Evangelical icon praised for service
Rasbert Turner, Gleaner Writer
The Reverend Alfred Gladstone Stewart, a stalwart of the Jamaica Evangelistic Mission (JEM) whose Christian ministry was as decorated as it was iconic - bucking the trend of white clerical leadership - was laid to rest last Saturday at the St D'Acre Tabernacle.
Stewart, who was 89, passed away on January 11.
For more than 53 years, Stewart laboured in various capacities within the JEM, an umbrella grouping of Tabernacle churches located mainly in St Ann, but with branches in Trelawny, St Elizabeth, Clarendon, Kingston and St Catherine.
In 1971, he was elected the first native-born chairman of an organization which, since its establishment in 1876 by British expatriates, had known only white leadership. He held this position for 15 years and served a further three years as vice-chairman.
A life of dignity
Stewart, who was born July 13, 1920 in Orange Hill, Brown's Town, St Ann, was also a board member of the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals from its inception to the late 1990s.
Present chairman of the JEM, the Reverend Fitzroy Thomas, who was mentored as a young man in the St D'Acre Tabernacle by Stewart, said, "(Stewart's life) was characterised by dignity, honesty, humility, simplicity and a love for God. He lived what he preached."
Growing up in Brown's Town, Stewart was converted under the preaching of Dr Robert Kennedy, one of the early expatriate founders of the JEM. Soon he became a Sunday school teacher and lay preacher.
In July 1947, he married his first wife, Bertha, a union which lasted nearly 50 years and produced three foster children. After her passing, he remarried, 12 years ago, this time to Dorothy Jones, a retired school nurse.
Stewart was trained at Jamaica Bible College, after which he assisted at the St D'Acre Tabernacle, then Brown's Town Tabernacle. He returned to St D'Acre in 1969 as full-time pastor, and served unstintingly for 32 years until his retirement in 2001.
According to Deaconess Clarice Williams, a long-standing member of the church, "Pastor Stewart is a man among men. No one can take his place."
Pastor Ezra Blake, with whom Stewart laboured long and tirelessly in ministry, was also generous with encomiums, hailing Stewart as "a faithful and valiant soldier of the cross whose reward will be great".
In October 2002, he received the Badge of Honour for Long and Faithful Service. He was also the recipient of the National Christian Lifetime Award, in July 2008, for his outstanding years of service in the Christian ministry.
Actively involved in community work, Stewart served for nine years as chairman of the Charlton Infant School and also served as board member of the Charlton and Bethany primary schools. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Johnston-Kennedy Camp and Conference Centre in 1978 at St D'Acre in Alexandria, St Ann, which facilitates camps for young people across the island, as well as seminars and retreats.
Despite a religious career embellished with achievement, Pastor Leroy Henry, first vice-chairman of the JEM, said Stewart was more concerned with service than recognition.
"Pastor Stewart was a great man, a trusted servant of God," said Henry. "He neglected the applause and the accolades of the multitude and enjoyed and served his God."