Devon Dick | Luther Gibbs: An icon has died
Luther Gibbs was described by Karl Johnson, general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU), as an icon within the pastoral team of the JBU.
Gibbs was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1950, and spent 44 years in active full-time service in almost every mission critical area of the JBU. Hailing from the community of Gibraltar, St Ann, he gave pastoral oversight to churches, including the Hanover Street, Denham Town, Ebenezer, Barbican, Phillippo, Gregory Park, New Haven, as well as the Boulevard Baptist Church, where he served as founding pastor for 21 years.
Gibbs’ record of service to the JBU is outstanding, having the unusual distinction of serving twice as president of the union (1963-64 and 1978-80) and as general secretary (1991-94). Gibbs was supremely gifted in that he was both a visionary and an implementer. He was known as a ‘building pastor’ and his signature building is the Boulevard Baptist Church with its high roof, which was built in the 1970s. This design was replicated by Old Harbour Baptist Church, St Catherine, and Calvary Baptist Church in Montego Bay. He was also instrumental in the development of the Conference Centre in Duncans, Trelawny. When the JBU wanted a person to help with the reconstruction of the churches and manses after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, Gibbs was the man.
Not only did he help in constructing and restoring buildings, but he helped with implementing systems for property documentation; to have all JBU lands identified, certified and utilised. In order to accomplish this task, he enlisted the services of attorney-at-law Gloria Brown.
On his mission, Gibbs was building lives as well. He was the president who ushered in the global assessment scheme, which was designed to help all pastors get a reasonable salary, irrespective of location. In addition, the largest-ever single baptism at Boulevard Baptist Church was under his leadership, when some 38 people made public confession of their faith and belief in God. With his holistic approach to ministry, he established a dental clinic to provide affordable dental services as well as a skills training centre to give young people, especially those who did not make it in the traditional educational enterprise, another chance to acquire a skill.
Under his pastoral leadership, many men entered the pastoral ministry, including Ronald Walters, Edward Jenkins, Eron Henry and Mervyn Chisholm. Gibbs was the quintessential pastor who gave young ministers insights, counsel, and gems of wisdom.
A family man, Gibbs spent time building his family of four children, Paul, Robert, Richard and Janice. He loved his wife Beryl (who predeceased him by two years), and often publicly declared his love for her and the contribution she made to his pastoral ministry.
In the eulogy delivered by Robert and Janice, they said their father completed his 3rd Jamaica Local Examinations in 1941. As a scholar, Gibbs was the recipient of the Christian Endeavour Scholarship to Great Britain, where he studied leadership training and administration. Later, he read for a Master of Arts degree in religion from the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, USA.
His administrative gifts were demonstrated in how he organised small groups within the congregation for inclusion and a sense of belonging. He was a true leader, who was able to influence the actions of members as he taught them the values of sacrificial giving and supporting the church’s mission. As a prudent steward of resources, he would refrain from borrowing funds at high interest rates from banks to complete projects, and instead would get support from members who would lend or give to the cause.
In the 1990s, the Government of Jamaica awarded Gibbs the Order of Distinction in the Commander Class (CD), and Boulevard Baptist fittingly named the educational centre after him.
In 1990, I succeeded Gibbs as pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church and he was my greatest supporter.
Johnson, not known to throw around accolades lightly, sums up this legend when he said, “One may be hard-pressed to find another single individual who has contributed more to the expansion of Baptist witness in Jamaica in our modern history.”
Our icon, the Reverend Luther Benjamin Gibbs.
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.