’s. Another very active independent mission in Jamaica is the Herko Family Mission begun in April of 1987. The primary effort of the Herko Family Mission is to evangelize among the Jamaican people by planting New Testament Churches. Vincent Graham is a native Jamaican who ministers to his countrymen through Caribbean Evangelism, Inc. CEI has found an open door to ministry through a medical center in Kingston. The Fellowship of Associates of Medical Evangelism (FAME) of Columbus, Indiana has been instrumental in providing medical equipment for the medical center and supplying volunteer medical professionals from the United States on short-term mission projects.
In 2001 there were an estimated fifty congregations of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ in Jamaica with 11 pre-schools and kindergartens, 2 primary and junior high schools, 1 day care, 2 youth camps, 1 children’s home and Jamaica Bible Seminary. The membership of these congregations was estimated at between 7,000 and 8,500.
The American a cappella Churches of Christ began work in Jamaica in about 1958 at the invitation of Clifford Edwards, formerly of the Christian Churches. Questions arose over the use of instrumental music and keeping the Sabbath and through the influence of S.C. Klingman and C.D. Davis ten ministers of the instrumental tradition became affiliated with the a cappella tradition. Americans J.T. Marlin and Roy Lanier, Jr. commuted between the U.S. and Jamaica to strengthen the cause. By the mid-1960s several American missionaries moved to Jamaica including: Marvin Crowson, Milo Hadwin, Jerry Thompson, Ken Dye and Carl Maples. A congregation was planted in Mona in 1967 and about 1970 they established the Jamaica School of Preaching to train Jamaicans for the ministry. By 1980 that school was under the leadership of Jamaican Gladwyn Kiddoe. Much effort has been expended in training the Jamaicans for leadership of the local congregations and today the Jamaicans are clearly in the leadership roles of the local a cappella congregations.
Because of the long history of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Jamaica and the great activity of the Christians there Kingston, Jamaica was chosen as the site for the eleventh assembly of the World Convention, July 18-22, 1984. Richmond Isaiah Nelson, Principal of the Oberlin High School, was President of the Convention with the theme of “Chosen To Do His Work.” More than 2,000 people from around the world attended the 1984 Convention.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
May 2004, edited July 2011/jk
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
The Christian Woman’s Board of Missions, 1874-1919, Ida Withers Harrison, privately published, 1919.
World Convention Program Booklet, 11th Assembly, Kingston, Jamaica, July 18-22, 1984
A brief history of the United Church can be found online at:
Web site: http://www.prosforchrist.netfirms.com/History_of_the_united_Church.htm
A short historical sketch of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Jamaica can be found on the website of Jamaica Bible Seminary:
Web site: http://jbseminary.com/JAMAICACHURCHEShistory.htm
United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands
Synod Administrative Office
12 Carlton Crescent, Kingston 10 Jamaica
Telephone: (876) 926-6059, (876) 926-8734
Website: under construction but see http://www.nsunited.netfirms.com/uchurch.htm
For online directories of a cappella Churches of Christ see:
Jamaica Bible Seminary and Christian College
2 Mannings Ave, Kingston 8 or
Box 10, Kingston, 10 Jamaica, West Indies
Jamaica School of Preaching
C/O Gladwyn Kiddoe
Box 212, Kingston, 7 Jamaica, West Indies
Saint Ann’s Bay Christian Vocational Training Centre
C/O: Carlton and Pansy Mullings, Church of Christ Mission –Jamaica
P.O. Box 271, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, West Indies
Jamaica Christian Mission
Box 10, Kingston 10, Jamaica West Indies
Caribbean Evangelism, Inc.
Vincent and Alice Graham, Directors
Box 20, Kingston, 10, Jamaica West Indies
Journey to Jamaica, Ruth Van Horn, Missionary
Box 745, St. Ann, Jamaica, West Indies
Kencott Christian Fellowship, Pastor Errol Bolt
6 Parry Road, Kingston, 10, Jamaica, West Indies
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada:
For the Annual All-Island Rally see Jamaica Christian Mission above
Oberlin High School located at Lawrence Tavern, about seventeen miles from KingstonDuke Street Christian Church, built 1907, located at 70 Duke Street, Kingston, Jamaica