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Dudley Stokes and my spiritual journey

Published:Thursday | April 29, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Devon Dick, Contributor

On Saturday, the funeral service for the late Dr Dudley Stokes was fortuitously held at Boulevard Baptist Church, the church I pastor. It was very appropriate because Dr Dudley Stokes has been instrumental in my spiritual journey.

I encountered Dudley Stokes in the 1970s when I was a student of Calabar High School and he was the chaplain. He also conducted religious education classes.

Stokes was an eloquent speaker at devotions. His exhortations were insightful and applicable to our situation. I recall at devotions he conducted singing favourite hymns such as O Jesus I Have Promised and Be Thou My Vision, with persons such as Orrett Rhoden on piano or our mathematics teacher Miss Patricia Reid, later Waugh. Chapel time was refreshing.

The classes were also enlightening. It was one such class that was to change my life and vocation. Stokes described the difference between infant baptism and believers' baptism. He did it in a balanced way and not in a proselytising way. It raised questions in my mind. I was brought up in a Methodist home but after a search I embraced 'believers' baptism and I informed Stokes about it. He recommended that I attend Mamby Park Baptist Church on Constant Spring Road and the Rev Joseph Edwards baptised me in 1977. That was the start of my journey that would eventually lead to me becoming a Baptist pastor.

Coincidentally, I started my pastoral ministry in 1985 as pastor of the Fletcher's Grove Baptist Church, Sandy Bay, Hanover. I succeeded Dudley Stokes, who was moderator there while being principal of Cornwall High School.

Stokes had much success as a principal. Two achievements of which he was proud of were his two students Dr David Panton, who was a student of Belair when Stokes was principal, and Dr David McBean, CEO of CVM Group, who was a student of Cornwall when Stokes was the principal. Both later became Rhodes scholars.

'A man's man'

While Stokes was at Calabar, he was seen as a man's man. He was not the conventional chaplain. He would ride a big bike. He was in charge of the cadet corps. He had had a strong voice. He had a big frame and a hearty laugh.

But Stokes had another life as editor of The Gleaner. I recall that all the letters I wrote to the editor while being a pastor in Hanover for five years were published by Stokes. I was not so fortunate with another former editor Hector Wynter. Wynter did not publish my article, but he graciously returned it to me by post. In addition, Wynter, while being chair of the Bustamante Institute of Public Affairs, declined to publish a biography of the English Baptist missionary William Knibb, which I wrote. I still have all those letters Stokes published.

Stokes was not the one who engaged me as a columnist. It was Franklyn McKnight who started me in 1990 at the now defunct Sunday Herald. Eventually, I went to The Gleaner under the Stokes' successor, Wyvolyn Gager.

I still recall the many interesting conversations I had with him while he was on the fifth floor of Gleaner. He would tell me that he did not sleep for more than four hours. He also told me that when he was editor, he avoided the cocktail circuit to maintain his integrity. He also told me how politicians were often angry with him.

I am in Dudley Stokes' eternal debt in my spiritual journey and, hopefully, I can be instrumental in the spiritual journeys of others.

Condolences to his wife, children and grandchildren. May his soul rest in peace.

Devon Dick is pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church and author of 'The Cross and the Machete: Native Baptists of Jamaica - Identity, Ministry and Legacy'. Feedback may be sent to