Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Port Maria United Church confident that membership will grow

Published:Saturday | February 13, 2016 | 12:00 AMOrantes Moore
PHOTO BY ORANTES MOORE Elaina Swaby, volunteer Port Maria United Church.


Port Maria United Church in Port Maria, St Mary, is a historic building located on the grounds of a property that operated as the headquarters for slavery in the northeast during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The church, affectionately known as Port Maria Kirk, was built by Scottish missionary Reverend John Chamberlain in 1832, using bricks from London on the grounds of the Frontier Estate.

Around the same time the church was completed, Chamberlain died at age 32 leaving a sanctified legacy that remains today.

In the 1960s, the church's then minister, Reverend James Davis, arranged for a tower to be constructed on top of the building, and the instillation of a clock and bell, reportedly the brother of the famous Big Ben in London.

Volunteer Elaina Swaby, who has been a church member since 1975, regards Port Maria Kirk as a special place that helps to deliver God's message in a way that is clear and easy to understand.

Speaking last week from an office inside the vintage church building, she told Family and Religion: "I have been to other churches, but never considered going anywhere else after I came here because the spiritual get-together is very good.

"I find no fault with anyone and Ilike how the United Church ministers do their Bible studies, impart the word, and preach. The delivery of the sermon is the main thing for me. They make it easy to understand," Swaby explained.

There are more than two dozen different churches in Port Maria, and while their sermons may be cogent and coherent, the message is obviously not filtering down quickly enough as incidents of crime and violence occur with an alarming regularity for a supposedly 'Christian town'.



Swaby said: "I don't know why we have so many churches and so much bad behaviour (laughs). I don't know how to explain it. But then again, people can be funny, and these days very few young people are interested. If you notice, the churches are made up mostly of elderly people.

"I don't know what the problem is, but when you talk to a young person about coming to church, they will say, 'Oh yes, soon come,' and that's it, you never see them again. A lot of them either migrate or move to other parishes, and they have their music and places to meet, so I don't really see what can be done to bring them into the church.

"Today, we have about 150 members, but when I first came to this church, the membership was bigger because we didn't have so many churches in the town. Most of these churches have only come about in the past 15 years or so."

In spite of the difficulty in attracting young people, Swaby is confident the years ahead will prove to be both fruitful and salient for her church, which celebrates its 185th anniversary next year.

She explained: "Right now, we have a nice group of around 40 or so primary-school children from the area that we bring in for Sunday school, and they are our hope for the future."