Devon Dick | Calabar lessons at 175 years
Calabar Theological College celebrates 175 years, and on Sunday, Karen Kirlew, first female president of the Jamaica Baptist Union, delivered the 15th annual George Liele lecture at the famed Calabar High School Chapel to mark this historic achievement.
Even the name Calabar is significant and sets it apart from other theological institutions. Calabar is derived from a place in Nigeria, Africa. Most other such institutions, according to Jeremy Taylor, chair of Baptist Historical Society, would take its name from some saint or the location of the institution.
In 1843, in the throes of colonialism, to identify with Africa was visionary. Obviously, these British Baptist missionaries were following in the footsteps of George Liele. In 1783, at 31 years old, George Liele established Baptist work in Jamaica and one of the names he called his congregants was Ethiopian Baptist. Liele was very African-centric. This is in a context when things African were generally perceived as second-rate, uncivilised, backward, idiotic, superstitious and heathen. This affirmation of African heritage was way ahead of its time in a Jamaica now that largely despises African hairstyles, and bleaching of the colour of skin is seen as a means of advancement for our young people. The name Calabar is a symbol of pride in Africa and a comfort with our identity.
With such an auspicious name, the goal was also audacious. One year after emancipation in 1838, from British chattel slavery, Baptist missionaries William Knibb, Thomas Burchell and James Mursell Phillippo, at a united meeting of ministers, moved a resolution to establish a college for the training of local pastors, missionaries and teachers with an initial enrolment of 10 students and the president. Calabar evolved and began facilitating the education and training of men for neighbouring Caribbean and Central American countries. Calabar Theological College was dedicated on October 6, 1843. Calabar College was moved from Rio Bueno, Trelawny, to the Baptist premises at East Queen Street, Kingston. A school called the Calabar Normal School was established for the training of teachers and the great Calabar High School for boys was started in 1912. A Day School was also established and over time became Calabar Elementary.
In 1904, Calabar was removed to an 11-acre campus at Studley Park Road (off Slipe Pen Road). In 1952, Calabar bid the Studley Park campus goodbye and both the Theological College and High School were relocated to Red Hills Road, where the school still stands. This facilitated interaction between ministers in training and students of Calabar to the spiritual awakening of the students. In 1966, Calabar Theological College merged with other denominations to create the ecumenical institution called the United Theological College of the West Indies. Kirlew claimed, 'a people have been prepared for the Christian ministry through theological training; a people have been shaped and a culture has been shaped.' Calabar has identified with Baptist witness and also with nation building.
However, John Clarke, a Baptist missionary, believed that an educated 'Native Ministry' would lead to the disappearance of the class of preachers that then existed. It was an affront to the Native Baptist preachers who lacked formal theological training but who were strident in the fight for justice, equality and proper pay. The dominant British Baptist position was not to get involved in the socio-economic arrangements and structure of the island. Just focus on salvation that is narrow.
Kirlew rightly concluded that European values were promoted, and drawing from the works of the cultural icon Louise Bennett, 'Miss Lou', she called for a theological education that affirms our race, colour, gender, tradition, language and culture in general.
Nuff said, Sis Karen.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.