Project Canterbury

The Church in the West Indies

By the Right Rev. H. H. Parry

From Mission Life (periodical), Vol. V (1874), pages

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2006




No. 1.


THE changes which have recently taken place in the circumstances of the West Indian branch of our Colonial Church, and which make the present a very important crisis in its history, are known probably to few of our readers. The interest and practical sympathy of English Churchmen have of late years been drawn so much and so justly to newer and larger fields of Mission work elsewhere, that few have cared to inquire much how the work was going on in a part of our colonial empire which at one time largely occupied the attention of the mother Church, and was amongst the first to receive at her hands a complete Church organisation. We propose, therefore, in this and one or two succeeding numbers to give some account of the work of the Anglican Church in the West Indies during the past fifty years, of what is at the present time the work in which in the several dioceses she is engaged, of the difficulties which recent political changes have thrown in the way of the prosecution of that work, and the efforts by which those difficulties are being met. It will be seen, we think, that our fellow-Churchmen in the West Indies have a strong claim still upon the sympathy and support of the Church at home.

[452] We will begin by reverting to the year 1824, and giving some particulars of the social and religious condition of the West Indies at that time. It was in July of that year that the two first bishops were consecrated for the West Indies--Bishop Coleridge for the diocese of Barbados and Bishop Lipscombe for that of Jamaica. The former diocese extended from about 6° to 20° of north latitude, included some fifteen principal islands with their dependencies, and what were then the three colonies of Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice* [Footnote: * These were not formally, by letters patent, included in the diocese until 1827.] (since united under the name of British Guiana), and contained a population of some 450,000 souls; the latter, in extent, "tenfold larger than any English diocese," comprised, in addition to the island of Jamaica, the whole of the Bahama group of islands, and contained a population of about 400,000 souls. The bishops were accompanied each by two archdeacons, and arrived in the West Indies early in the year 1825. The whole number of clergy at that time in the diocese of Barbados was fifty, of whom there were fifteen in the island of Barbados, eight in Antigua, five in St. Christopher's, three in Nevis, seven (including four sent out in the previous year by the Negro Conversion Society+ [Footnote: + Incorporated in 1794.]) in British Guiana, one only in Trinidad, and not more than two in any other island. In the diocese of Jamaica there were twenty-one rectors and eleven curates. The salaries of the clergy were provided in almost all cases by the legislatures of the several colonies. The parishes, however, "from the amount, condition, or locality of their population, far exceeded the physical powers of their respective ministers. In too many cases they were inadequately provided with proper edifices for the public worship of God. The free coloured and slave population were not necessarily regarded as forming any part of the parochial minister's cure, except where the rector or curate of the parish was acting in the capacity also of chaplain to the Negro Conversion Society." The clergy in many instances resided away from their parishes, coming to them only on Sundays or for special calls, and were frequently engaged during the remainder of the week in the instruction of private pupils. Baptisms and marriages were performed usually in private houses, many of the churches being not even provided with fonts. Burials took place generally in private places of interment. There were schools which were called parochial schools in these different islands, but these were exclusively for the children of the poorer white families. With the exception of the school maintained from the first by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel on the Codrington estate, of which they were the trustees in Barbados, "day-schools for the education of the children of the free coloured or the slaves, and Sunday-schools for [452/453] the instruction of the young and adult, were either unknown or but inefficiently conducted. By the exertions of the Negro Conversion Society and its chaplains, and in some cases at the instance or under the superintendence of the proprietors themselves, religious instruction had been introduced on some estates; but even this instruction when conceded was for the most part restricted to oral communication." Something, too, had been done in the same direction by the Missionaries of the Moravian Church, and in later years by the Wesleyans, aided by grants from the Church Missionary Society. The results, however, had been but small. Comparatively few of the slaves had been baptized. Marriage was well-nigh an impossibility to them. The Sabbath was a day of much labour, open traffic, and riotous amusement;"* [Footnote: * "It is with much sorrow of heart, but with earnest supplication to the Almighty on behalf of this land, that I thus publicly state that out of a population of more than 100,000 souls, not one twenty-fifth, at the highest computation, is seen on the Sabbath within the walls of their respective churches. . . . We know by how many God's expressly appointed day of rest is spent in worldly business, in hardened indifference (as if religion were no concern of theirs), in listless indulgence, in riotous pleasures, in laborious occupation. My brethren, these things ought no so to be. Yet how can we look for amendment when there is no knowledge of the heinousness of the transgression?"--Extract from a Sermon preached by Bishop Coleridge in Barbados in 1827.] being, in fact, the only day allowed to the slaves as their own, it was everywhere the great market day. "Little had been effected generally towards inducing the negro to forego his African customs and superstitions. The mass of the population remained in a heathen and uncivilized state; religion was everywhere at a low ebb. The faithful minister of Christ had to contend in all classes with much ignorance, much prejudice, much immorality, and, as a necessary consequence, with much opposition."+ [Footnote: + Cf. Bishop Coleridge's Primary Charges.]

Of the measures adopted by the bishops in their respective dioceses to remedy the spiritual and social evils which they found thus prevalent, and to supply their ecclesiastical wants, or of the unwearied labours which the carrying out of these measures involved upon themselves and their archdeacons, our limits will not allow us to speak at length. It is rather to the results of their work that we desire now to point. The following extracts from the same Charge from which we have quoted above, delivered in the year 1830, will show that already at the end of these first five years the results in the diocese of Barbados had been neither small nor unimportant:--

"Through the liberality of the local legislatures the incomes of the parochial clergy have in most of the colonies been placed on a footing more commensurate with the actual wants of the clergy. In some colonies legal enactments have been made, and more or less enforced, for the due and entire observance of the Sabbath. The college founded in the island of Barbados by the munificence of [453/454] General Codrington has been remodeled under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and recently opened as a diocesan institution for the express, though not exclusive purpose of the education of candidates for the ministry. A kind and more confiding feeling is daily evinced towards the conscientious pastor. A visible improvement has taken place in the habits of the negro. The practice of Obeah is dying away. The nightly howlings over the dead, or wakes, as they are termed in some colonies, are now rarely heard; and the custom, which the negro brought with him from Africa, of offering meats at the graves of the deceased, is discontinued, or practised only by stealth. The baptized negroes are seen in numbers within our churches, anxiously presently their children for baptism, solemnizing more frequently their marriages at the hand of God's ministers, and bringing their dead to receive Christian interment within the precincts of God's sanctuary. A system of preparatory instruction, through the agency of catechists and subordinate teachers, has been very generally acted upon. The old parochial schools, which were small and scattered, and under no regular ministerial superintendence, have been consolidated or placed on a more effective footing. New schools have been established, on the national system of education, in the chief towns and smaller villages of every colony. Private schools on estates, for the daily instruction of the negro children in reading and the catechism, are, happily, becoming frequent. Through the means of Sunday-schools, and of local teachers, who have in some instances opened their own houses during the week, after the hours of work, as places of instruction, a very considerable portion also of the adult slave population has been taught to read and understand the Scriptures. There are few endowed parishes now without a resident incumbent or officiating minister. Churches or chapels of ease are under erection or enlargement in various parts of the diocese. The assistance of readers, and, in some instances, of additional clergymen, has afforded to the incumbents of larger cures the means and opportunity of carrying instruction into the most populous and remote quarters of their parishes; while the establishment in every chief island of a committee of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge has placed within the reach of the minister an ample supply of elementary books for the young, and of Bibles, Prayer-books, and other religious publications for the comfort and edification of the old. I might add to these considerations that the formation of the several colonies into one diocese has had the effect of imparting to the exertions of individual clergymen a unity and regularity of operation, and, if I may so speak, a community of interest and feeling, which must tend, under God, to increase both the weight and usefulness of our pure and apostolic Church."

[455] By the year 1834 the number of clergy in the diocese had increased to 81, of whom there were 29 in the island of Barbados, 12 in Antigua, and 10 in British Guiana; whilst upwards of three hundred national and infant schools had been established. The slave population formed everywhere an integral part of the cures of the parochial clergy, and by far the larger portion of them had, after a careful course of instruction, been baptized. The Lord's Day was beginning to be well observed; the Sunday markets had been discontinued, Saturday being allowed to the people as their own day; and the churches were generally filled with attentive and orderly congregations.

Very similar had been the advance made during this same period in the diocese of Jamaica. The number of clergy, which, as stated above, had been in the year 1825 only 32, had increased to 56; that of churches and chapel-schools was also largely increased. Schools had, in the same was as in the diocese of Barbados, been established to the number of 142, and catechetical instruction provided on the estates. The Bishop was able, writing in the following year, to speak in the manner of "a better and more Christian observance of the Lord's Day as evidently commencing"; of "large numbers" of the negro population "conducting themselves on this day with strict propriety and decorum, repairing in crowds to God's house, reading or acquiring eagerly the power to read; the inspired Scriptures, fervently joining in the impressive liturgy of our Church, renewing their baptismal vows in order to their being partakers of the Lord's Supper." Thus a great and evident improvement had taken place in some ten years in the moral and religious condition of the West Indian colonies; much had been effected in the way of preparing the negro population themselves for the important change in their social condition which was approaching, and of which this very year (1834) saw the beginning in the substitution for actual slavery of a system of apprenticeship of the people as labourers on the estates previous to their complete emancipation, which the British Parliament had determined should take place in the year 1840.

(To be continued.)

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