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A Bishop amongst Bananas

By the Right Rev. Herbert Bury, D.D.
Lately Bishop of British Honduras and Central America

London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., Ltd., [1911]

Chapter XV. The Rebuilt Churches of Jamaica

FEW of the calamities which have fallen unexpectedly upon a Diocese can be compared with the earthquake at Jamaica some four and a half years ago. In 1903 a terrible cyclone had swept through the island, leaving damaged churches and rectories and other disasters in its train; by the end of 1906 the clergy and laity were just beginning to feel that they had almost recovered from the blow, though repairs and restorations were not even then paid for; and early in 1907 the earthquake came!

No living being who passed through that awful time will ever forget it, though some, whose nerves can never recover from the shock, will no doubt wish they could. It was early in the afternoon, while the Agricultural conference, which had brought so many distinguished visitors to Kingston, was in full session, that, without any warning, the whole city was laid in ruins in a few moments. The whole place was almost immediately kindled up into a most appalling conflagration, the origin of which has never been quite satisfactorily explained and accounted for, amid a darkness as of midnight as the dust from the falling buildings filled the air. Truly there is nothing in nature so fearsome and destructive as an earthquake!

This was on January 14, 1907, just when the diocese was beginning to breathe again after its 1903 cyclone, and as soon as the magnitude of the catastrophe was realized both by clergy and laity, both as to things secular and ecclesiastical, a feeling very close akin to despair seemed to come over every one in the island in those first few days. But every one agrees in Jamaica that they were all lifted up from despair to hope, and at once encouraged to begin and do what they could to recover even from such a complete and frightful visitation, by the ability, courage, faith, and earnestness of one man, and that was the Bishop of the Diocese and Archbishop of the Province. Jamaica can never attempt to repay the debt it owes to him.

When the earthquake came with such overwhelming suddenness it was his voice ringing through the Conference Hall, asking them to be calm, which had prevented a panic and, no doubt, saved many valuable lives, for there was more danger in the streets than under a roof; and it was there outside that Sir James Fergus-son lost his life.

That call to his fellow-men was prophetic, and it was the same all through! The Archbishop was everywhere and everything. He, like most other people there, had lost all. Bishop's Lodge was a heap of debris, the wooden coach-house alone remained standing, but his Grace hastily decided that here he must live and administer, and at once set out to examine into the damage done. It is well known how he made an inspection of the smoking ruins of what had once been Kingston, examined into, and had reports of, all his ruined churches and rectories, called together a committee of all classes and religions to act for the public safety, and had written a letter to the Times within an incredibly short time after the disaster. Since then he has worked steadily and devotedly and unremittingly to repair it.

It was through his representation that the Home Government made a large contribution, and granted a huge loan, to help the Colony to its feet once more, and through the confidence felt in him, that from the Pan-Anglican Thankoffering, and friends in England, no less a sum than £30,000 was given for the rebuilding of the churches. The result of all this is a beautiful tropical city, risen phcenix-like from the ashes and wreckage of old Kingston, and twelve new churches, rectories, and other diocesan buildings restored and rebuilt--in four years!

It is significant of the spirit in which all this has been done that Bishop's Lodge has been finished last, and that the coach-house and small rooms hastily built up on the site of the old stables have been considered quite sufficient for his Grace until within a few days of his reception of the Bishops and other visitors, who joined him at his own express and pressing invitation, for the consecration of the churches--now happily both rebuilt and free from debt--and the other services arranged to be in keeping with an occasion so historic and eventful and interesting in the annals of Jamaica.

I had the happiness of being one of those bishops, and went out towards the end of December, with the Bishop of St. Albans, who was invited to go as representing the Home Church, and who took with him a letter of greeting and congratulation from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Rev. E. H. (now Canon) Pearce, Vicar of Christ Church, Newgate Street, and Commissary in England for the Archbishop of the West Indies, followed us in a few days; and early in January we were joined by the Bishops of North Carolina and Toronto, representing the American and Canadian Churches, the Bishop of Trinidad and his chaplain, the Rev. Canon Tree, the Bishop Elect of Antigua--Canon Hutson--and Archdeacon Bryan from the Isthmus of Panama. With the Archbishop and his coadjutor, Bishop Joscelyn, we were eight Bishops in all for the principal services, an unprecedented experience for the Church in Jamaica.

All writers of experience agree with the author of Tom Cringle s Log--one of the best sea stories ever written--in expressing their appreciation of "the magnificent island of Jamaica." It is most beautiful, whether seen, as I saw it first, from the sea, coming upon it after leaving Hayti, with the sun shining upon its exquisite green mountains, after rain, the water, washing its shores, gem-like in sparkle and colour, or seen as one drives far inland amongst its winding valleys, where the great peaks of the Blue Mountains rise up to a height of some 7000 feet, with every tropical tree and palm and fern and flower clothing and adorning their beautiful slopes and rugged boulders. It is the loveliest island I have ever seen, with a most interesting and attractive people, and his Grace had chosen the best time in all the year--January and February--for our visit. Every one who went to lend a helping hand to this distant part of our communion would, I feel sure, return to his own work far more than repaid for the services, valuable as they were, which he had rendered.

Let me now try and describe a few characteristic and special services, for it is impossible to speak of all, and so give English readers some small idea at least of what was done.

There was, for instance, the Consecration of Kingston Parish Church, the destruction of which had been overwhelming. Soon after 5 a.m. we had to be up that day, January 18, as there was much to arrange, and many had long distances to come, and the service, like most of the others, had to begin at 7.30 a.m., by which time it is as bright and hot in Jamaica as on an English summer midday. By 7.20 the long procession, which had robed and been marshalled at a convenient place some distance away, was in motion, headed by Cross-bearer and marked by banners here and there, and consisting of choristers, servers, some of whom were Chinese, in red cassocks, clergy, bishops and their chaplains, beadles, church-wardens and committee men: the archbishop entering the church last of all, preceded by the archiepiscopal cross, his scarlet train borne by two servers attired like the rest, the Bishop of St. Albans immediately preceding him, attended by Mr. Pearce.

It was a very stately sight, this procession, as it passed through the streets, the singing led by a cornet, and it enabled great numbers of people to feel, in seeing it, that they were not altogether excluded from the service, for the church itself could not contain even a small part of the great numbers who would have liked to attend.

As the Archbishop passed inside the great doors he paused and gave the Pax salutation--" Peace be to this House, from GOD our Heavenly Father. Peace be to this House, from His SON, Who is our peace. Peace be to this House, from the HOLY GHOST the Comforter"--and then the long procession passed in, singing Psalm xxiv., "The earth is the LORD'S," etc., and those who had composed it filed off to the different places allotted them. The service of Consecration followed in the usual way, together with a very short form of Matins and the Holy Communion, only a small number being allowed to communicate representatively, though the vast congregation, of course, remained to the end. The Bishop of St. Albans preached a most eloquent sermon on the calamities, and the darker and difficult sides of nature, and the extraordinary ways in which they are overruled for good, in the Providence of GOD.

It was heard with the deepest attention by the large congregation, which included the Governor and Lady Olivier, with Captain Robertson in attendance. A most impressive feature in the service was the offering of what is now called "The Earthquake Prayer," and which is always used on the Sunday nearest to its anniversary, January 14, and which contains a very touching remembrance of those who in such numbers came that day "to a sudden and fearful end." The Bishop of St. Albans was the celebrant, and the service lasted very nearly three hours.

This is a fair description of the rule followed at the Consecration of all the other churches both in Kingston and the country places, nothing being omitted which could lend dignity and helpfulness to the occasion, the visiting Bishops and clergy taking it in turn to celebrate and to preach, and in every service having some portion of it allotted to them, so that all could feel they had taken a part, the archbishop himself, of course, always being the consecrating bishop.

On January 15, in the Cathedral at Spanish Town, the old church of St. I ago de la Vega, full of beautiful monuments and stored with old Jamaica associations, the new Bishop of Antigua was consecrated, and he can never lose, I should think, the uplift and inspiration of that glorious service, rendered by those who had never had the consecration of a Bishop take place in any church of theirs before.

Amongst other privileges accorded to me was the preaching of the Ordination Sermon at the parish church, a week after its consecration, to six most earnest candidates for the Diaconate and Priesthood, and a large congregation as reverent and attentive as any preacher in this world could ever desire to have. Three bishops took part in the Ordination of every priest then set apart, and other special features made it a day which I am sure will be, not only for myself, but for very many there present, ever associated with the happiest and most sacred of memories.

There were other very striking features of this visit of bishops and others to Jamaica, which, if time permitted, one would like to speak of, for nothing was ever omitted, as I have said, which could lend either dignity or usefulness to the occasion. There were also great gatherings of men, and a huge missionary meeting, etc. etc., but one remarkable thing to remember with thankfulness is, that not one single disappointment, mishap or misunderstanding, or hindrance from weather, took place from first to last; and one thing which greatly pleased his Grace was to be assured, by those whose judgment he could fully trust, that the services were not at all too elaborate and ornate on the one hand, nor on the other did they lack any single thing that could lend real stateliness and impressiveness to Church ceremonial. It is not fitting here to speak of the spiritual influence which we feel convinced was exercised all the time by those whose one earnest desire was to help on the work and cause of Christ, but none of us who were there for that great object will ever doubt that God gave us a great blessing.

"Such a three weeks has never been known before by the Church in Jamaica" was the oft-repeated and grateful opinion expressed on every side, and though he put forward the visiting bishops and others, on all occasions, only keeping necessary official duties for himself, yet the strong, simple, and earnest spirituality of Jamaica's archbishop was always the dominating influence on all occasions, just as it had been in making all the plans and arrangements so long before, just as it will be in seeking to make the good done a real and permanent gain to the Church's work.

His Grace is so thoughtful and so human. Here is an instance. Early in the proceedings we were all met together at a place called High-gate, for the Consecration of a country church. All the visitors were there, and we had all taken part--the sermon having been preached by the Bishop of North Carolina in an inimitable characteristic and telling American style. When all was over and the Blessing given, the Archbishop stepped up to the altar rail, and looking over the crowded church, said: "I'm going to do an unusual thing, but one which I think is right under present circumstances, and one which you will all be glad to have me do. I know you have been looking at these our visitors as they have been taking part in our services and wondering which is which, and who is this and who is that. Well! I'm going to tell you."

It was perfectly delightful to see the look of satisfaction and relief which came over such faces of the congregation as one could see. "Now this," he said, taking the astonished Bishop by the hand and leading him forward, "is the Bishop of St. Albans, who is well known and honoured and respected in England for his," etc. etc. "And this," making a sign to him to rise, "is the Assistant Bishop of Toronto, well known for his thirty-eight years of service amongst the Canadian Indians of Mackenzie River," etc. etc. "The Bishop who preached to you was Bishop Cheshire, of North Carolina," etc. etc. And so he went through the whole number of us, each of us rising in turn and facing the congregation.

It was all perfectly reverent and becoming to the place, though most unconventional, and it would make all the difference then and afterwards to those simple country folk, who had come, many of them long distances, to know and remember who those were who had taken part in a service the like of which in all probability none of them will ever see again. It was all so thoroughly right, human, orderly, and Christian; and yet all would agree that "no one but his Grace would have thought of it," and that, no doubt, might have been said continually through his Episcopate of over thirty years, and explains why it is, as I ventured to say at a public gathering after the consecration of Kingston parish church, "without a parallel in several important respects in the history of our Anglican colonial mission field."

The work of the Church in Jamaica is full of promise and hope. There are a hundred clergy under the Archbishop and his coadjutor, Bishop Joscelyne; the people are interested and prospering, the good roads and railway communication enable the clergy to come easily to Kingston for the annual Synod, held in the month of February, and on other diocesan occasions. They are all very friendly and brotherly, and, as far as one can judge, wonderfully free from party and parochial prejudice. All points to a good future for the church.

The island, too, is looking forward. There was a time when, as the sugar industry declined, it seemed as if Jamaica's tide of prosperity was ebbing fast, but the remarkable rise of the banana to favour and the island's fertility have changed all that, and though finance must still be for some years a great worry and anxiety to those in authority and in responsible positions, yet one cannot but feel very hopeful as one thinks of things as they are and as they may be when the Panama Canal is open some three years from now, and realizes that Jamaica lies straight in the course of those who pass from there to any of the great countries of the north.

One cannot but hope that the life of the Archbishop may long be spared to serve his country and his Church. His career recalls that of some of the great Churchmen of the past--statesmen and princes of the Church--but he will never have to reproach himself in the sad and pathetic words of our great Cardinal. With him it has ever been "his country and his Lord," and the feeling of all classes and creeds in the island was perfectly expressed by the Jamaica Times in its first issue after our services began. At the foot of an excellent portrait of his Grace, was printed "Our Archbishop--a great Citizen and a great Churchman."

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