By Devon Dick
Recently, Earl Thames, United Church minister of religion, gave the Issachar Lecture to a faithful few disciples on the role of the Church in post-emancipation Jamaica.
From the beginning, this Rhodes Scholar made it clear that "it was the Church, through the reformers in Britain and Jamaica, who struggled and won emancipation for all Jamaicans in 1838". The role of the Church continued after emancipation through free villages, which facilitated the social and economic development of the people. Thames highlighted the role of the Baptists in the establishing of free villages, the first of one in Sligoville, St Catherine, by James Phillippo, English missionary. There was also a free village of 500 acres for 70 families, known as Sturge Town. According to Thames, approximately 200 free villages were built for 19,000 peasants. These villages facilitated a reasonable standard of living, stable family life and a place to worship.
ROLE OF THE CHURCH
Thames dealt sensitively with the role of the Church in the 1860s, especially for those in the Church who would want to disown National Heroes, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon. "Despite the question marks, let us not be ashamed to say it - two Christians, George William Gordon and Paul Bogle." He claimed that there was a difference between the two men. Gordon had recommended "a deputation to England, but Bogle decided to seek justice another way".
Thames outlined the contribution of the Church in education and he did not mince words. "Every educated person in Jamaica owes a debt of gratitude to the Church, which provided him or her with either their education, or their teachers at some point in their educational journey. What is happening today to many of our Jamaican intelligentsia can only be termed 'intellectual ingratitude'!" He reminded the audience about the special educational needs of those with disabilities who have been helped through the ministries of the Salvation Army and other Christian organisations. The first skills training centre was established at Carron Hall by the Presbyterians. He commended the pioneering work of the YWCA and YMCA in both skill training and community development.
Thames was on fire in his criticism of gambling: "Jamaica now boasts the most gambling opportunities in the Caribbean, and gambling is now about to take over from worship on Sundays." He saw great evil in flexi-week. "As soon as flexi-week is implemented, this will be the death knell of corporate worship … this casts an ominous shadow over the future spiritual, social and economic development of Jamaica."
Thames showed how divine intervention helped crime and violence in Jamaica when Jamaica came close to a civil war and was only prevented by the intervention of the Church. As the result of a remarkable spiritual experience where two ministers - namely Earl Thames and Bishop Peter Morgan - received the same directive from Christ Himself and the National Committee for Prayer and Reconciliation was formed, that national committee brought together almost all the denominations in Jamaica for the first time. It was that committee which brought about the first peace treaty between the warring factions. It is instructive that that peace treaty was signed in West Kingston.
Thames did not mention Richard Ho Lung's Brothers of the Poor who feed 500 persons daily in Kingston, or the role in media and many other contribution of the Church.
The Church has accomplished much in nation building and there is much more for the Church to do in economic empowerment, educational opportunities and reduction in crime and violence.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.