(Editors’ Note. By special request, we present this report on the work in Jamaica. The snapshots, courtesy of Mr. Meulenberg, show the three groups of Jamaican brethren present at the meeting described in the article.)
On March 11, 1970 a meeting was held in Lacovia, Reading, which brought us to a milestone in the history of our mission activities on this island. For the first time since we began our labors here, these churches, as represented by their delegates, elders or deacons, met together as a body to consider forming an association in order to incorporate as the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica. You ask, perhaps, why this is such a unique experience? Consider for a moment the problem of transportation alone: the place chosen for the meeting was the most central geographically, yet so distant that all delegates except those of the host church spent from 2 1/2 to 4 hours on the way. The brethren came from east and west, north and south, by car, by bus, leaving home early to arrive for the meeting to start at 11 o’clock.
Seventeen churches were represented at this gathering to hear the advice of our Mission Committee regarding organization and to receive copies of a proposed constitution on which to base their request for incorporation with the Jamaican government.
Consider also that these churches have always existed independently, having no church order to unite them, and also having no fellowship, except for the sharing of their ministers. Rev. Frame has 4 congregations, Rev. Ruddock has 5, and Rev. Elliott has 8. To them it means a different way of life to be united as an association of Protestant Reformed Churches. Many of the delegates were unknown to one another, and now met for the first time.
The meeting was opened with singing of Psalter No. 69, after which Rev. Frame read Psalm 133 and I Peter 5:1-11, and Rev. Ruddock led us in prayer. Rev. Frame addressed the meeting briefly on the purpose of the gathering, and then gave the floor to Rev. Heys, who spoke at some length, as follows:
“With Rev. Frame, I, too, want to say that I like to address you and look upon your faces today as beloved brethren. The more I work among you, the more I have that confidence that we are one, that in spite of different races and different colors, we have been born again with the same life.
“I’d like to speak a few words of explanation and give you a little history of what has happened that brings us to this very, very important meeting which we have this afternoon. I looked forward to something like this for a long time—to have representatives of all the churches at such a meeting. Just think of all the churches represented here; and, as I said a little while ago, I would like to have you outside pretty soon for a couple of pictures. I borrowed a camera at Mobay that takes black-and-white pictures, instead of our colored pictures; and then we can probably have them printed in the Standard Bearer if they turn out well. Maybe we can, all have a picture.
“Let me begin by calling attention to the fact that in 1965 the Synod of our churches, through our mission committee, sent Elder H. Zwak and myself to work with you for a month. Some of you remember that. I was not in all of your churches. Some of them we could not reach: for we were here only one month. But one of the things that we were told to do was to go and look at all your buildings, see what they needed, and see how we could help you as far as your buildings were concerned, as well as to teach the truth. But we were interested, too, that you had good and comfortable church buildings; and so Elder Zwak and I did a lot of traveling back and forth. In fact, we came on a Tuesday, landed in Mobay, and right away on Wednesday went to Lucea and preached there. Then on Thursday we went to see the Friendship Hill Church, which we don’t have any more. We saw Piper’s Corner, which we don’t have any more; we saw Shrewsbury, Withorn, Galloway, and Waterworks; and I think that was about all we had time for on that day. We spent a lot of time going back and forth through your churches, and took note of what your churches would need and what we should recommend to our churches that they should help you with. Well, when we came back home and gave our report to the Synod, the Synod agreed that you needed help with these buildings; and we wanted to do that. Our churches asked all of the congregations to take collections to build up a fund, so .that we could give to each church. Oh, I don’t know how much we could give you; but we would try to give you as much as we could, to buy your land or to help build your churches, whatever we could do in that line. That was 1965; and I think the collections began to come in during 1966.
“Nobody came here in 1966; and in 1967 we were sent here again, to see if any progress had been made in building your churches, and also to investigate those churches which we did not see before. Then we got to Hope Hill once, and also to some of the other churches which we had not seen. Now I don’t know exactly how much money is in that fund; but we like to spend it. There is no use in keeping it in the bank. It doesn’t do you any good there. But there is one thing that came up and that spoiled our plans. One of our churches we 1,ost because the church was built on the land of a man who did not even belong to the church; Elder Zwak and I went to that man and asked him if he would give a fifteen-year lease on that land; but he refused and said that he might sell it tomorrow. If we would give you several hundred dollars to build a church there, and then that man would sell the land, the church would be gone. So we didn’t want to do that. Then there was another church that was built on two pieces of land belonging to one lady who was a member of the church; and the other lady, a member who soon left, insisted on having meetings in her end of the church and said our people could meet in the other end. Of course, this was impossible. So our people in the States said that we had better make sure that the properties were secured in the name of the churches, not in the name of individuals. We must have it all legally arranged, so that it belongs to the congregation. So we did that. Then we went to a retired judge—not just an ordinary lawyer. Judge Graham, who was formerly in Kingston, worked with us in this matter. And though it may appear as if not much was done in the last few years, the last time I was out here in 1968 with Elder Feenstra, we had a long talk with Judge Graham and started the ball rolling. Then Rev. Lubbers and Elder Meulenberg came last spring and worked further on it.
“When Mr. Feenstra and I went, then Judge Graham said that it would cost about $400 for each church to incorporate, which would take so much money that very little would be left in the bank for you to help to build or to buy any land, because all of the money would have been used to make your churches secure. So then, when Rev. .Lubbers and Elder Meulenberg were back here last spring and especially when Rev. Lubbers came back in November, he went and talked to Judge Graham once again; and Judge Graham said he had been giving this a lot of thought, and thought he knew a cheaper way. He said that if you would have all the churches form an association, and call that association the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica, and then if you will draw up a constitution of the association, we will bring it to the house of representatives in Kingston, and they will accept it, and then you will become a corporation. Your association will be a corporation and be recognized by the government of Jamaica; and they will recognize you as the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica. Then if anybody wants to leave your church, he cannot take your property away; it stays with the congregation. And that is why we brought you here this afternoon. We would like to explain this to you—that if you will decide to form an association and call it the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica, then draw up a constitution which is your rules and regulations, your doctrinal basis and teachings, etc., and which explain a little bit about your association, then, we are told, the representatives in Kingston will not even argue about it. Some things they argue about for days, you know; but they will take it without even arguing and say, ‘All right; that is their constitution, and we accept it, and they are a corporation, and the land belongs to each congregation, not to any man in the congregation who can take it away’. I said a little while ago—Rev. Frame knows—that the first Tuesday I was here in l965 we went to Friendship Hill on the land of Elder Johnson. Well, Elder Johnson was dissatisfied with something and took the whole congregation, and said, ‘It’s my building and my church; you can’t have it’. So we had to get out of it; but that cannot happen if you are incorporated as an association. I would say that there are three things you could do. Not today; we are here only to explain and to have you ask any questions you like. Now, I’m not a walking dictionary and cannot answer every question; but maybe Elder Meulenberg can help along a little bit to get the answers. If you have any problems, if you have any questions about it, ask them after I get finished. But I think the first thing you should do is to go home to your own congregation—your minister, your elders, your deacons—and they ought to be made aware of what this is, and you ought to explain it to all your people and get your people behind it, so that they say, ‘Yes, we want to join that association’.
“The next thing is that you must decide on that constitution. And the third thing is that you should do everything in your power to see to it that you get a deed or some kind of document which expresses that the land and the building on that land belongs, not to, such-and-such an individual, but belongs to the congregation of Lucea, or Reading, or Belmont, or whatever it may be. Those three things, I think, have to be done. Now the biggest problem of them all—but I don’t think you are going to have any trouble—is getting your people to form an association, or denomination, calling themselves the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica. Because you all do it already, don’t you? You call yourselves the Protestant Reformed Church of Lucea, or Cambridge. So that is not going to be hard. Your people are willing to be a Protestant Reformed Church, I’m sure. So they will all agree to join with all the other churches. We’re brothers! Rev. Frame read that a little while ago, how good and pleasant that brethren meet together. Then if we can all get together as an association—you all feel there is a tie all right and feel toward each other as brethren in Christ—but that official tie, or union, has not been made yet. So I’m sure that you are all going to agree. I don’t think there is a problem there, to agree to form a Protestant Reformed Church of Jamaica. The big thing is a constitution. Now, Rev. Lubbers has drawn up such a constitution. And I would like to read it to you; and we will have copies made of this, I suppose, so that each congregation can study it. Now let me say this, that we are not here—Elder Meulenberg and I—to tell you what to do. We haven’t any right to do that. Elder Wright is the elder in this church. I have nothing to say in Reading Church. I have nothing to say in any of your churches. If you don’t want me to preach in your churches, you tell me to stay home. The elders rule in the church, let’s not forget that. The elders have the whole say. Rev. Frame read that to you a little while ago, ‘The elders that are among you I exhort. Feed the flock, not taking the oversight by constraint or for filthy lucre’s sake, but of a ready mind’. So the elders rule; and you shouldin your congregations. Work with your congregation to see that they understand this document and agree to it.”
Rev. Heys read the articles which follow at the end of this report, and made comments, speaking of the Three Forms, on their importance to the church life as Protestant Reformed Churches, and of the benefits which obtain through incorporation and the securing of the title to their properties.
Elder Wright, of Belmont, attended this meeting, and while there showed us a deed for the church property which he and his two sisters were giving to the congregation of Belmont. To say the least, we were happy to be witnesses of the generosity of this brother and his sisters.
There are also other congregations who received their properties by gift, which we feel are also responses to the preaching on the island and the correspondence courses of which many took advantage.
The meeting adjourned at about 2:30 P.M., and then began the long trek home. Rev. Heys had four passengers and took one route home over the hills, arriving home about 6 o’clock. I had five passengers and took a slightly longer route, driving a rented car; suffering a flat tire delayed us somewhat, and we arrived home at approximately 5:30 P.M. Another group with Rev. Ruddock had obtained a private car and driver, and took another direction. Under God’s protecting care all arrived safely.
A long day, a fruitful day, a memorable day.
Thanks be to God.
Here follows the document referred to in the above article:
We the Protestant Reformed Church at _____________________ as represented by the undersigned officebearers, hereby declare that our congregation desires with all likeminded congregations in Jamaica to form an association of churches which will be known as the Protestant Reformed Churches in Jamaica.
We likewise testify by this document that we desire to be incorporated and to have the Jamaican Government recognize us as a corporation.
We, therefore, subscribe to the attached document as the constitution of our church, promising to study the Church order mentioned therein and the three Reformed Creeds, which will become the rules and regulations, and the basis and doctrinal teaching respectively of the churches in this association, and to submit ourselves to further instruction in these matters by the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.
We also, therefore, will at once seek to have all the church properties of our congregation registered under the name of the congregation by a proper deed or document, indicating that the land and buildings belong to the congregation.
Copy of Draft of ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION for the churches called “Protestant Reformed Churches in Jamaica”
Articles of Incorporation made and adopted according to the statutes and ordinances for the incorporation of churches in the republic of Jamaica, who maintain the historic Christian religion.
The name of this church shall be (is) the Protestant Reformed Church of Jamaica at
The rules and regulations of this church are those embodied in the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, which is substantially the Church Order (Constitution) of Dordt, Netherlands of 1618-19.
The basis and doctrinal teaching of this church is that which is the teaching of the Bible; the infallible Word of God, contained in sixty-six Books, and as interpreted in the three historic Reformed Creeds, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt.
This church, as herein aforestated, is a member of the churches known as the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica; they are recognized as indigenous churches by the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, whose Synod is incorporated in the United States of America under the rules and regulations for non-profit organizations in the State of Illinois, U.S.A.
The offices in this church shall be the resident minister, elders and deacons, who are duly chosen from time to time according to the rules of the Church Order. Only male members, members in full communion, are eligible to serve in these offices in accordance with the plain teaching in Scriptures in I Timothy 2.
The resident minister, elders and deacons shall be the acting trustees in behalf of the congregation as duly organized and incorporated; these shall have the power of attorney to execute the wishes of the congregation as decided by legal vote. All matters, which are to be decided by the congregation, shall be announced by the office-bearers, two successive Sundays in advance of the meeting. No matters shall be brought to a vote by the congregation except matters which are officially submitted by the consistory.
All property, real estate, gifts, grants and bequests shall belong to the congregation; they shall in no case be on the name of any individual, a minister or otherwise; the archives and records of the congregation shall be kept in a safe place, and in a manner which is conducive to avoid suspicion and distrust.
Only ministers who are recognized by the Protestant Reformed Churches in America shall be duly installed and ordained in office in this church.
Upon any dissolution of this church corporation the monies and assets, real-estate, and otherwise shall be given to a reputable church, or to some institution of mercy.
As long as monies are being given by the Mission Organization of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, the Chairman and Secretary of the Mission Committee shall be fellow-trustees over such real-estate, church buildings, etc., which have been given to this church.