East Caribbean Conference

By Pedro L. V. Welch

×

Pedro L. V. Welch, professor emeritus (the University of the West Indies [UWI]), served as professor of Social and Medical History and dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at UWI. He retired as deputy principal of the UWI Cave Hill Campus. He has served as a consultant in various television productions, including NBC and BBC. He is recognized as an authority on the urban context of the slave plantation system in the West Indies and has authored numerous articles on books on Caribbean history. He has served his local church as an elder, lay preacher, and organist.

First Published: February 7, 2021 | Last Updated: August 18, 2022

The East Caribbean Conference is a part of the Caribbean Union Conference in the Inter-American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. It was organized in 1926 and reorganized in 1945, 1960, 1975, 1984, and 1999. The territory divided and reorganized yet again in 2012. Its headquarters is in St. Michael, Barbados, and its territory is comprised of Barbados and Dominica. As of June 30, 2021, it supported eighty churches with a total membership of 27,710. The territory’s population was 340,000.

Early Developments

The history of the East Caribbean Conference dates back to 1903, about twenty-three years after Adventism began to spread in the region. By early 1903, the work of the Church in South America and the Caribbean had begun to attract the attention of administrators at the General Conference. Thus, W.A. Spicer, then representing the Mission Board, made a rather hurried visit to the Caribbean during which, as the Church periodical, The Caribbean Watchman, records, “the Jamaican Conference was organized with seventeen churches and a membership of 1,200 [and] the East Caribbean Conference with sixteen churches and a membership of about 900…”1 At that time, the conference was headquartered in Trinidad and covered the British territories from British Guiana in the south to the Leeward Islands of the northern Caribbean. The president was A. J. Haysmer, who was certainly one of the most prominent pioneering figures in the spread of Adventism throughout the Caribbean. Elder George F. Enoch, another prominent pioneer, was the secretary and treasurer.

Just one year later, in 1904, the headquarters of the Eastern Caribbean Conference was moved to the island of Barbados, probably because of the island’s excellent communication facilities due to its roles as the center of the eastern and southern Caribbean shipping trade and a telegraphic cable hub. The first notice of the intended change came when the editors of The Caribbean Watchman reported that the annual conference was to be held in Bridgetown, Barbados, from June 5-19, 1904. Indeed, the planners reported that “Earnest gospel workers from all over the Conference [would] be present [and that] Public services would be held each night during the conference…”2 As it was, delegates came from Trinidad, British Guiana, Tobago, Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Antigua, Tortola, and St. Thomas in the British Virgin Islands, and, of course, from the host island, Barbados.3

Trinidad remained the site of the publishing house that printed The Caribbean Watchman; however, not everyone agreed. Clearly, George Enoch felt comfortable relocating to Barbados, although he thought the publishing work should continue from the former location. There was, however, a suggestion that some printing should be done from Barbados, for at the 1904 session, Enoch stated that it had been mentioned “that the East Caribbean Conference in Barbados [should] purchase the necessary outfit, (type, and other supplies), to set the Watchman ready for the press…”4

The administrative arrangements in the region remained in place for another four years. Thus, in 1908, the address of the East Caribbean Conference was given as “Brookfield, Two Mile Hill, Bridgetown, Barbados.” However, the Watchman Publishing Company, then listed as “formerly of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad,” with a subsidiary publishing office in Kingston, Jamaica, was relocated to Panama.5 By 1917, further administrative readjustment was put in place.6 In that year, three conferences were listed as making up the Caribbean field. These were the Jamaica Conference, which consisted of the islands of Jamaica; the Cayman Islands; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the South Caribbean Conference, which was made up of Trinidad and Tobago; the British, French, and Dutch Guianas; Venezuela; the Leeward Islands; Windward Islands; the Virgin Islands; and the West Caribbean Conference, consisting of the territories of Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, St. Andrews Island, Old Providence Island, and the so-styled Corn Islands. There is no mention of an East Caribbean Conference in this configuration, although it seems likely that some administrative structures remained to manage the sub-region.

Leeward Islands Mission

In 1925, the East Caribbean Conference was known as the Leeward Islands Mission. In that year, H. J. Edmed was superintendent of the Leeward Islands Mission, while his daughter, Ethel Edmed, served as secretary.7 In the following year, the Inter-American Division voted:

“Voted that we recommend that the Leeward Island Mission, South Caribbean Conference, and the Guiana Mission be organized into a union conference with headquarters at Trinidad and that this become effective January 1, 1927…”8 At the same time, it was voted that the “name of the new English Union comprising the Guiana, Trinidad, and Leeward conferences be the East Caribbean Union…”9 During this same meeting a new school to be located in the East Caribbean Union and named the East Caribbean Training School was approved.10 Later, this school would become Caribbean Union College and, later, the University of the Southern Caribbean.

The Leeward Islands Mission continued to exist from the 1920s to the 1950s with headquarters in Barbados. In 1952, when the seventh biennial session was convened on May 21 in the Government Hill church in the parish of St. Michael, Barbados, the statistical report reflected years of vested, active mission work. Its report read inter alia:

The Leeward Islands Mission covers all the territory from St. Thomas in the north to Barbados in the South, with the exception of the French islands. Here in a territory of 1,277 square miles, we have 69 churches and companies, with a membership of 4, 828…”11

It also reported that for the period 1939-1943, the net membership gain was 136; for the period 1943-1947, the gain was 425, and for the period between 1947 and 1951, the statistics showed a net gain of some 1,486 members.

By 1957, on the eve of the restoration of the East Caribbean Conference as a replacement for the Leeward Islands Mission, the reputation of the Leeward Islands Mission as a full partner in the work of the Adventist Church in the Americas and in the Caribbean was well deserved.12

East Caribbean Conference

In 1960, the Leeward Islands Mission was reorganized as the East Caribbean Conference. The president of the reorganized conference was James G. Fulfer, who would be the last of the Anglo-Saxon administrators to serve in the region. In that year, brimming with the confidence that had been well earned under the previous administrative designation, he wrote:

… In the closing days of earth’s history, the islands of the eastern Caribbean area are responding to the message of God as never before. The East Caribbean Conference (formerly the Leeward Islands Mission) is an island field comprised of thirteen emeralds set in sapphire, reaching from the Virgin Islands, just east of Puerto Rico, down to Barbados, near the coast of South America…13

By the time of the organization/restoration of the Conference, it counted some 7,000 members, with about one Adventist for every 78 members of the regional population.

Some fifteen years after the re-formation of the East Caribbean Conference, the Inter-American Division and the General Conference voted to organize the North Caribbean Conference, at which point several of the territories that were originally part of the East Caribbean Conference were joined to the new conference.14 At that point, the East Caribbean Conference was officially left with the islands of Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines.15 Further territorial reductions included Grenada, when it became first a mission and later a conference; St. Lucia in 1998; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2012. Thus, as of August 2020, the conference consisted of the islands of Barbados and Dominica.

Though reduced in size, since 1960 the East Caribbean Conference has made marked contributions to the wider global spread of Adventism. For example, several leaders who served in the East Caribbean Conference in various capacities, some as president, have gone on to serve in larger fields and constitute a Who’s Who in the annals of achievement in the Adventist Church. These include pastors such as W. W. Thompson, Belgrove Josiah, John Josiah, James Daniel, Everette Howell, Carlyle Bayne, Samuel Telemaque, and R. Danforth Francis. Some have served the Adventist Church at various divisional levels overseas. Included in the list of pastors who served in the East Caribbean Conference and who have made significant contributions to the fields of academia and evangelism are K. S. Wiggins, Lael Caesar, and Claudius Morgan. Some of the conference’s presidents are very well known and their names appear in various church publications, not only for their work in the East Caribbean Conference but also for their wider regional and global impact.

Presidents of the East Caribbean Conference

James E. Fulfer (1958-1961); Eric S Greaves (1961-1964); G. Ralph Thompson (1964-1970); William W. Thompson (1970-1976); Roy L. Hoyte (1970-1981); John R. Josiah (1982-1985); Everette Howell (1985-1991); Lon Phillips (1991-1997); James Daniel (1997-2005); David L. Beckles (2005-2013); R. Danforth Francis (2013-present); R. Danford Francis (2013-2022); Anthony S. Hall (2022- ).16

Sources

“The Caribbean Watchman.” The Caribbean Watchman, October 1908.

Christian, R. J. “Leeward Islands Mission Session.” ARH, August 21, 1952.

“The Conference….” The Caribbean Watchman, May 1904.

“The East Caribbean Conference.” The Caribbean Watchman, July 1904.

“Herbert John Edmed obituary.” The Jamaica Visitor, June 1934, 2.

The Isles Shall Wait For His Law.” The North Pacific Union Gleaner, December 19, 1960.

“Map Study.” The Missions Quarterly, Third Quarter, 1917.

“New Conference Organized in Caribbean Union.” Inter-American Flashes, October 14, 1975.

Ogden, A. R. “Inter-America Calls.” The Central Union Reaper, February 21, 1939.

“Organization of a New Union.” Inter-American Division Messenger, September 1926.

"Our Work and Workers.” The Caribbean Watchman, June 1903.

Phillips, Glenn O. Seventh-Day Adventists in Barbados: Over a Century of Adventism, 1884-1991. Bridgetown, Barbados: East Caribbean Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, 1991.

Stockhausen, Allan C. “New Home Missionary and Sabbath School Secretary Arrives at Union Headquarters.” The British West Indian Visitor, May and June 1957.

“The Watchman Fund.” The Caribbean Watchman, September 1904.

Notes

  1. Recorded in "Our Work and Workers,” The Caribbean Watchman, June 1903, 8.

  2. “The Conference…,” The Caribbean Watchman, May 1904, 12.

  3. “The East Caribbean Conference,” The Caribbean Watchman, July 1904, 11.

  4. “The Watchman Fund,” The Caribbean Watchman, September 1904, 12.

  5. “The Caribbean Watchman,” The Caribbean Watchman, October 1908, 2.

  6. “Map Study,” The Missions Quarterly, Third Quarter, 1917, 8.

  7. See the listing of delegates at the Division Council Meeting of the Inter-American Division, 1925, in the Inter-American Division Messenger, August 1925, 1; “Herbert John Edmed obituary,” The Jamaica Visitor, June 1934, 2.

  8. “Organization of a New Union,” Inter-American Division Messenger, September 1926, 4.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ibid. For a further commentary on the new school, celebrating its contribution to the work of the church in the region, see A. R. Ogden, “Inter-America Calls,” The Central Union Reaper, February 21, 1939, 1.

  11. R. J. Christian, “Leeward Islands Mission Session,” ARH, August 21, 1952, 17.

  12. Allan C. Stockhausen, “New Home Missionary and Sabbath School Secretary Arrives at Union Headquarters,” The British West Indian Visitor, May and June 1957, 3.

  13. These comments are contained in an article, entitled, “The Isles Shall Wait For His Law,” which was reproduced in several periodicals. See, for example, The North Pacific Union Gleaner, December 19, 1960, 1, and The Columbia Union Visitor, December 15, 1960, 2.

  14. “New Conference Organized in Caribbean Union,” Inter-American Flashes, October 14, 1975, 1.

  15. The author is indebted to Pastor Clive Dottin of the Caribbean Union, who provided a copy of an article in the Caribbean Gleanings, 1976, detailing the administrative changes that had been voted.

  16. An excellent survey of the Adventist Church in Barbados that includes information on the Eastern Caribbean Conference and the Leeward Islands Mission is found in Glenn O. Phillips, Seventh-Day Adventists in Barbados: Over a Century of Adventism, 1884-1991 (Bridgetown, Barbados: East Caribbean Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, 1991).

×

Welch, Pedro L. V. "East Caribbean Conference." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. August 18, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9C3Z.

Welch, Pedro L. V. "East Caribbean Conference." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. August 18, 2022. Date of access May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9C3Z.

Welch, Pedro L. V. (2022, August 18). East Caribbean Conference. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9C3Z.