The following was written by Clayton Soleyn, a native of St. Vincent. Introduction
The church of Christ has gained a foothold on the island of St. Vincent and is destined to grow and spread over the whole island. However, there was a time when the church was not even heard of on that island.
This paper is an attempt to trace out the major events in the development of the church on the island and deals mainly with the period of time during which the missionary W. Ralph Wharton worked on that island. The writer lived on the island during most of this time and participated in some of the events recorded. He, therefore, has a first-hand knowledge of many occurrences.
St. Vincent has played a vital role in the development of the church in the English Speaking Caribbean. Almost all of the other islands have been touched in some way by the spark which was kindled on that island.
The prophet Isaiah had long ago said, “Let them give glory unto the Lord, and declare His praise in the islands,” (Isaiah 42:12). Today the islands of the Caribbean praise Him because someone declared His name among them.
The Island of St. Vincent
Geography: Position and Size
St. Vincent, a link in the chain of islands of the eastern Caribbean is positioned at 13 ½ ° north latitude and 10° west longitude. Twenty-one miles to the north lies the island of St. Lucia. To the south, at a distance of about eighty miles, is the island of Grenada. The island of Barbados is situated at about ninety-six miles east of St. Vincent. The island is slightly oval in shape and is only eighteen miles long. It is eleven miles wide at its widest points and has an area of one hundred and thirty-three square miles. Between the island of St. Vincent and Grenada, there is a string of cays called the Grenadines. Some of these islands such as Bequia, Cannouan, and Mayreau are governed by the Vincentian government. They are Vincentian territory thus making the overall land area of St. Vincent to be about one hundred and fifty square miles.
St. Vincent, like most of the Caribbean islands, is mountainous. A large mountain range running from north to south dominates the center of the island. This range forms a backbone from which are branched subsidiary ranges. The island has very little flat land. However, along the coastal edges one can find a few stretches of undulating land. The secondary mountain ranges extended all the way down to the Caribbean Sea on the west and to the Atlantic Ocean on the east. It is not uncommon to gaze up from the water at a perpendicular cliff face, the blunt end of a vigorous mountain range which has been checked only by the water.
A stream of fresh water runs in almost every valley. None of these streams, however, is navigable. The largest body of fresh water on the island is the crater lake of the volcano, La Soufriere. The mountain rises steeply to a height of about four thousand feet, terminating in a gaping crater one mile wide. The water of the crater lies on e thousand feet below the rim of the depression, thus forming the scenic view of a lake inside a mountain.
St. Vincent is a tropical island, being only 13 ½° north of the equator. The mountains and valleys of the interior are covered with dense tropical forest of green-heart, gru-gru, and a host of other trees. The island has an average annual rainfall of about one hundred inches. This average rainfall is evenly experienced throughout the whole island. The temperature ranges from about 79° to 88° F. Because of the cooling influence of the northeast trade winds, the weather never becomes unbearably hot. The nights are rather cool during the month of December, while July and August are the hottest months.
The population of the island is mixed being made up of several races. There are Negroes who are in the majority. Their fore-parents were brought from Africa as slaves. There is a small percentage of East Indians who are descended from Indians who came to the island as indentured servants during the days of English colonization. There are also a few whites, the descendents of the early colonizers. Very few of the original people, the Caribs, remain. As a matter of fact, a pure Carib is hardly to be found on the island. The Caribs and Negroes intermarried, so that although there are people with distinct Carib features, yet they possess Negro genes. There are some people, also, who have come about as the result of a mixture of the different races.
The people of St. Vincent live mainly along the coast. However, there are some inland villages. The largest and capital city is Kingstown, situated on the southwestern coast. It is also the chief port having a large, spacious harbor. In former times ships were loaded and unloaded by lighters, but today they dock alongside a modern deepwater pier.
The island is self-governed. Today it is spoken of as a state in association with Britain. However, at the time when our first missionary arrived, it was considered simply as a colony of Britain. In those days there was a governing body comprised of local men who were elected by the people to serve for a certain term. However, there was also an administrator who was an appointee of the British government. This administrator was directly responsible to the British government for the affairs of the island. He was usually a foreigner. Today, the island is governed by a premier and ministers of the various areas of government. There is also a governor who must be sanctioned by the British government. This new arrangement bears a striking similarity to the old.
There are four major religious denominations of the island. The Church of England probably ranks first with the largest nominal membership. The Methodist and Catholic churches view for second place, while the fourth largest group is the Spiritual Baptist. This group appeals to the uneducated and often illiterate people. Nevertheless, it is found in almost every village and town. Besides these larger groups, there are several other small denominations such as the Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, and others.
The island is English speaking. English is taught in all the schools and is also the language of commerce. However, in all the towns and villages one hears a local dialect rooted mainly in the English language. The people understand correct English, but there are many who cannot speak grammatical English. There are others who, though they both understand and speak polished English, still prefer to revert to the local dialect.
A Previous Beginning
About the month of February in the year nineteen hundred and sixty, a man came to the island of St. Vincent preaching the gospel of Christ and saying that men in order to be saved must repent and be baptized. He converted about fifteen or more people, but had to leave the island after a brief stay of a few weeks. This was the beginning of the churches of Christ on the island. There is no record known to the writer of there being a previous beginning. The individual who initiated this planting of the church was the evangelist, Winston J. Massiah.
Massiah arrived in St. Vincent early in 1960 and began his preaching in the city of Kingstown. At that time there were three places in the city where people met for large social functions. These places were the market square, the town hall (Peace Memorial Hall), and the Victoria Park. Massiah chose the Victoria Park as the place to commence his preaching. He preached for several nights at this park and was able to make a few converts. Among those converts were the brothers Alick and Harold Providence. Alick was the first of this group to be baptized.
Having completed this series of meetings, Massiah moved to the market square where he continued his preaching, though not with the same frequency as at Victoria Park. While Massiah preached at the market square, the small group of converts began to assemble each Sunday to worship together. A building was rented for this purpose in the area of town commonly called bottom town. The building was situated on Bay Street and was less than one hundred yards from the waters of the Caribbean Sea.
From all indications the church was gaining ground and would more than likely have made a great impression on the city, but due to some problem, the missionary had to return to the United States. He promised the young converts that he would soon return, but unfortunately he never returned to continue the great work which he began.
Massiah spent only a few weeks before he was forced to return to the States. Upon his departure, Harold Providence evidently became the leader of the infant congregation. Harold was then a young man, about twenty years old, having obtained the Cambridge certificate of education. He was at that time an employee of the government and worked in the Medical Department as a dispenser of medicine. His younger brother, Robert, was still attending the government high school, called Boys’ Grammar School. Come of the other converts were school boys and girls, but there were also a few older people, such as Charles and Dorcas Creese, Netta Tucker, and Ruby Isles.
The congregation continued to worship in Bottom Town for a few months after the missionary left, but in time, they became disbanded. They no longer worshipped as a congregation, and there is no evidence that any single family or individual continued to worship with breaking of bread on the Lord’s Day. A look into the circumstances surrounding the young converts reveals that there were several adverse forces at work against the infant congregation.
They did not possess strong leaders. Harold Providence tried to provide leadership for the group. Although Harold was secularly educated, he still lacked the knowledge of the Bible which was so vital for the instruction of himself and his brethren. The young men made an effort to evangelize. They preached on the street corners of Bottom Town, but were unsuccessful in gaining converts. This failure to win others dampened the zeal of the young Christians.
They encountered financial problems. The building in which they worshipped was quite large. However, while the missionary was with them, they were able to pay the amount of money due for rent each month. Upon his departure, however, they found great difficulty in paying for the building. They continued to assemble for a few months, but finally for the lack of money, they were forced to abandon the building. The loss of the building was not sufficient cause for the group to disband. Had they been strongly determined to continue, they could have rented a smaller building or even a room for a meeting place. Failing in this they could have continued to meet at one of the member’s house. However, they were babes in Christ and not well taught. They struggled for a while but finally succumbed to the adverse forces. The church went into dormancy.
A New Thrust
About June 1965, more than five years after Winston J. Massiah, another missionary came to the island of St. Vincent. This man was W. Ralph Wharton. He came, accompanied by his wife, Ruther, and his three children, Randy, Rhonda and Renee. Although Ralph was in his early fifties, his children were rather young. Randy, the oldest, was about eleven years old. Rhonda was about nine, and Renee seven.
Upon their arrival in Kingstown, the Wharton’s found lodgings in the Blue Caribbean Hotel. This hotel, like the building in which the first congregations worshipped, is situated on Bay Street, but at the opposite end of the city. They decided that Kingstown would be the focal point of their work, and in accordance with this decision began their search for a house in the city. They found one that neatly fitted their needs.
The house is still to be found on Murray’s Road, across from the government’s Girls’ High School. It is a three bedroom house with a somewhat large living room. There are also two other rooms attached to the main building by a common roof, but separated by a space intended for a family car. Ralph used one of these for an office while the other was used for storage. As the work began and developed, the decision to live in Kingstown proved to be a good one. That house was the center from which much evangelism was done. Many decisions were made there concerning the work of preaching the gospel over the rest of the island. From there Ralph conducted his Bible Correspondence Course which touched the island at many points, and even reached out to many of the other Caribbean islands. It was also at this house that the Kingstown Church worshiped for three years.
Having settled in on the island, Ralph began to think about the actual work of winning converts to Christ. Contact was made with Winston J. Massiah who was at that time working on the island of Barbados. He came to St. Vincent and together with Wharton (presumably at Wharton’s request), tried to find the converts which he had made five years earlier. The exact number of these previous converts contacted by the two men is unknown. However, they were able to persuade about three of them to begin to worship again. These three, along with the Wharton family, then formed a new beginning of the church of Christ on the island. They first began to worship each Sunday at the Peace Memorial Hall, but after a short while, the tiny congregation began to worship at the Wharton’s house. They met in the living room.
Before Wharton came to St. Vincent, he became acquainted with a magazine called Caribbean Challenge, published monthly at Kingston, Jamaica. This magazine carries in each issue a section reserved for those who desire to be “pen pals.” They are usually young people from the English speaking Caribbean islands, Guyana and some of the English speaking African countries. While still in America, Ralph wrote to some of these young people and offered them his Bible correspondence course which he had developed himself. Some responded positively to his offer, so that even before he arrived on the island, Wharton had already made a few contacts with whom he could begin his evangelizing.
After he arrived on the island, he continued the Bible correspondence course, but with much more vigor. He asked those enrolled to enroll their friends, and in a short while, letters were coming in from all over the island. Aster Barnwell, a young school teacher, who lived in the village of Lowmans, was the first of the correspondence course students to be baptized by Wharton. He was baptized sometime before the month of December 1965. There was at least one other convert around this period of time, a young lady, Muriel Williams, who lived in the town of Barrouallie, on the leeward or Caribbean side of the island. Aster lived about eighteen miles from Kingstown, and Muriel Williams about twelve. They were, therefore, separated from the tiny congregation which met on Murray’s Road. There was no congregation near either village with whom they could worship.
A Meeting at Troumaca
Wharton also had a number of students who lived in the village of Troumaca, on the leeward side. He thought that the village might prove fruitful to a series of gospel meetings so accordingly he prepared to conduct a series of meetings in that village. He chose the Christmas holidays of 1965 when all of his correspondence course students would be free from school activities and could give their attention to the meetings. Wharton and his eleven year old son, Randy, went to Troumaca about eh second week in December. They rented a house for two weeks and secured the Troumaca school building as the place for his nightly meetings.
Wharton’s approach in conducting his meeting each night attracted a large crowd. However, the majority of those who attended were young people (teenagers and children). He used filmstrips with accompanying phonograph records to teach the lessons. At the end of each lesson he would exhort the hearers to become Christians. He would then conclude by singing and “invitation song.” Wharton must have been disappointed by the results of the meetings. When they ended none of the correspondence course pupils was converted. There was only one convert for the whole effort, a fourteen year old lad from the neighboring village of Rose Bank. However, this young man was destined to become one of the leaders of the church on the island shortly after his conversion. It was the second or third night of Wharton’s series of meetings. There was a crowd of over one hundred people. The filmstrip lesson was over and the crowd was somewhat restive. The preacher exhorted the audience, and the invitation to become Christians was extended in song. The song ended and standing beside the preacher was a young man who desired to become a Christian. This young man was Sam Soleyn, the only convert of that series of meetings.
Sam went home that night and announced to the rest of his family that he was going to be baptized the next day. He was met by vehement opposition from his mother and most of the family who were members of the Anglican Church. However, his grandfather and one of his brothers supported him in his decision. His grandfather had become a member of the Evangelical Church of the West Indies about three years before. The brother who supported him had begun to search for religious truth. His mother, however, was thoroughly opposed to his decision.
“You can’t do such a thing!” she told Sam. “You can’t be led astray by a false prophet.”
With many other words she tried to persuade him to change his mind, but the young man was firm in his conviction. Sam later said that his decision to become a Christian was not made on that particular night, but was reached some time previously. He said that he had told himself that he would become a Christian when the first opportunity presented itself. The reason for Sam’s independent decision awaits further investigation.
Wharton had told Sam that he would come to Rose Bank the next day to baptize him. However, one doubts seriously whether there would have been any baptizing had Sam’s mother stayed at home that day. His mother had made her plans to go to town the following day to do her Christmas shopping, and did accordingly. His father was away in England at that time. This meant that when Wharton arrived in Rose Bank to baptize Sam, there was no parental figure in Sam’s household to oppose him.
The next day Wharton and his son came to Rose Bank. He drove the little Volkswagen bus which was to play a great part in the development of the church on the Windward and Leeward sides of the island. He parked the bus in the front yard under the breadfruit tree. Sam was waiting for him and went out accompanied by his grandfather, two little sisters and a brother to meet the missionary. The beach was only about three or four hundred yards away so the little group decided to walk there for the baptizing.
By some means the news was spread around the village that something strange was about to happen. The little group became a curious procession as it wound its way along the grass-lined village road toward the beach. Had it been a Sunday and had the group been dressed in white, singing and ringing a bell, it would have been less strange for this the Spiritual Baptists did occasionally. But it was a week day. There was going to be a baptizing, and the candidate was not dressed in white. The baptizer was an unknown white man dressed in ordinary clothes. This was enough to draw a crowd.
The people of Rose Bank were somewhat religious. Three main religious groups claimed the majority of the people: the Anglican Church, the Spiritual Baptists (commonly called the Shakers), and the Catholic Church. The Anglicans were in the majority and though most of them were only nominal members, they prided themselves on being Anglicans. About five or more years previous to the incident here recorded, a number of the people had broken with the Anglican Church. Because of their action, they were ridiculed, and were the unfortunate objects of many hurtful taunts. They had left the Anglican Church and had become members of an evangelical group.
As soon as the group arrived on the beach, a crowd of curious onlookers gathered. Among the crowd was a woman who had broken with the Anglican Church and had become a member of the Evangelical Church of the West Indies. She had been immersed as a prerequisite to entering that fellowship. She, therefore, agreed wholeheartedly with Sam’s action and stood in the crowd giving encouraging words. Apart from that woman, no one else in the crowd indicated that he fvored the proceedings. However, they were not vocally antagonistic.
The village of Rose Bank usually has more sunny days than rainy days each year. But the day of the baptizing was not a sunny day. There was an overcast of rain clouds when the little group (consisting of the missionary, Sam and others) began its way to the beach. But when it arrived on the beach and the crowd had gathered, a light rain began to fall. As the crowd stood on the beach, one could look out across the wide expanse of the water of the Caribbean Sea, as it reflected the grey clouds which hovered ominously above. On the horizon, however, there was a large bright cloud which added a little light to the atmosphere.
The preacher began to pray and as he did so, there was silence from the mumbling crowd.
“O happy day that fixed my choice…” the song came forth clearly.
The preacher and Sam made their way to the water and waded into it until they were about waist deep. The preacher raised his hand and said something. Then he baptized Sam.
“’Tis done, the great transaction’s done….” He sang as they came up out of the water.
Some in the crowd laughed, others gazed wonderingly. However, to Sam it was a new and determined beginning. He was then a Christian, having been “buried with his Lord in baptism and risen to walk in the newness of life.” His sins had been washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ. The little group made its way back to Sam’s house and the missionary went back to Troumaca. Sam went to visit him later that day. Wharton completed his series of meetings and returned to Kingstown. There were no other conversions during the meetings. Sam spent the remaining two or three weeks of the Christmas holidays in Rose Bank and was probably glad when they were over. Early in January he and his older brother (Clayton) returned to Kingstown where they were both attending the Government High School (Boy’s Grammar School).
As soon as Sam and his brother were settled back in Kingstown, Sam began to visit the Wharton’s regularly and to attend all the meetings of the Kingstown congregation. By then, the Kingstown congregation was made up of the Wharton family, the Creese family, Netta Tucker, and Sam. The children of both families attended the church meetings, but were not baptized. This meant that the Kingstown church had six members. The congregation gathered for worship in the Wharton’s living room. The living room chairs together with the dining room chairs were sufficient to seat everyone who attended the church gatherings.
Sam was only a few weeks old as a Christian but had already started to evangelize. He was endeavoring to convert his older brother. Fortunately for his missionary efforts, his brother had already begun his search for Biblical truth. Every time Sam learned something new from his preacher, he would tell his brother when he arrived home. Sometimes his brother would disagree but Sam would quietly ask him to find the relevant passage in the Bible. He would then read the passage or passages for himself and that would be the end of the argument
One night in January 1966, Sam invited Clayton to worship with him at the gathering of the tiny Kingstown church. When Clayton arrived at the place of worship, he was somewhat surprised at the sparsity of the congregation. He had envisioned a large crowd of people. He was unaware of the newness of the Restoration Movement to the island of St. Vincent. He had no concept of a distinction between the church of the New Testament and the denominations of men. As a matter of fact, that night before Sam’s invitation, he was already dressed and prepared to attend the evening service of a denominational gather not too far removed from where the Wharton’s resided. However, when Sam invited him to go along to the worship of the Kingstown church, he changed his plans and went with Sam.
Clayton noticed that the worship of the tiny congregation of people who called themselves simply “Christians,” and members of the “Church of Christ,” was extremely simple compared to the sophisticated and ritualistic service of the
Anglican Church of which he was a communicant member in good standing. The few members and fewer visitors sang, being led by the preacher, and then they prayed. The preacher stood up before the people and preached for about forty minutes, at the end of which time a song (which was later understood to be an “invitation song”) was sung. Before the song was sung, the preacher invited anyone who wised to become a Christian top come and stand up where he stood in front of the rest of the people. No one seemingly wanted to be a Christian that night. After the singing of the song, the communion was given to one lady who was absent from the morning service. They sang another song and after a prayer, the meeting was over. The whole affair lasted less than an hour.
The preacher’s message had no particular impact on Clayton that night. However, inn the days that followed, a certain passage from the gospel of John kept hounding his thoughts. Over and over again, the passage came to his mind: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3. e had known that passage for many years previously, but its meaning came home more fully to him on the night on which Sam had made his decision to be baptized. He had supported Sam in his decision to be baptized and had thought then about his own condition. But he was not fully persuaded at that time. The more he thought about the passage in the following days, the more convinced he became gthat the
He had known that passage for many years previously, but its meaning came home more fully to him on the night on which Sam had made his decision to be baptized. He had supported Sam in his decision to be baptized and had thought then about his own condition. But he was not fully persuaded at that time. The more he thought about the passage in the following days, the more convinced he became that he should be baptized. “…Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” He had been sprinkled as an infant, but he knew that to be sprinkled as an infant was not the same as being baptized as an adult. He was troubled in his mind. He was impelled by the teaching of the scriptures, but was reluctant to obey, because he was afraid of the mockery of his peers.
January 22, 1966, was a holiday on the island. The missionary was about to try to establish a new congregation in Troumaca. About noon that day, he placed some benches (which he had made himself) aboard the little Volkswagen bus and started out for Troumaca. He took Sam along on the journey and Sam invited his brother, Clayton. When they arrive din Troumaca, they transferred the benches form the bus into the living room of a new dwelling house situated on the main road that leads to the village of Rose Hall. The house was owned by a certain Mr. Joslyn who having built the house was not then ready to occupy it. The ground floor of the house was rented by the owner to a group of people who used it for a handicraft center.
Ralph and the two young men arranged the benches on behind the other, thus forming a miniature church auditorium setting. However, there was no pulpit for the preacher. The room received no other adornment than the benches. The room itself was comfortable, having windows on two sides, and due to the fact that it was elevated, a gentle breeze provided natural air conditioning. They were fortunate in finding such a place to worship in Troumaca, because it was rare to find an unoccupied new house in most villages in St. Vincent at that time. (It was the same house that Ralph had rented about six weeks before when he conducted the series of meetings in Troumaca.)
The mission of preparing the room for worship being completed, Ralph drove to the next village of Rose Bank, about three quarters of a mile north of Troumaca. Sam and Clayton lived in that village. As the bus stopped in front of their house, they saw their mother hanging her washing on the clothes line. They went over and greeted her. She greeted them lovingly in return as she always did. Then she turned to Clayton and asked him, “Have you joined them yet?” “No,” he replied but he little knew that soon he would not only have “joined them” but he would be actively engaged in trying to convert others.
On January 23rd, the day after the journey to Troumaca and Rose Bank, Sam and his brother were back in Kingstown. Sam again invited Clayton to worship with him and again he went. In the afternoon Ralph was going out to the village of Lowmans where Aster Barnwell lived. Ralph was trying to establish a new congregation in that village too. Sam went along with him and asked Clayton to go also. Ralph had been going to Lowmans for a few Sundays previously. He held Sunday afternoon meetings in a building located on the main street of the village. (The building was later destroyed by fire and has since been replaced by a new concrete structure.) Aster Barnwell was then the sole member of the congregation.
The hall was bare except for a table on which were the various items connected with the communion. The few visitors who attended had no where to sit. They all stood toward the back, and some leaned against the walls close to the windows. The preacher stood close to the communion table across the small hall, facing those in attendance. The meeting began. Ralph led the few who were gathered in the singing of hymns. He prayed and then he preached. Clayton listened attentively, along with the rest. He thought about the preacher’s message. The preacher spoke about the Hebrews in Babylonian captivity. He told about the three Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abdnego. He explained how these men who knew the true God refused to bow down to an image of gold made by Nebuchadnezzar even though they knew that for refusing to bow, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace. They were not afraid to stand up for the truth.
Clayton made the application of the moral of the preacher’s lesson to himself. He knew that he was not saved, and that in order for him to be saved, he should repent of his sins and be baptized in water. He believed in Jesus and knew that Jesus had died for his sins at Calvary. He wanted to be saved, but he knew that if he submitted to baptism, his friends would ridicule him. He was afraid. Upon hearing the preacher’s message and seeing how the Hebrew men who knew the true God refused to worship an image, he took heart. If they were unafraid of a burning fiery furnace, then why should he be afraid of the taunts of a few so-called friends, he thought to himself.
“…Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” The words of scripture came back to him and he knew that in order to be pleasing to God, he must do what he knew was true, regardless of the feelings of his friends. He must be born again. He must turn from his sins and be baptized and follow Jesus. The preacher ended his lesson and exhorted his hearers to become Christians. He began to sing a song to encourage his hearers to begin their walk with Jesus. Clayton could no longer restrain himself. He walked toward the preacher and stood in front of him. The song ended. The preacher looked at him with a questioning look on his face.
“But why have you come?” he asked. “I want to be a Christian,” Clayton said. “But, but, ….” stammered the preacher. Then he recognized him. Ralph had mistaken Clayton for his brother Sam. They went back to Kingstown that Sunday afternoon and as they drove, Ralph explained the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch to Clayton. Sam and Clayton stayed on for the Sunday night worship of the tiny Kingstown congregation. After the worship, they went to Villa, where the Caribbean Sea was calm and peaceful for the baptizing.
Instead of having one person to be baptized, there were two. Ralph’s son Randy, told his parents, after the worship, that he, too, would like to become a Christian and that he would like to be baptized. When they arrived at Villa, it was already dark. Ralph carried along a flashlight. He baptized Clayton first, then his son. The water was cool and pleasant. Clayton came out of the water almost unaware of its coolness, but his eyes were filled with tears of joy as he realized that his sins were forgiven and that he was born again. His firm resolution was to follow Jesus, never to turn back regardless of what his friends might think.
E became a member of the Kingstown congregation. The Kingstown church was then made up of eight members. There were three members who had been baptized by Winston J. Massiah in 1960: Charles Creese and his wife, Dorcas, and an older lady, Netta Tucker. Then there was Ralph and his wife, Ruth, and his son Randy, also Sam and Clayton. As of January 23, 1966, this was the total membership of the Kingstown church. There were two isolate Christians on the island, who did not worship with the Kingstown church. There was Aster Barnwell in Lowmans and Muriel Williams in Barrouallie. All had been baptized by Ralph.
Gathering the Saints
The problem of enabling these isolated Christians to worship with other Christians confronted Ralph. He had already thought of the plan to establish a congregation in Lowmans and another in Troumaca. He had been going to Lowmans for several weeks. Then on January 23, 1966, a new congregation was begun in Troumaca. This meant that each Sunday Ralph had to preach twice in Kingstown, once at both Troumaca and Lowmans, besides driving a total distance of seventy-two miles. By looking at the map at the front of this paper, one can deduce that the island is eighteen miles long and only eleven miles wide between its widest points. However, if one travels from Richmond Vale on the Leeward coast to Fancy in the North, one covers a distance of about sixty miles along the main highway. The roads are narrow and winding. They run along step mountain sides, through valleys and occasionally even through a mountain. An average of twenty miles per hour over any given twenty mile distance along the main highway is a very good rate of travel. Ralph drove slowly by Vincentian standards, thus a seventy-two mile distance occupied about four and one half hours each Sunday. His was a truly Busy Sunday.
Ralph took Muriel Williams and any visitors from Barrouallie along to Troumaca as he made the journey to that village from Kingstown. Any one who lived between Kingstown and Troumaca he hoped to take along to the worship of the Troumaca congregation. He also hoped to carry any member or visitor who lived between Lowmans and Kingstown to Lowmans as he made that journey. A given Sunday schedule for the early months of 1966 appeared as the following: worship at Kingstown, 7:900 A.M. – 8:00 A.M.; 8:05 departure for Troumaca; 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM, Worship at =Troumaca; 12:30 PM or 1:00 PM, arrive back in Kingstown; 2:00 PM, departure for Lowmans: 3:00 PM, worship at Lowmans; 5:00 PM arrive back in Kingstown; 7:00 PM, worship at Kingstown. This was really a very cro0ded schedule for anyone, but even more so for a man already in his fifties.
\ Ralph was unsuccessful in establishing a congregation in Lowmans. Aster remained the only convert in that village, so the missionary decided to move out of Lowmans and to make a new effort in Georgetown. So the Sunday schedule remained the same as far as the number of times that Ralph was required to preach. However, his driving distance was increased by about six miles. This move to Georgetown occurred about March 1966.
The Troumaca congregation only met in that village. There were no members from Troumaca in the congregation. At first only Muriel Williams, the member from Barrouallie and a few visitors met in Troumaca. Later another young lady, Annette McDowall, was baptized. She lived in the small town of Layou near to Barrouallie. She also worshipped with the Troumaca congregation. However, the little Volkswagen bus was sometimes overflowing with visitors. As the year of 1966 progressed, it became obvious that the little Volkswagen bus was not large enough to transport all those who desired to worship with the Troumaca church. In the meantime, there had been three more converts from Dubois and Retreat. They were all girls who had just completed their high school education: Cremona Samuel of Number-Eight near to Dubois; Grecita Thomas and Margarita Thomas who were first cousins and lived in the village of Retreat. They also went along to Troumaca. Still no converts were made in Troumaca itself.
By this time Sam had given his first “talk.” Ralph had asked him sometime in February to give a short talk one Sunday morning. Ralph later said that he did not call it a sermon for fear that he might have frightened Sam. Not only had Sam given that talk, but he had preached several times afterward. Clayton also had made his debut and had preached a few other times. With his preaching power increased, Ralph felt that we was able to start a new congregation in Retreat in order to solve his transportation problem. So accordingly, a meeting place was sought in that village. A large hall was found and secured rent free. However, this hall was also used for other community functions but mainly for the purpose of holding dances.
They, therefore, began a new congregation in Retreat. At the outset there were four members: Grecita Thomas, Cremona Samuel, and Margarita and Barbara Thomas who were sisters. With the establishment of this congregation in the middle of 1966, there were four congregations of the church on the island, the effort to establish a congregation in Lowmans being abortive. However, the total membership of the whole church was just about sixteen members. Ralph still continued to drive the whole circuit on Sundays; however, be began to preach less. On the run to Troumaca, Clayton was left off to preach at Retreat and was taken back to Kingstown as the bus returned. Sam went to Georgetown in the afternoon (with Ralph) and preached there sometimes. At other times he went to Troumaca and often preached there.
The Georgetown congregation did not meet in Georgetown proper but rather on the outskirts of the city as one approaches from the south. The area where the group met is more correctly known as Brown’s Town. The congregation met in the archway of an old building which stood directly across the main street form the cricket field. The congregation usually sat with the people’s backs toward the street. As the preacher stood up before his audience, he could look over their heads to the playing field and beyond to the wild Atlantic Ocean. He could see the rolling waves as they pounded the black sands of the Georgetown Beach, sending a cloud of spray skywards. He could see the white foam rushing, hissingly along the beach. The congregation looking past the preacher could see the thickly forested mountains of the center of the island. It was a great spot form which to preach about the greatness of God. However, it was a very poor spot for trying to establish a new congregation. Many of the people of that area would not condescend to meet in the archway of an old building.
As in Lowmans, the congregation in Georgetown had only one member who lived in Georgetown itself. The other members lived in villages between Kingstown and Georgetown. The member from Georgetown was an old man, Chiefton Billingy. When the congregation was started there were two members, Bro. Billingy and Aster Barnwell. Later Aster’s cousin, Venol, was converted and he too rode the bus to Georgetown. Judy McKenzie of Junction also became a member of the Georgetown church. Although several visitors rode along to Georgetown, and some of the residents near to the place of worship visited the congregation, it never really grew much beyond the members mentioned above. Nevertheless the congregation continued to meet and worship regularly until August 1967.
While the Georgetown church remained stagnant as far as its numerical growth was concerned, the congregation at Troumaca gained two members from the nearby village of Rose Bank. They were Katie and Ingrid Soleyn, sisters of Sam and Clayton. In the meantime converts were being made from various other villages. They were mostly young men in the late teens and early twenties. Some of these young men were: Terry Thomas from Victoria Village (Terry later established a congregation in that same village), Loraine D. George, Elliot Glasgow, James Stephenson and Rudolph Jackson, the last three being from the village of Biabou. There was Esmonde Colliere of Coull’s Hill and George Audain of Belmont. Those young men were all converted between the latter part of 1966 and the middle of 1967. However, today most of them no longer worship with any congregation, while men such as Terry Thomas and Elliot Glasgow have grown into sturdy Christian men who now fervently preach the gospel of Christ. Terry has become a missionary to the island of Grenada where he now preaches in the sector of that island known as St. Andrew. He has also labored faithfully on the island of St. Vincent, having preached in every village where there is a congregation of the Lord’s people and having converted many to Christ.
Elliot Glasgow now preaches in Kingstown where he is the minister of the Kingstown church. He, too, has preached possibly in every village in St. Vincent, where there is a congregation of the church. He has labored since his conversion in 1967 to win others to the Savior. He too has won many to Christ.
By the middle of 1967 there were still four congregations on the island, no new ones were started although the dissolution of the Georgetown congregation was not far away. The largest of these congregations was still Kingstown with a membership of about ten. Around this same time a young woman who lived in the village of Belmont was baptized. Ralph realized that he could not start a new congregation in that village. However, his policy seems to have been (at that time) to provide some avenue by which every person who was baptized on the island could be enabled to worship with other Christians. So, accordingly, he went to Belmont after his return trip from Georgetown on Sunday afternoons and brought the young woman and other visitors to the Sunday night worship of the Kingstown church. During this brief period the attendance at the Sunday evening worship often exceeded that of the Sunday morning worship.
This added journey to Belmont worked an extra hardship on Ralph who did all the driving. So then his wife, Ruth began to assist him in driving to and from Belmont. Afterwards she also began to drive to other parts of the island. Later on, there were instances in which Ralph would be sick and unable to drive or preach on the Lord’s Day. Ruth would then drive to all the different places and the young men, Sam, Clayton, and Terry Thomas would preach at the various places.
Ruth was a remarkable helper to Ralph. Apart from being a housewife, she also helped tremendously in the work of helping to spread the gospel. She taught a Sunday School class for children in Kingstown. She also instructed some of the young ladies so that they in turn could begin Sunday School classes for children in their own areas. (Katie Soleyn started a Sunday School in Rose Bank. Later Merlie Charles of Spring Village started a Sunday School.) When Katie Soleyn was baptized, she chose to be baptized in Kingstown. It was late in the afternoon. Ralph was unable to drive. The local transport buses had already left Kingstown for the Leeward side. It was necessary for Katie to be back at home that same night. So Ruth decided to drive her home. This was the first time that she drove the bus to the Leeward side. She was unaware of the sharp turns and dangerous curves in the road. There was no road map and few signs outside of the city of Kingstown. The roads were narrow and twisting. Sometimes they ran along the mountain sides and at other times they ran in the valleys. One slip in the wrong place could have resulted in a plunge for hundreds of feet over steep precipices. Although she was unfamiliar with the road, she drove Katie home to Rose Bank and returned to Kingstown that night without an accident. After that trip she drove to Rose Bank numerous times.
1967 was the most eventful year of the three and one-half year period that Ralph spent in St. Vincent. Several events which has a profound effect on the subsequent work of the whole church occurred that year. Many young men who later became leaders in the Vincentian churches were converted that year. The Georgetown congregation was dissolved and a new congregation started in South Rivers. A new congregation was started by a Vincentian (Jimmy Brackin) in his home village of Sandy Bay. Another congregation was started by James Stephenson, Elliot Glasgow, Rudolph Jackson and Clayton Soleyn in the village of Brighton. Two training courses were conducted, one by Ruth for the young ladies and another by Ralph for the young men. A building was purchased for the Kingstown church. A campaign involving ten preachers from the United States was conducted at Victoria Park in Kingstown. The young aspiring Vincentian preachers made a tour of three villages during the Christmas holidays and preached in each village. All these and other events helped to make 1967 the most eventful year of Ralph’s stay on the island of St. Vincent.
Two Weeks of Training
In the Easter holidays of that year, the Wharton’s decided to conduct a one week training course for the young ladies of the church of St. Vincent. They also hoped to bring together the other young ladies of the church on the other islands. However there were only about two other young ladies (on the other islands) who had been converted by Ralph. When the training week began, there were eight young ladies including Cynthia Lee from Dominica and Lynetta Matthew from St. Kitts.
The young ladies were brought together at the Wharton’s house. During the one week in which they stayed together, they studied the Bible, had devotions, got pointers on how to teach Sunday School classes, and visited some sites on the island. It was a heart warming week for them. The Christian fellowship of that single week was long remembered. When the time came for each to return to her home, everyone was sad and they all cried. At that time it seemed strange to the young men that the girls would cry when they were parting. However, they, too, were to share in a similar training week and later came to understand the reason for parting tears.
Prompted by the success of the young ladies’ training week, Ralph decided to conduct a training week for the young men. Ralph had not confined his missionary efforts to St. Vincent. He also tried to reach out to the other islands (from Trinidad in the south to Antigua in the north) with his Bible correspondence course. Sometimes a student would request baptism. Ralph would then travel to the particular island and baptize the student. On the island of Dominica, Ralph baptized Mitchelin Williams and Mitch in turn baptized Ernest Roberts. They began to worship by themselves in Dominica. In Trinidad two boys learned about Christ through the Bible Course. Ralph went down to Trinidad and baptized them. These two young men were Kaso Ramcharitar and Vadas Dalsingh. Among others whom Ralph baptized were Cynthia Lee from Dominica, Lynetta Matthews from St. Kitts and Balthasar Joseph from St. Lucia.
Most of the people whom Ralph baptized on St. Vincent and the other islands were young people, usually in their late teens and early twenties. There was something common to the majority of them. They seemed to have had a desire to know the truth of God’s word and to serve Him. Learning about the Lord’s church for the first time came as a sort of thrill. They all felt as if they had been deceived for a long time. The truth about Jesus came as an astounding discovery. They were happy in their new found faith, and were anxious to share it with those who seemed still set in their religious traditions.
When, therefore, the young men were gathered together for the “men’s training week,” there were twelve of them from three different island. They ranged in age from Randy Wharton about thirteen years old to Esmonde Colliere who was about twenty-six. The majority of the young men, however, were less than twenty years old. Sam Soleyn, one of the most outstanding among the group at that time, was sixteen years old. The group consisted of Ralph and his son, Randy, Esmonde Colliere, Ephraim France, Terry Thomas, Clayton Soleyn, Elliot Glasgow, George Audain, Jimmy Brackin, Sam Soleyn (from St. Vincent), Kaso Ramcharitar and Vadas Dalsingh (from Trinidad), and Balthasar Joseph from the island of St. Lucia. All of these young men were Christians with the exception of Jimmy Brackin and Ephraim France who were converted during the training week. Today all except three of that group are still faithful Christians. Some have become church leaders in the areas where they worship and work in the cause of Christ. One of the memorable events that is still spoken of among those who are still faithful is that training week of 1967. Terry Thomas still likes to show off his picture of the group.
During the public school holidays of August 1967 Ralph gathered the group of young men together at his house. His plan was to keep the boys together for one week during which time they would be taught some Bible, given lessons in public Speaking, engage in devotions to the end that they might grow together. Some of the boys stayed at the Wharton house, Sam and Clayton stayed at their own house in Kingstown while some of the others stayed at different place s. However, all congregated at the Wharton’s house during each day of the week.
When the group just assembled they started off by getting acquainted with each other. The Vincentians were delighted to meet the boys from Trinidad and St. Lucia. During the morning hours each day, the boys went around the city with Ralph or engaged in Bible study together. In the afternoons and evenings, they made short speeches on assigned topics and criticized each other’s speech. All was done with the aim of improving their speaking abilities. As the week progressed, one evening one of the young men (who had been absent all day, due to the fact that he worked at a job in the city) came in to join the group for the last session. As soon as he entered the Wharton’s living room, he was given a topic and told to speak on that particular subject for five minutes. He stood up in front of the other fellows and aired his views. As soon as he uttered the last word, they all burst forth in a torrent of so-called constructive criticism.
“He put his hand into his pockets eleven times,” Elliot Glasgow said.
“He dwelt too much on the word ‘all,’” another said. And on and on they went. It was all done in love, and they laughed at each other.
Ralph also took the group to Argyle, first for a practice preaching session and also on the last night for a devotion. Argyle is one of the many beauty spots of St. Vincent. It is also one of the few flatter areas of the island. The lad slopes gently from the mountains to the sea. One can stand on the flat area near to the ocean itself and look back toward the mountains several miles away and view the land as it gradually rises to the mountains. One can see the cattle grazing, see the cultivated fields of sweet potatoes, corn and peanuts. One may watch the flocks of white Garlings as they fly in varied formations or land among the cattle. The main windward highway passes through Argyle and runs for a great part near to the Argyle Beach. Between the highway and the ocean surge, there is a flat land area covered with grass. This flat area is often used for picnics. It was to that place that Ralph took the young men for a practice preaching session.
When the group arrived, they were greeted by the fresh moisture laden winds blowing straight from the Atlantic. As they looked out across the wide Atlantic they could almost taste its saltiness. As they walked into the breeze, they watched the rolling waves as they pounded ceaselessly against the rocky beach, crashing into foam and sending tiny beads of salty spray into the atmosphere. The constant thundering roar of the breakers dominated the air waves. One had to almost shout in order to be heard. It was a thrill to stand on that flat piece of ground at Argyle and realize, that except for the island of Barbados, one hundred miles away, as one looked straight out across the vast expanse of water, there was no other land between the island of St. Vincent and the continent of Africa. With the northeast tradewinds blowing, the salt spray flying, the gigantic ocean roaring and the mountains in the background, one had a perfect setting in which to contemplate the greatness of the Almighty.
Ralph huddled the boys together and gave them one sentence which each was required to say to the others. The sentence was “I feel fine.” Each was required in turn to stand upon rock and talk to the others. One after the other, they stood upon a large boulder, faced the rest of the group, and burst forth in eloquence upon their good health. Then the group would become the mass of unconverted men of the world, and the speaker (each in his turn an undaunted gospel preacher) would unleash upon his audience some aspect of the gospel. Ralph would then compliment and criticize and the young men did the same to each other. Everyone was happy. They joked and laughed and reveled in their new found faith against the symphony of the ever rolling waves of the blue Atlantic Ocean. It was first love.
One night during the week, two members of the group (who were invited to the “training week” although they were not yet members), decided to become Christians. The rest of the group rejoiced with them. Ralph took them (Jimmy Brackin and Ephraim France) to Indian Bay and baptized them that night. That was the beginning of their walk with Christ. Both young men have become strong leaders in the Lord’s church on the island of St. Vincent. Jimmy became the first Vincentian to establish a local congregation on the island.
On the last evening of that eventful week, the group went back to Argyle for a devotional and wiener roast. In a land of perpetual summer, such as the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, it is never really cold. However, there is a kind of welcomed warmth which is generated around an open fire, when Christians gather for a wiener roast, which has nothing to do with physical cold. This kind of warmth helps to thaw the old sinful nature and break up the ice of sin. After they had eaten, they sat in a circle and sang. The moon had risen flooding the Argyle plain with its golden light. The ocean became a sparkling expanse as far as they eye could see. Myriads of diamonds glistened and glowed as the waves away out on the ocean lapped and foamed, while closer to the shore the white foam of broken waves was ablaze with the various colors the. It was in that setting that they sang, “How Great Thou Art.”
It was decided that they should all spend the last night together at the Wharton’s house. So when the devotional was ended at Argyle, they headed back to the Wharton’s residence in Kingstown. The house was certainly not large enough to hold the Wharton’s and all the young men. However, the two Wharton girls were spending the night of that week with a neighbor, and on the Friday night Ralph and Ruth slept in the office which was outside the main building. They gave the rest of the house to the boys.
The rooms were shared up, but they were still not enough for all the boys, so some slept on the living room floor. Hardly had the lights been turned out, when the house came alive with ghost-like shapes, gliding about the house, bent on some mission of mischief. One of the first causalities was Elliot Glasgow who fell asleep on a bench in the living room. Someone procured a piece of rope and Elliot promptly became a Gulliver. He groaned and was awakened, but the job was done.
“Would one of you fellas loose me?” he moaned.
Esmonde Colliere bent over him, looked him in the face and whispered, “Shhh.”
All night long they played pranks on each other. Early in the morning some of those in the living room tried to sleep, but even then there was no relief nor rest for the weary; another prankster painted their faces with shoe polish.
One cannot over emphasize the importance of that five day period in the development of the early church on the island. The young men in that group were the very men who later became leaders of the local congregations. Their close association during that one week helped them to understand and know each other better. They developed a bond of friendship and a common point of reference. Later they could look back and see how united they were in Christ. It gave them a deep sense of brotherhood. Even today these men still talk about that week in August 1967.