Devon Dick | Methodists maturing at 50
On Sunday, the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (Jamaica District), in an impressive display, celebrated 50 years of autonomy from the British-founded denomination. This act of autonomy was following the lead of the Jamaican political leaders who, 55 years ago, negotiated and declared political independence from Great Britain.
The Jamaica District, with its 172 congregations, had a mass confirmation of 69 persons, mainly young people. Obviously, the Methodists are growing.
The maturing of the Methodists was witnessed by the participation of many young persons in the worship service, including the testimony of Marcalia Edwards, a Glenmuir student, about why she is a Christian. In addition, there was egalitarianism on the platform with an almost equal number of females involved in the service as males with the secretary of the Synod, Christine Gooden Benguche, as liturgist.
Perhaps the best example of the maturing of the Methodists was demonstrated in they developing a 50th anniversary hymn, God is Faithful, which can be used by other denominations. The hymn addressed current issues by desiring a world rid of violence and hatred and proclaiming that 'Peace, truth and justice shall be our aim' and a commitment 'to treat all those who are poor and helpless with dignity, love, respect and grace'. This Caribbean song affirms that Methodists believe in the equality and justice for all. This position will help in our drive to rid Jamaica of the scourge of a high murder rate, random violence and sexual assault. This hymn, penned by the 'Georges' - that is, George Roberts (1956) and George Mulrain (1946) - had in its refrain 'Carrying on the work before us, never tempted to turn back'. Not every Christian engaged in mission will be able to sing 'never tempted to turn back'.
REWRITE OF HISTORY
Another sign of maturity was showing respect for history and a rewrite of history. There was a respect for history in mentioning that the worship service was a Aldersgate Worship Service, meaning that they recalled with pride that on May 24, 1738, John Wesley, Anglican priest, had a spiritual awakening while attending a Bible study at Aldersgate Street, in which his heart was strangely warmed as he relied on Jesus alone for salvation and pardon for his sins.
Furthermore, the congregants were reminded that in 1965, Methodist minister Hugh Sherlock, who wrote the Jamaican National Anthem, met Vere Bird, then chief minister of Antigua and Barbuda, who having heard of the need for a headquarters site, gave four acres at Scot's Hill to the Methodist Church Conference. That was a model of church and state cooperation which is now alien in the Jamaican context. This is happening in Birmingham, UK, where Cannon Street Baptist leased a failing community centre from local government and offering a space for the citizens to play, work and worship.
It is equally important to rewrite history. It was stated that though much credit has been given to British clergyman Thomas Coke for officially establishing Methodist Societies in the West Indies in 1786, the Methodists were quick to highlight that Methodist witness began in 1760 in Antigua with Nathaniel Gilbert, who was 'ably supported by slaves'. It is important to give credit to people of African origin in the establishment of Christian witness in the Caribbean, which is not being done by all denominations.
Perhaps the challenge for Everald Galbraith, the first bishop of the Jamaica District, is not to follow the lead of political leaders, but to lead the charge for autonomy from the British monarch, and the Privy Council, as Jamaica and the Caribbean seek indigenous solutions to our chronic problems.
- 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.