Brief History of
the United Pentecostal Church of Jamaica
How does one really capture the history of an organization that has impacted
the religious arena of our little Caribbean Island of 4,411 square mile?
The United Pentecostal Church of Jamaica – the largest apostolic body in Jamaica, has moved from ‘rags’ – thatched roofs, dirt floors,
board structures – to ‘riches’ – modern roofing, ceramic tiles/concrete floors, concrete structures – with all the modern amenities.
It has grown from strength to strength, winning spiritual as well as physical battles and has held fast to the apostolic doctrine and truth,
still actively carrying out the Great Commission given by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 28 verse 19.
Let’s take a little time to learn about our history and be a part of ‘history in the making’ of the United Pentecostal Church of Jamaica.
Our history dates back to the ‘Day of Pentecost’. In Acts 2 verses 1-4 and 38-40, the scripture records the first heavenly outpouring.
The Holy Ghost fire fell on the one hundred and twenty gathered in the Upper Room.
It was a strange but remarkable occurrence in Jerusalem that day and so too was it in Jamaica when Madam Sappleton,
along with her sister and brother-in-law brought the new birth message to this beautiful island in 1918.
But really it all started in 1916, when one little woman of the Methodist faith, “Mother Russell”, had a yearning to know more about the Lord Jesus Christ.
She was led to witness to persons of the love of God after World War I (1914-1918) which ravaged the world and left many hopeless, including those living in Jamaica.
With no experience of the ‘new birth’ experience, she simply led persons to the Lord with the evidence of a changed lifestyle and total dependence on Him for daily sustenance.
The response was overwhelming. People from all walks of life began responding to this abundant love that God had to offer.
This was not enough for Mother Russell. She recognized that there must be more to this, as people’s heart were being touched and her longing for more of whatever
God had to offer increased. People gathered for meetings and prayed fervently, seeking God. God responded by pouring out his Spirit, filling many with the Holy Ghost.
One could compare the happenings with that of Azusa Street, being reproduced in Jamaica, Brown’s Town, St. Ann.
Before long revival was upon them and Mother Russell recognized that, she needed much help to continue the work.
She sought this from Elder Arthur Watson an English missionary to Canada, who had come to Jamaica to continue the work started by Madam Sappleton.
He came along with Sister Eliza Harris, Elder Henry Lee and Mrs. Annie Scotlock, and preached the message of New Birth – baptism in Jesus’ Name.
As a result eighty two persons were baptized in the sea at Dry Harbour (Discovery Bay) after walking eight miles to find water.
The gospel message spread across the island into towns and villages, some of which were: Green Hill, Liberty Valley, Watt Town, Clover Hill,
Friendship and Mile End (Ocho Rios). A few years later, the message reached Trelawny and also other parts of the Island.
Present Day followers of Christ were not to be exempted from any form of oppression. As was in the days of the Apostles, so it was in the 1920s in Jamaica.
The civic leaders of Brown’s Town were not amused with the happenings in these services. They therefore filed a petition before the Clerk of Courts, seeking the removal of
the “Holy Ghost-filled” people. But praises be to God this petition was dismissed, as other leaders and secular groups recognized that there were remarkable changes in the
people for good since the revival, resulting in an orderly town centre. This was indeed a welcome change.
Further across the island, Ulster Spring in Trelawny to be exact, Elder Daniel Hyman Georges, Clarendonian by birth, affiliated with the American-based Pentecostal
Assemblies of Jesus Christ, began preaching the new birth experience in the town of Ulster Spring. The people were not as responsive as those in Brown’s Tow n,
but this did not deter Elder Georges, who received divine instruction to go to Ulster Spring.
He continued preaching and later received assistance from Evangelist Wilson from Portland and Elder Turby from the United States of America. Before long,
people stopped to listen and some were later converted.
With continued growth in the number of converts, it became evident that a place of worship was necessary, so a piece of land at Lott District was acquired and a
temporary structure erected.
Mother Russell moved to Kingston in 1934 where she began conducting similar type services at Goodwin Park in East Kingston, as she had done in Brown’s Town.
Huge crowds came and many received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Prayer meetings were also held in homes of different persons as well as at Mother’s Russell’s
residence at 69 Wildman Street.
Elder Georges died in 1940 and Evangelist Cyril B. Ferguson, one of the first four converts at Ulster Spring acted as pastor.
He later contacted Mother Russell and joined forces with her group in preaching the new birth doctrine. The Ulster Spring work
therefore became the first established work in Jamaica out of the official merger which formed the United Pentecostal Church in 1945.
This location became the nucleus from which Mother Russell launched outreach activities in the eastern section of the island namely, St.
Thomas, St. Catherine and St. Mary. Wildman Street later remained the central point of activities for a long time. Indeed it became the dwelling
of the first missionary and superintendent. It was the genesis of Caribbean Bible Institute and the headquarters of the United Pentecostal Church of Jamaica.
The account of the preceding events must be placed in the context of an important period in the life of the nation, namely:
- the riots of the 1930s
- the establishment of trade unions and political parties
- the attempted industrialization of the nation.
- the movement towards independence
- the rise of Rastafarianism (1940s) and back to Africa Movement – this movement represented a rejection of the colonial principles
and values, but more importantly although it was shunned by the middle and ruling classes, it managed to attract a number of young people, especially men.
- World War II (1939-1945).
Undoubtedly, this period produced men who were eligible for political posts and offices in their various districts and parishes,
yet they sacrificed opportunities, to become part of the greatest movement on earth: that of a soldier in the army of the Lord.
A more detailed account of the early years of the United Pentecostal Church of Jamaica can be found in the book A Rich Heritage:
The United Pentecostal Church of Jamaica written by Lorna Halls, and our 60th Anniversary Magazine. Both can be purchased at the Pentecostal Bookstore,
located at our National Headquarters, Eastwood Park Road.