Project Canterbury

The Diocese of Jamaica
A Short Account of Its History, Growth and Organisation

By J.B. Ellis, M.A.

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1913.

Chapter X.

THE consequences following on the Morant Bay rising were many and far-reaching. A Special Commission was appointed by the Colonial Office to inquire into the causes of the outbreak and the means employed to suppress it. An excellent summary of the Report of this Commission may be read in Gardner's "History of Jamaica." Omitting much that is not strictly relevant to Church history, we may briefly say that, as one result of the finding of the Commission, Mr. Eyre was removed from the Governorship of the Colony. But before he left Jamaica, he induced the House of Assembly, which had been in existence since 1664, to pass, whether wisely or unwisely, perhaps in panic, certainly in haste, a law abolishing the old Constitution, and requesting the Crown to "create and constitute a Government for this Island in such form and with such powers as to Her Majesty may best seem fitting." Thus Jamaica became a Crown Colony, administered by a Legislative Council nominated by the Crown. The first Governor under this new Constitution was Sir John Peter Grant, a strong, resolute man, of great ability and wide experience, whose reforming zeal was speedily shown in every department of public administration. By his vigorous rule he soon proved himself to be both competent and determined to carry into execution his alleged threat that he would so change the condition of Jamaica that if the dead could rise from their graves they would not recognise the Island. In the desperate state of the Island's finances and immediate prospects, retrenchment on a large scale was necessary, if effect were to be given to Sir John Peter's proposals for progress and improvement. Naturally his attention was drawn to the Church Establishment. The following table shows the relative position, as nearly as I can ascertain, of various religious bodies at the time of the inauguration of Crown Government in Jamaica, the estimated population being then about 480,000:--

Thus the Church of England could claim to have control over a little more than one-fourth of the religion of the Colony, and she received for her services £7,100 a year from the Consolidated Fund and £37,284 from the Island Government, the latter sum being inclusive of parochial expenditure on Church officers. Evidently the Church was not the Church of the majority. Sir John Peter Grant moved quickly and soon got to work. Very early in his administration he made an important announcement to the effect that "no vacancy occurring in the ecclesiastical establishment would be filled up until a new scheme for supplying the religious wants of the island should be determined on by Her Majesty's Government." The intention of this is quite clear and anticipated what actually happened. If the vested interests of the clergy were to be protected after the expiry of the Clergy Act, and if economy was to be effected, the Governor naturally and I think rightly decided that no further vested interests should be created which would defeat his purposes of retrenchment.

Another of the earlier acts of Sir John Peter Grant's ecclesiastical policy was to direct the discontinuance of the annual appropriation from general revenue to the several parochial vestries for the purpose of defraying all "charges for organists, beadles and other Church servants, and all miscellaneous and contingent expenses of the several churches and chapels." This was fair enough and received the full concurrence of the Bishop of Kingston. [Professor Caldecott says that the Bishop "rather acquiesced than approved." Whichever word is correct, the Bishop had no choice but to submit.] When other denominations were making provision for such expenses it was manifestly unfair that one religious body already heavily subsidised should be further assisted from general revenue. The annual saving thus effected to the Colony, and therefore the annual sum to be raised by the Church, amounted to £8,000. One consequence of this step was a decrease in the annual contributions to the Jamaica Missionary Society. This decrease was only temporary, as the necessity for the Society was growing more apparent even than it had been at its formation. For the announcement mentioned above that no vacancies in the Establishment would then be filled up was followed by a further announcement that such vacancies would only be temporarily supplied by catechists acting under the superintendence of a neighbouring clergyman. Thus it happened that between the years 1866 and 1870 the number of state-paid clergy was reduced from ninety-two to fifty-five and there were thirteen lay-catechists receiving a stipend from the colonial treasury. The work of these thirteen catechists by no means made up for the loss of the services of the thirty-seven clergy who either died or retired during the four years above-named. Hence again was shown the need of the Missionary Society, the stations of which increased in number, and the funds of which revived.

There was not much real doubt as to what the "new scheme" foreshadowed by Sir John Peter Grant, "for supplying the religious wants of the island" was to be. Credit is due to somebody for expressing this intention in euphemistic language. Some indeed hoped that the Government would introduce a system of concurrent endowment, whereby all denominations would receive small subsidies in proportion to the number of their accredited members. [In Trinidad, when the offer of concurrent Endowment was made, both the Baptists and the Congregationalists refused to accept any such aid from the State.] A good deal might be written both for and against this plan which, however, works satisfactorily in other colonies. Sir John Peter Grant himself was in favour of some form of concurrent endowment and endeavoured to induce Nonconformist Churches to accept grants in aid of ministerial work in destitute districts. Owing largely to the representations of the late Rev. J. M. Phillippo, the sturdy and venerated head of the Baptist Mission, who resolutely refused to act contrary to his conscientious convictions, the Governor had no alternative but to adopt the voluntary principle. It is only due to Mr. Phillippo and to others who acted with him to say that they were not influenced by any personal hostility towards the Church of England or towards Episcopacy in the part they took in petitioning for the entire separation of Church and State. Strong language was used in some of these petitions, but it is sometimes difficult to give expression to strong feelings without the use of strong language. Among other suggestions was one made by the present Archbishop of the West Indies, then Island Curate of St. George's, Kingston, to the effect that an actuarial valuation of the vested interests of the clergy then on the establishment should be made and the amount thus ascertained should be handed over in a lump sum to the Disestablished Church (the rights of existing clergy being safeguarded); and that the Church on these terms should at once accept complete disendowment rather than the lingering decay of finance involved in the Government plan. It is impossible to say what the effect of this proposal would have been; for there was not enough unanimity among the clergy affected to render it possible for the Government to consider seriously such a suggestion. The first condition for its acceptance must have been the consent of all whose interests were involved, and this consent was not forthcoming. The Church seems to have accepted disestablishment and disendowment as being bound to come; there was not sufficient corporate feeling to make any vigorous or effective protest, and both clergy and laity were more occupied in thinking of the future than in lamenting over the inevitable end of the past. Thus in a despatch to the Governor in 1870 the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Lord Kimberley) wrote that "he had received no protest from the Bishop and members of the Church of England against the Disendowment Act and therefore he should advise the Crown to allow it," Lord Kimberley's remarks may be taken for what they were worth. Under the circumstances then prevailing, and with the mind of the Government fully made up and determined, a dignified silence was preferable to any number of protests foredoomed to failure.

The idea of disestablishment was not generally popular with the laymen in the colony. The leading secular organs of public opinion were opposed to it on the ground that it was likely to hinder the general moral advancement of the community; many thoughtful Nonconformists held that such a step, even if theoretically just and financially necessary, might interfere for some time with the spread in Jamaica of Christian principles and practices, quite apart from sectarian differences of opinion on non-essential points. It is extremely improbable that the old elected House of Assembly would ever have consented to such a measure. [The Colony of Barbados which, unlike Jamaica, still retained its independent, self-governing powers refused, in spite of the Colonial Office, to consent to any proposals for disestablishment or disendowment, and the Church of England is still established in that Colony.] In a small colony, where vested interests are generally personal interests or the interests of personal friends, Crown Colony Government administered by a strong and fearless Governor is often more sweepingly radical in its reforms than any representative Government is likely to be, and the present independent vitality and vigour of the Church of England in Jamaica owe their origin, humanly speaking, to the incongruous anomaly that a most radical reform was brought about by the uninvited action of the most conservative form of Colonial Government.

On the 7th December, 1869, Sir John Peter Grant wrote to Bishop Courtenay, notifying him that the Clergy Act which would expire with the then current year would not be renewed. Thus the Union of State and Church which had existed since the early days of Charles II's reign ceased. Little fault can be found with the terms and conditions of the separation. The fact that no vacancies in the Clergy List had been filled up for the past four years may have influenced the generous terms of disestablishment as far as the clergy were concerned and this is not unlikely, for Sir John Peter Grant was a fair man. It was arranged that the incomes of the Rectors and Island Curates then on the Establishment should be continued to them by the State during the discharge of their duties; they also retained their rights to be pensioned on retirement, and their claims on the Rectors' and Island Curates' Widows and Orphans Funds were secured to them. One act of injustice was contemplated, namely, the summary dismissal of all the catechists--thirteen in number--and of clergymen not on the establishment receiving pay from the colonial treasury for doing temporary duty. On the representation of the Bishop that it would be hard on these men to throw them out of employment on a few days' notice, before the Church had time to make arrangements for their future stipends, the Governor consented to modify the original plan to the extent of retaining their services for three months. The question of Church property, as we shall see, was dealt with later on.

Thus in January, 1870, began the task of organising the Church of England in Jamaica on the voluntary principle. A good many hard things had been said in days gone-by about the standard of efficiency and the character of the established clergy of Jamaica. It is only right to say here that, to whatever extent such words may or may not have been deserved years ago, they cannot fairly be applied to the majority of the clergy who were on the establishment in 1869. The present position of stability of the Church, its increase in usefulness, its growth in influence and in numbers are largely due to the energy and the unselfish activity with which the State-paid clergy braced themselves to their new responsibilities. Of course there were exceptions. There were "laudatores temporis acti" who were either too lazy or too indifferent to adapt themselves to changed circumstances. But with the majority there was no hesitation, no faltering, no lack of faith. And as with the clergy, so with the laity; laymen of all ranks and classes were not only ready to come forward with subscriptions, but were willing to give their time and their talents to the management of Church affairs. Government officials, professional men, merchants, planters, settlers, willingly and cheerfully brought their experience and then" knowledge of the requirements and circumstances of the colony to assist the new organisation.

As was inevitable there were difficulties; the end of the old order though expected had been hurried; everything was new, and mistakes were certain to be made while experience was being gained. In the initial proceedings the State was more wide of the mark than the Church, and his warmest admirers cannot credit Sir John Peter Grant with carrying out his work of disestablishment in the wisest way. The right course to have taken would have been for the Government, while it had control of ecclesiastical matters, to create some properly constituted authority in which Church property could be vested, or at any rate to determine by legislative enactment how the liberated Church should select or appoint an authority which would be recognised by the State. This latter course was subsequently adopted. So it happened that the legal disestablishment came after the actual. The actual is dated January, 1870, the legal is dated June, 1870.

On receiving notification of the intention of the Government Bishop Courtenay lost no time in summoning the clergy and the leading laity of the diocese for advice and consultation. On the i3th of January, 1870, the first Synod of the Church of England in Jamaica was held. All the clergy were invited to be present by the Bishop, who at the same time requested each of them to select from his congregation one suitable communicant layman as a lay representative of his church or, if preferable, to delegate such selection to the main body of the communicant members, the Bishop reserving to himself the liberty to invite for this meeting only such laymen as he thought fit in addition to those selected by the clergy. The Synod was attended by forty-seven clergymen, (of whom five are still (1912) alive) by twenty-seven lay representatives of the churches and by twelve laymen, present by special invitation of the Bishop. The meetings of the Synod were preluded by a service in the Kingston Parish Church, in the course ol which Bishop Courtenay preached a vigorous and inspiring sermon. The main business of this first Synod was the formation of a constitution for the Church and the framing of a provisional financial scheme. Its deliberations were thus summed up in the Journal:--

"Thus ended the first Synod of the Church of England in Jamaica, which in the peculiar unanimity of sentiment and principle on most questions between clergy and black and white representatives of the laity, and in actual business results, exceeded the most sanguine expectations of those interested in its success,"

Hardly had this Synod completed its sessions when Sir John Pefer Grant announced that he could not recognise its proceedings, or hand over Church property to it, because it had only been representative--and that often by nomination, not by election--of the communicant members of the Church and not of the whole body of baptised Churchmen. In order to prevent any further confusion the Governor did what he ought to have done earlier, namely, provide by statute for the disestablishment and gradual disendowment of the Church. Accordingly in June, 1870, an enabling statute1 was passed, entitled "A Law to regulate the gradual disendowment of the Church of England in Jamaica and for other purposes." This law authorised a constitution to be framed and regulations to be made for the gradual management, discipline and good government of the Church, it fixed the constituencies to elect lay repre~ sentatives to the first Diocesan Synod, leaving the future representation to be fixed by the Synod; it gave power to Her Majesty the Queen, whenever the proper time arrived, to incorporate by charter the duly appointed representatives of the Church communion, after which incorporation the Governor would have power to vest in such corporate body all church property belonging to any rectory or curacy which should become vacant by the death, resignation or removal of any incumbent; finally, it secured the continuance of their stipends to those of the clergy upon the late establishment who should continue in the due discharge of their ecclesiastical duties as members of the voluntary communion. This law differed from the election regulations laid down in the constitution of the January Synod in giving to non-communicants the power to vote at the first election. Bishop Courtenay wisely, but with a dignified and emphatic protest, assented to these provisions and a second Synod was summoned in the following September and the requirements of the Government were complied with.

It would be both wearisome and unnecessary to go in detail through, or even to pass in review, the proceedings of the annual Synods of the Church. The main work of the earlier Synods was naturally the enactment of Canons, which consist of a number of carefully-prepared regulations originally based on what was considered necessary at the time and amended and unproved afterwards as the result of experience in Jamaica and elsewhere. Each session of Synod is opened by a celebration of the Holy Communion and time is set apart for the holding of a Devotional meeting, while for many years the Archbishop has given an address or charge on the evening of the first day of the session. But the main purpose of the Synod is business.

The difference between a legislative and a deliberative body is well illustrated in the records of the Synods of a disestablished Church. It is one thing for clergy and laity to meet for discussion only, but it is quite another thing when voting has to follow debate and when future action depends on votes given. There are many questions touching the life, and some more closely affecting the sentiment rather than the existence, of the Church which are interesting subjects enough for discussion in Convocation or at a clerical meeting, but such academic or theoretical questions are quite out of place in a representative body, met together for business purposes, which has power to give practical effect to its opinions by legislative action.

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