A Two Way Street: Jamaican SDB Pastors in North America

A Two Way Street:  Jamaican SDB Pastors in North America

Aug 25, 2014

A Two Way Street:

Jamaican SDB Pastors in North America

Part 2

 By Rev. Andrew Samuels


Last month, we began a series of three articles from Rev. Andrew Samuels detailing the relationship between the SDB Conferences in the USA & Canada and Jamaica.  This is the second of those three articles.  This series will be concluded in next month’s Recorder.


There is no question that the American Missionary Society and the Jamaica Conference intentionally cooperated in moving toward handing the reins of the work over to the native leaders. Concerted efforts were made to train such leaders, financial provision was made to support this initiative, and the sense was that an investment was being made in the Jamaican personnel; one which was hoped to produce rewarding returns. Not only did the Americans work towards training

Jamaican leaders in Jamaica, but they also identified one individual who was selected to travel to the United States to be educated with the goal of him returning to Jamaica to impart his formal training to his compatriots.


Socrates Thompson was the beneficiary of this arrangement. In 1946 he began studying at Alfred University in New York, from which he graduated, and followed that up with the completion of a Bachelor’s degree at Milton College. Both are Seventh Day Baptist educational institutions. He did return to Jamaica in 1950 and served on the field there. It is more than fitting that history will record him as the first Jamaican to serve as pastor of a Seventh Day Baptist Church in the United States. That stewardship began at the New York City SDB Church in the mid-1970’s.


Since then, approximately 26 others have migrated from that tiny Caribbean island to North America and have served in a pastoral capacity stretching along the eastern seaboard from Toronto, Canada in the north to Miami, Florida in the south, and even across to Los Angeles, California on the west coast. Only about five of them were not Seventh Day Baptists when they lived in Jamaica, but became affiliated with the denomination after migrating to the North American continent. The records will also show that approximately 17 churches and groups in eight American states and one Canadian province have benefitted from the pastoral services of these Jamaican immigrants. Four of these groups are no longer in existence and one is no longer a Seventh Day Baptist Church. In addition, there are presently three seminary students of Jamaican background serving in leadership roles in the Toronto SDB Church.


My observations have led me to at least four characteristics that have contributed to such a proliferation of Jamaicans serving in a pastoral capacity in SDB Churches in North America.


A Pioneering Spirit


Jamaican Seventh Day Baptists have not been afraid to venture out into the unknown to seek out uncharted waters and to blaze a trail for those coming behind. Having an enterprising mindset has been a hallmark of Jamaicans and has served them well in their endeavors. Of the 17 churches and groups already identified as pastored by Jamaicans over the last 40 years, arguably only one of those was not started by groups consisting of primarily Jamaican individuals. The contrasts with the adopted country, and the differences in culture, have not been insurmountable hurdles. Rather, the diversity has served as a motivating influence for the establishment of something new. That pioneering spirit was accompanied by the possession of a portable faith. When there has been migration, mostly for the pursuit of economic and career opportunities, Jamaican Seventh Day Baptists have taken their faith with them. And in the midst of their academic and vocational quests, they have typically ensured that their spiritual heritage and legacy were not left behind.


Andy Samuels is the pastor of the Miami, FL SDB church, chairman of the Standing Committee on Faith and Order, and the Executive Secretary of the Seventh Day Baptist World Federation.


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