Nathaniel Gilbert, lawyer, planter, slave owner and Speaker of the Antigua House of Assembly, was reading a pamphlet “An Earnest Appeal of Men of Reason and Religion” during a period of convalescence in 1758. The author was John Wesley, the result, the start of Methodist witness in the Caribbean. The following year Gilbert made the voyage to England expressly to meet Mr. Wesley, taking with him two of his slaves. The slaves were baptized and he was converted. On his return to Antigua he called his slaves to prayer and thus became the first Methodist preacher in the Caribbean.
Sugar was king and chattel-slavery was at its zenith when the first congregation of slaves gathered to hear about another Master who was their Savior and in whose service was perfect freedom. Here were the first stirrings of emancipation–in the soul of the people through the gospel that was preached, however it was preached, and whoever was chosen by God for the task. Methodism was therefore totally committed to the anti-slavery movement. It quickly became the Church for and of the oppressed. In the aftermath of emancipation it spread rapidly through the Caribbean and the number of Methodists grew by leaps and bounds. By 1884 the first attempt at church autonomy was made but it failed due to a combination of adverse circumstances – economic depression, the lack of indigenous ministry, difficulties in travel and communication and a dearth of lay leadership.
The experiment failed but the vision did not, and in 1967, with trained indigenous ministry and competent dedicated lay leadership as well as rapid developments in the technology of travel and communication and greater economic stability, another attempt was made. An autonomous church governed by one annual conference and organized in eight districts was inaugurated to witness to and serve not less than 25 different national entities, and to work with 13 different currencies.
Since its inauguration in 1967 The Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas has been attempting to respond creatively to the missionary challenges of the region. A conscious attempt is being made so that the Church becomes more self reliant and in a more advantageous position to communicate the Gospel in word and action.
Belmont, P.O. Box 9 St. John\’s Antigua West Indies