'Jesus was the first social worker'
As the manager of the Social Development Commission (SDC) in St Mary for the last three years, Travis Graham has analysed and observed the unique relationship that exists between local residents and the disproportionately high number of churches in the parish.
Graham, who originally hails from Clarendon, describes the Church as one of St Mary's "most valuable commodities" but believes that the institution could do much more to help regenerate the parish.
Earlier this week, he told Family and Religion: "Under the SDC's community research and database programme, we have listed about 240 churches across the parish, which is a lot considering St Mary's population is only 115,000. That means a large number of the population attend and are active in churches.
"With so many churches, I would expect to see a lot more outreach because as I always tell people, Jesus was the first social worker that I know about, but I never read anywhere in the Bible where Jesus was on a pulpit preaching. He was in the streets. He walked the trenches, hills, and valleys with His gang of disciples, and that is what I'd like to see a little bit more of from the Church.
"I'd also like to see more cohesion among the churches. I know we have the Ministers Fraternal, but I want to see them looking at some of the major issues affecting the parish and working with the respective agencies and communities to tackle them.
"For example, how is it that as a church, you can facilitate more economic, employment, and development opportunities? I think the Church should go into things like agriculture and agro processing and creating avenues for skills training to make people more employable."
Graham also believes that St Mary could benefit greatly from the huge number of Rastafarian and Muslim resources that are available.
He explained: "We have relatively large Muslim and Rastafarian communities in St Mary, and I see both as benefits because in development, you really can't exclude anybody. Everyone brings some sort of value, regardless of how we think or feel about them. Those populations are increasing, not reducing. They are increasing. There must be a reason for that, and so they cannot be left out of the picture.
"Watching the Muslims, what I've noticed is that their business and economic wisdom is very high, and that is something we can learn from, and likewise with Rastafarianism. I think the social connection is very important, especially when you're talking about community tourism, and health factors such as organic food and their focus on farming and agriculture.
"The decriminalisation of marijuana and the potential opening of a medical marijuana industry are both connected to Rastafarianism and with all the arable land in St Mary, that is an opportunity to take full advantage of.
"These are avenues that we have to explore, but we have to first be able to sit around the table with humility and respect when we're going to charter a way forward for the parish."