A BRIEF HISTORY OF OLD HARBOUR BAY BAPTIST CHURCH

This church was started in the days of slavery as one of the direct results of the ministry of George Lyle in 1783. The real start of the work, however, was in about 1823 when Lee Compere, who allegedly was overseer of the property known as Lodge, started a work at Old Harbour Bay. Rev. James Phillippo baptized over eighty (80) slaves from that property which later was owned by Mr. Eric Lord and his wife Amy who were key members of this church for half a century or more, and who contributed significantly to the building of a very strong and vibrant Sunday school, that has impacted the life of many.

In 1825, the record of the church revealed the following: -

  • 281 were baptized

  • 2 received

  • 18 restored

  • 14 died

  • 16 dismissed

  • 56 couples married

  • 142 enrolled in day school

  • 203 in Sunday School.

Rev. James Phillippo handed the church over to Rev. Henry C. Taylor shortly after his ordination on April 16, 1829.

In those days no clear distinction was made between the towns of Old Harbour and Old Harbour Bay. It is believed that reference to Old Harbour meant the Bay; hence a Baptismal Service reported must have taken place at Old Harbour Bay. Rev. Taylor reported: On the 19th September, I baptized 98 persons in the sea at Old Harbour, a great concourse of people witnessed the solemn scene. And afterwards we assembled in the Chapel, or rather, the hut which measured about 36 feet by 18 feet; this with two adjoining sheds, was thronged to excess, besides many seeking shelter from the rays of the sun in every place within hearing.

In a letter dated July 1, 1831, Rev. Taylor wrote: On Saturday, 14th May, I had the pleasure of laying the foundation stone at Old Harbour for the new chapel, on which occasion I was assisted by my friends Phillippo and Andrews. Mr. Andrews read from 1 Chronicles 29 and Mr. Phillippo preached the sermon. Mr. Taylor reported that many members went to their ground (field) on Saturday but on the Sunday there was a large congregation and a good offering was received.

Suffering meted out by opponents to Christians was not uncommon in those difficult days. Mr. Taylor writing in 1833 said: One of my members died a few days ago from the effects of a severe flogging. Another from Spanish Town church was brutally flogged repeatedly all because she prayed to God. The minister himself did not escape those brutal attacks. He was severely beaten up by the Secretary of the local Colonial Church Union while he was returning from the chapel at Old Harbour on May 23, 1833.

Mr. Taylor started the Ebenezer church, Four Paths, Clarendon, in 1834, over ten years after the beginning of the Old Harbour work. He also pastored the Hayes church. On August 20, 1838, Mr. Taylor wrote: My congregation and school are greatly increasing and I think I must add a second wing to my chapel. We want help on this side of the island, particularly in Clarendon, Vere and Manchester where professed Baptists abound. May the blessing of God attend the recent change in the condition of the people, and all our churches become increasingly prosperous. (Changed from slaves to free people).

The circuit system existed from those early days and Old Harbour Bay was a head station. As the work grew it became more demanding. Rev. and Mrs. Taylor developed health problems and had to leave the scene. The writer does not know who succeeded Mr. Taylor or names of all the ministers who served the church at Old Harbour Bay but the available evidence shows the following facts:

 Rev. R.F. Scoburgh served here and later at Bethtephil where he died accidentally. Rev. Mr. Richards served until 1935 and went to the Second Baptist Church in Spanish Town. He was succeeded by Rev. John Bee and his wife, Mary. They served from 1935 to 1937. They left for the Browns Town Circuit in St. Ann and during retirement also acted as pastor of the Gibraltar Circuit in the said parish.

In 1937 Rev. Gersham Speedy took over and Rev. Carter Henry in 1941. He served for 28 years while this church was a part of the Spanish Town Circuit. After his death in 1969 the circuit was divided and Old Harbour Bay became the head of a circuit of four churches, the others being Kitson Town, Shiloh and Hartlands, with the Dover church afterward becoming a part to make five. It was then Rev. Zeph A. Dawnes from 1971-1987.

During the time of his ministry the idea about a church at Old Harbour was manifested but then fell asleep owing to several factors including the building of the new Old Harbour Bay Baptist Church which he started and which was  eventually dedicated during the tenure of Rev. Jeffery McKenzie as pastor, who served from 1988-1995. In 1991 three churches were taken out of the Old Harbour Bay Circuit to form the Kitson Town Circuit with Old Harbour Bay and Hartlands remaining under the name of the original circuit.

The idea of the Old Harbour Church resurfaced in 1988 and this church became a reality while the said Rev. Jeffery McKenzie was serving the circuit as moderator in the year 2000. This was after Rev. Bill T. Graham who served from 1995-2000 resigned as pastor for the circuit.   

During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the membership outgrew its structure (located in the town square between the Post Office and the Police station), which led to the view that either a new structure is built or expand what existed then. While a lot of members were sentimentally attached to the existing building then, and preferred an expansion, the land space was not adequate enough to accommodate the kind of expansion that was envisaged.

The Old Harbour Bay Baptist Church was the "community church", and its Sunday School was exceptionally large, so much so that the classes had to be held at two other locations, including the Anglican Church that was nearby. Before the relocation, the basic school that the church operated, was conducting its activities from the same premises as the church was. Now that the church has been relocated, the basic school is able to occupy the entire premises.

The new structure of the Old Harbour Bay Baptist Church, located opposite the Old Harbour Primary School, began in 1985 and was completed in 1987. The land was acquired through the generosity of Mrs. Amy Lord and her husband Mr. Eric Lord, while the late Deacon Dawkins was very instrumental in the construction. Members who are overseas made their contributions by providing things such the first public address system, ceiling fans, the church sign, as well as other accessories. These persons include, but not limited to Earl Gordon, Patty and Tony Myton, and Mr. and Mrs. Wilfred Powell. The tiling of the floor and the electrical installation was done by some overseas friends of the church, under the auspices of Mr. Dexter Gordon.

The current building is now the de facto hurricane shelter for Old Harbour Bay, and from which a post-natal clinic, educational centre, and a community meal programme are all operated.

Under the present leadership of Rev. Robert Campbell who started on September 1, 2002, we now celebrate 185 years as we focus on Repositioning for Future Mission and Ministry. Hitherto has the Lord helped us. To God be the glory.