The Ja­maican evo­lu­tion

Jamaica Gleaner - - FAMILY & RELIGION - Paul H. Wil­liams Gleaner Writer fam­ilyan­dreli­gion@glean­

THE PEN­TE­COSTAL move­ment grew out of the need for some mem­bers of Protes­tant Chris­tian churches to see ho­li­ness demon­strated in the estab­lished churches whose fo­cus was on ma­te­rial and fi­nan­cial at­tain­ments.

The rev­er­ence, sanc­tity, and Pen­te­costal fire that bib­li­cal Scrip­ture speaks of, they be­lieve, were ab­sent from the estab­lished churches. They wanted apos­tolic ho­li­ness to re­turn, as well as a life­style that strictly ad­here to bib­li­cal teach­ing.

From this need, the seed of Pen­te­costal­ism was sown, and in the first in­stal­la­tion of this series (pub­lished Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 15) the be­gin­ning and early his­tory of Pen­te­costal­ism was ex­plored. The sec­ond part, pub­lished on Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 22, dis­cussed Pen­te­costal be­liefs and ex­pec­ta­tions. And in this, the fi­nal in­stal­la­tion, the evo­lu­tion of Pen­te­costal­ism (lo­ca­tion, mem­bers and lead­er­ship) in Ja­maica is the fo­cus.

In as much the same way Pen­te­costal­ism evolved in the USA be­cause cer­tain peo­ple be­lieve their spir­i­tual needs were not sat­is­fied in the estab­lished de­nom­i­na­tions, some Ja­maicans be­lieved they did not have a voice in the estab­lished churches, which were not ad­dress­ing their so­cial needs. How­ever, the re­search did not re­veal ex­actly when Pen­te­costal­ism was planted in Ja­maica. In his ar­ti­cle, ‘Pen­te­costal­ism in Ja­maica’, in Ja­maica Jour­nal No 42, Rev­erend Ash­ley Smith says, “It has grown most no­tice­ably since the mid-thir­ties (1930s).”

“The rea­son for this is clear. The per­cep­tion of the dis­in­her­ited peo­ple that the estab­lished churches were in­ca­pable of meet­ing the needs they felt co­in­cided with the ac­cel­er­ated growth of na­tional con­scious­ness among the mass of the Ja­maican peo­ple,” Smith writes.


In the 1930s and 1940s, there were pre­vail­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions that pushed peo­ple away from the estab­lished churches based in Europe. There was much so­cial and re­li­gious in­equity, and talks of in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain. It was not just po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence that peo­ple sought. They wanted re­li­gious free­dom, too, be­cause of the spir­i­tual dis­con­nect that they had with the estab­lished churches whose lead­ers were also closely tied to the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and le­gal pro­cesses that were not com­mit­ted, in essence, to the ful­fil­ment of the needs of the mass of the peo­ple.

“These peo­ple,” Smith writes, “left our churches be­cause they per­ceived that they were not wel­come as ac­tive par­tic­i­pants, and there­fore did not feel at home with those with whom they wor­shipped.”

Out of this un­ease, and mo­ti­vated by Pen­te­costals who came into the is­land from the USA, lo­cal Pen­te­costals estab­lished chapels all over the coun­try. In the sem­i­nal days of the move­ment in Ja­maica chapels were built in the vicin­ity of sugar es­tates and baux­ite min­ing ar­eas, on the edge of ur­ban cen­tres, near ur­ban in­dus­trial com­plexes, along back streets and al­leys of small towns, in large in­for­mal set­tle­ments, and in close prox­im­ity to estab­lished tra­di­tional churches, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas.

This was mainly be­cause Pen­te­costal­ism in Ja­maica was spurred on by work­ing – class black peo­ple, who had no power and in­flu­ence in the estab­lished churches. Among them were do­mes­tic helpers and fac­tory work­ers. writes, in the late 1970s.


The style of wor­ship was also ap­peal­ing to the masses, and so it did not take a long time for Pen­te­costal­ism to firmly an­chor it­self in Ja­maica once it was estab­lished. Smith says, “Pen­te­costal wor­ship is char­ac­terised by sim­plic­ity of phys­i­cal set­ting, or­der of wor­ship and speech. There is much singing, the read­ing of Scrip­ture, preach­ing and tes­ti­mony ... em­pha­sis on free­dom of ex­pres­sion among mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion, and the pa­tience ex­er­cised by wor­ship­pers to­wards each other.”

In the early days, Pen­te­costal churches were set up mainly by disgruntled for­mer mem­bers (mostly men) of estab­lished churches. Their de­ci­sion to leave in many cases arose out of lead­er­ship dis­putes. Their ed­u­ca­tional and so­cio-eco­nomic stand­ings were not any bet­ter than their flock’s. Ac­cord­ing to Smith, their “pri­mary re­quire­ment” for lead­er­ship was ev­i­dence of an au­then­tic con­ver­sion ex­pe­ri­ence, a good, clear voice, and a warm, out­go­ing per­son­al­ity.

“Un­til re­cently, it seemed to have been in the in­ter­est of the leader not to be too far ahead of his flock ed­u­ca­tion­ally, since that tended to cre­ate so­cial dis­tance be­tween groups and lead­ers,” Smith writes.

It has been 38 years since Smith’s ar­ti­cle was pub­lished. Huge Pen­te­costal chapels have re­placed makeshift churches all over the coun­try, and to but­tress them are smaller ed­i­fices. Apart from the phys­i­cal changes, the lead­er­ship and mem­ber dy­nam­ics have also evolved sig­nif­i­cantly. The style of wor­ship is still ap­peal­ing, which is per­haps the main rea­son it has grown to be the most pop­u­lar Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion on the is­land.

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