Deacon Webster Spencer - taking on the big issues
Webster Spencer grew up in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, but relocated to St Mary in 2004 and currently operates as a deacon under Bishop Norman Johnson at the Oracabessa New Testament Church of God.
Spencer is a quiet, well-spoken man with a passion for community development and youth issues, who believes that aside from a lack of finances, the principal obstacle facing the parish is an absence of appropriate parental guidance.
He told Family and Religion: "The biggest problem I find is that parents have divorced themselves from sending their children to church. When I was younger, come rain or shine, you had to go to church. Shoes or no shoes - church. What I find now is the children are at home on their phones, tablets and computers. But there are very few safeguards about the information they're accessing and the music they are listening to on these devices. It's like technology is guiding the children without the parents realising what is really happening.
One day, everything will come full circle and hit them like a freight train when they really find out the kind of songs their children are listening to."
Webster believes the church must tackle several concerns simultaneously if major issues are to be resolved. He explained: "From my perspective, as a congregation, we're looking at this in a twofold way. Firstly, the issue of finances needs to be addressed. From time to time, we assist parents by providing their children with travelling and food expenses for school, but now we're looking at developing some employment opportunities, and training so people can become skilled and have an income to sustain their families.
"We also need to look at how to develop the individual because I think once you're able to change peoples' mindsets, you have a situation where they are more empowered to make the right decisions, avoid certain things, and create an environment for spiritual and economic growth within the community, family and church."
In March, The New Testament Church of God hosts its annual mentoring retreat, which Webster suggests is the perfect destination for men who are trying to develop closer bonds with sons and/or other young males.
PIONEER FOR CHRIST
He said: "The church has an arm called the Pioneer for Christ (PFC) that looks at addressing the issues facing our boys, which are pretty serious because we're in difficult times. We need to be inculcating certain values from a young age because if we don't, some of these issues will mushroom into something else.
"We do a lot of activities, but the one that stands out is our father and son's retreat. Father and son do not have to be linked biologically; the man can also be a mentor. Last year, it was held at our convention centre in Old Harbour and there were lots of guest speakers. The event is designed to encourage the boys to express themselves about the challenges they face, and then someone will respond with advice and suggestions. Things like this are important because it is said that a woman cannot raise a child into a man and although it has been done, the success rate isn't good."
Webster added: "In 2016, we'll continue doing things to move forward. We've seen some success with the father and son's retreat, and really want it to grow and become prevalent in more communities."