Devon Dick | Outstanding Native Wesleyan Methodists
Jamaica has outstanding Methodist ministers, including the first female bishop in Jamaica, Christine Benguche, and Everald Galbraith, the current Methodist bishop with responsibility for the Caribbean and parts of Central America. These and other outstanding Methodist ministers are standing on the shoulders of a 19th-century group, 'The Native Wesleyan Methodists'.
In 1837, this society was established by the Reverend James Francis Mellad in the parish of St Thomas in the Vale, where there was a 'commodious chapel' named Bethel (Proceedings of the First Anniversary Meeting of the Society of People denominated the Native Wesleyan Methodists of the Island of Jamaica, Ebenezer Chapel, Little London, Westmoreland, page 4). It is remarkable that these natives were not ashamed of the title 'native', which was often a title of scorn and derision. They were confident in who they were. They identified Jamaica as 'our Native Land" (page 8). This self-confidence was displayed one year before 'full freedom'.
The Native Wesleyan Methodist Society of Jamaica was formed before the Jamaica Native Baptist Missionary Society of around 1839. Both native organisations demonstrated that black people were sensible, creative, literate and could handle complex matters. They established organisations that were well managed, well funded, well organised and well known in political circles. Both church groupings produced annual reports giving account of their stewardship to the wider membership.
Additionally, whereas some of the foreign missionary bodies were competitors in Jamaica, there was a spirit of cooperation between Native Methodists and Native Baptists. These Native societies were ecumenical in outlook and they affirmed the Christian ministry of others as having equal validity. In addition, the co-operation was such that the Native Baptist Society of Spanish Town, under the care of the Rev William Duggan, contributed to the Native Methodists 2 pounds 5 shillings, a not insignificant amount.
There needs to be continued mutual support between the Native church groups. In fact, part of the reason some Native Baptist churches and Native Wesleyan Methodist churches no longer exist is the lack of 'pecuniary support'. Sacrificial giving is still necessary.
Committed to educating
The Native Methodists were committed to educating the masses even before the British colonial government caught that vision. They established four schools and the educated young men and young women went into establishing businesses, and they in turn became a blessing to the church and the society. The educational model included vocational and business training. Furthermore, the educational system was egalitarian. It was for both male and female in 1837. These natives were way ahead of their time. They were visionaries believing in the equality of male and female in acquiring an education.
The Native Wesleyan Methodists sent missionaries from Jamaica to 'lands less favoured with the light of God' (page 8). There was a commitment to overseas mission and desired that all come to a saving knowledge of Christ. They felt capable to send missionaries to other lands. They were self-motivated to plant churches in Jamaica and elsewhere.
The Native Wesleyan Methodists should not be confused with the breakaway Wesleyan Methodist Association. The latter was due to disagreement between British missionaries. Rev Pennock came from Britain but broke away and formed that association.
Another outstanding feature of the Native Methodists was the role for the laity as collectors for the society. However, sadly, the members of the executive, numbering 25 persons, were all male and the ministers were all male. Thankfully, the present leaders and ministers of the Methodist Church include women.
The Methodists rightfully pay homage to outstanding Brits such as John Wesley and Thomas Coke. The time has come to name a church after Mellad, an outstanding Native Methodist.
- 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.