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Webster Celebrates the Past

The history of Webster describes a story of fortitude, and selfless contributions of many, some of whom have passed on.

Today, we however celebrate the presence of a number of our members, who happen to belong to the same family... the family of the “Bents”. We have been fortunate to be able to source the memories of Freda, Hortense, Dorritt and Peter directly, and the share at first hand with them what it was like to build a Church, and to be committed even then to take its work out to the wider community, even when the Church itself, was still fledgling in its development. Those who were adults: Freda, and Hortense, we salute as our “Founding Members”, whom we are happy to have still worshipping with us here at Webster. Those who were young people or children during those early days, we salute as “Foundation Members.

As we listen to the Foundation members, we share the excitement of Audrey McNeil Smith, (as she is named today), as she still smiles at the memory of the “boys”, and Dorritt Bent, as she fondly remembers when she became Webster’s first Sunday School teacher. We actually visualize and share in the memoirs of Henry Ford and Willis Williams.

Through them, we can record the outstanding contributions to formation by Margaret Stuart, a Deaconess from Scotland, who gave of her service with great generosity, and who also sourced financial contributions that made the construction of our first Church sanctuary possible.

From "Iona House"
to the "Guango tree"

We give thanks for the ministry of the first Pastor, the late Rev. J.A. T Beattie, who led the first official congregation on May 5, 1941, at the home of Margaret Stuart at 51, Half Way Tree Road.

Margaret’s home, then called “Iona House,” was where the first Church services were held, until lack of space, called for re-location to open air worship under a large tree(variously identified as a ‘Guango tree’, or a ‘Lignum Vitae’ tree), reputed to have been close to where our Basic School building now stands. We regard Sunday, May 11, 1941, when the congregation met for its first Communion, as the official start of our Church.

The excitement of the description of the establishment of the Open Air Church is recorded in the “Presbyterian” publication of July 1941, as follows:

“We explored the eight acres around the house, and to our great delight, we discovered an old cement floor, which was at one time a ‘byre’. We set to and worked on it.... On Sunday morning it was ready for the Service, and it was really lovely....”

From the “Open Air Church”
to the “Duthie Webster Church”:

From the earliest years, Webster members looked to themselves for the necessary finances to make the growth of their Church a reality

From ‘bake sales’, to self-help activity, to generous donations from members, most of the funds that came from these efforts, resulted in the creation of a first church building built in only the second year of operation

Large contributions from a Lay Pastor from Scotland, named Duthie Webster, supported by a subsequent donation of land, by a local businessman Carl Webster, of the firm J.S. Webster and Sons, led to the transformation of what was then named the ‘Open Air Church,’ first to the ‘Duthie Webster Church’, and finally to the Webster Memorial Church.


The Webster Memorial Church
is Born

The first Congregational meeting of the Webster Memorial Church was held, May 19, 1941. David Bent and Lewis Davidson were the first two elders.

They were ordained as Elders June 15, 1941. The following Sunday, (June 22), the daughter of Founding Members, David and Thelma Bent was christened, Dorritt Elizabeth Bent. Her aunt, Dorritt Annette Bent; one of the Church’s Foundation members, then only in her teens, was appointed First Primary Leader of the newly launched Sunday school.

In the very active year of 1941; on June 22, the first Youth Fellowship, named the ‘Iona Fellowship’ was formed, including not only members from the Church but also from the surrounding community—a practice that continues today!

We give thanks for the talent and gifts of Founding member David Bent who designed and built the first Webster Sanctuary, actually on the foundations of the “Open Air Church” as it was then called. The Sanctuary which we now refer to as our “Church Hall,” was officially opened during a service held 7:00 a.m. Sunday, November 18, 1942.

Rev. John Beattie


Rev. John Beattie became Webster’s first minister in 1941. He served for six years (until 1947), when he returned home to Scotland.

Rev. John Gray


Rev. John Gray followed Rev. Beattie; serving briefly, before leaving for ministry in Grand Cayman.

Rev. Robert Dickson


Webster Memorial's third minister serving for two (2) years from 1949-1951.

Rev. E. Stanley Heavenor


Rev. E. Stanley Heavenor became Webster’s fourth Minister, arriving in Jamaica from Scotland in October 1951. He was inducted in the Webster Charge, November 4, 1951. He grew Webster, serving until 1956, and was responsible for the establishment of the new sanctuary, which was officially opened by then Governor, Sir Hugh Foot.

Rev. John Stewart


Rev. John Stewart assumed duties as Interim Minister filling in for about one year.

Rev. W.R.F. McGhie


Rev. W.R.F. McGhie, who remained as Webster’s pastor until 1965 is remembered as a powerful preacher, whose sermons “touched the heart”; during his ministry at Webster, membership doubled.

It was also during his tenure, that a small committee of Webster members including Charles Innerrarity, and Mamie Evelyn, with Rev. Henry Ward as Chairman, were given the task of establishing a High School (later named the Meadowbrook High School), which was officially opened in September 1958.The Committee was also commissioned to found a Preparatory School, which was subsequently opened, with Webster member and Elder, Mae Grant, as one of its early Principals.

Subsequent to a decision by the Synod of 1957, the Meadowbrook Church was established in the newly developed Meadowbrook Housing Scheme, as the Extension Charge of Webster. Two Webster members, Daphne Levy and Earl Wiggan, undertook the task of starting the Meadowbrook Sunday School, which met in the School Hall. When the Church building was completed in 1965, Rev. N. Banks was inducted as Meadowbrook’s first minister.

Rev. T. A. M. Grant


Rev. McGhie was succeeded in 1965, first briefly by Interim Pastor, Rev. T.A. M. Grant.

Rev. David Lapsley


Rev. David Lapsley assumed office as Webster’s Minister in late 1965. Noted for his devotion to the youth, Rev. Lapsley’s first move was to abolish the holding of Sunday School in the afternoon, which was not well supported, and instead arranged for it to be held at the same time as the morning service. The upsurge in attendance was described as "remarkable".

It was Rev. Lapsley who also initiated the formation of a second morning service, which was held at 9:00 a.m. to complement the early morning service, then held at 7:30 a.m.

He also introduced Jamaican hymns and music to our Church Services --- a gradual initiation which did not at first win approval from the majority of the congregation of the day!

Free wedding services and receptions for couples living together outside marriage, were also offered as part of the Church’s Outreach programme called “Operation Friendship.” Work at Majesty Pen, led by John Levy was assisted, and Basic School classes were held in the Church Hall. Exhibitions of paintings by budding artists were held, and Rev. Lapsley became Chairman of the Churches Advisory Bureau, which had umbrella responsibility for social work in Western Kingston.

It was during Rev. Lapsley’s tenure that the then Presbyterian Webster, like all of its sister Churches, became part of a union with the Congregational Church, and Webster became, Webster Memorial United Church.

Rev Lapsley left Jamaica and Webster in 1971.

Rev. Clement Thomas

1967 & 1978

For a short period during Rev. Lapsley’s tenure, (March to September 1967), Rev. Clement Thomas, served as Interim Pastor. (Rev. Thomas became a oft-seen face at Webster, serving for short periods whenever called upon, and for longer periods as he did in latter years, January to September 1978.)

Rev. Dr. Francis Hayward


During the period March to September 1971, the void left by Rev. Lapsley, was temporarily filled by Interim pastor, Rev. Dr. Francis Hayward. During his short stay, Rev. Hayward, (an American), guided and organized a programme of Stewardship, with the objective of encouraging members to undertake responsibility for the Church’s financial obligations.

Rev. John Dunlop


Rev, John Dunlop of Ireland came to Webster in 1971, from Lambs River Church in Westmoreland. Under his ministry, there was a dramatic change in the administration of the finances of the Church. Building on the initial work of the Rev. Dr. Hayward on ‘Stewardship’, the Board of Management which previously managed the operations of the Church was disbanded, and replaced by a number of Committees, namely, Finance, Stewardship, Evangelism, Christian Education, Youth, Property, and the Women’s Guild.

Webster was transformed from a Church struggling to meet its financial obligations through the regular giving of time, talent and financial resources, to one in which was now able to meet its expenses, in most cases, with a surplus! This was achieved without the use of fundraising activities, such as fairs, or suppers, as was previously done.

The term of ‘Elder’ was also changed to a three-year rotation. There were Evangelistic Campaigns, there were Elders’ Conferences and Retreats, there were Youth weekends, and new music was introduced in the worship service.

The Webster Basic School was established in 1972, and the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade were formed. The property at 10, Carlton Crescent was purchased. The Church purchased a new pipe organ.

In 1977, Webster continued its tradition of outreach by establishing a new Charge at Portmore, St. Catherine. Named the Portmore United Church, the Church was well supported by Webster. The Rev. Gordon Evans became Portmore United’s first minister. For a brief seven months during his stay at Webster, the Rev. Dunlop was called back to Ireland. During that time, Rev. Clifford Campbell served as Interim Minister. Rev. Dunlop left Webster and Jamaica to return to Ireland, in 1978.

Rev. J. Oliver Daley


The Rev. J. Oliver Daley was Webster’s first local son to serve as full-time Minister. He succeeded Rev. Dunlop in 1978, and stayed for 21 years!

Over this period the Church grew; more than doubling its membership from 400 to about 900, with members drawn from the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew and St. Catherine, and even beyond!

The scope of the Church’s ministry was broadened. In 1982, a new Discipleship Training Programme was instituted to deepen the spiritual life of members through Prayer and Bible Study.

The Eden Garden Social Services Centre was established in 1986, expanding Webster’s Social Services ministry by providing services in counseling, dental and medical care, hot meals, the distribution of food packages to the needy and indigent, skills training, and care for the elderly.

The Skills Training Programme was instituted, providing training in Sign Art painting, Drapery-making, and Sewing. A Hot meal programme catered mainly to the elderly.

Twinning between Webster and the St James United Church in Simcoe, Canada was established, through a newly formed Nominations and Twinning Committee in 1987. Annual exchanges between the two congregations were organized. A “Cell Ministry”, formed to deepen spiritual life and fellowship was formed throughout the membership, with the Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine areas divided into Districts, in which Cell Groups were formed.

A Senior Citizen’s Home was established in 1989, and named the Rolph Grant Senior Citizens’ Home after former Elder, Rolph Grant, to provide care for the well-elderly.

A Sunday evening 6:30 pm Bible Study was reintroduced, with emphasis on Prayer and Bible Study. In 1990, the Webster Basic School which was destroyed by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, was re-built and expanded and renamed the Webster Infant Centre. Webster and Meadowbrook collaborated in the establishment of a United Church in Eltham.

HISTORICAL NOTE: In December 1992, with the joining of the United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman, with the Disciples of Christ, the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) was formed. Webster, New Bethlehem, and Bushy Park, Churches in Llandewey, became one Charge with members from Webster providing Pastoral leadership there, as well as through an Outreach Ministry to two Churches under the Castleton Charge.

As the Church continued to grow, for the first time the post of Pastoral Assistant was established with Mrs. Julia Allen installed in that role on March 15, 1992 with specific responsibility for “shut-ins”, and the Church’s “Discipleship Programme”.

In September 1997, the Rev. Gary Harriott was appointed Associate Pastor. He had special responsibility for the Church’s Youth Programmes, and was successful in initiating significant growth in that Ministry. Rev. Harriott ended his term of office at Webster, October 31, 1999.

During the period of Rev. Daley’s ministry at Webster, the Church grew, literally bursting at its seams. Expansion was urgently needed. An Expansion Committee was formed, chaired by Elaine Commissiong, with team members, Rose Henry, Elvira Edwards, Hermine Samuels, Linda O’Sullivan, Sharon Davis, Ryland Grant and Henry Hall. They were given the task of raising $5million to make well-needed extensions to the existing Sanctuary. The team not only raised the required amount but through the generosity of the congregation, exceeded it!

Accommodation was accordingly increased from 322 persons to approximately 700 persons with the addition of South and North wings to the sanctuary, allowing the Church to assume the layout of a cross. Through the skilled dedication of Webster members, Reynold Scott, Bernard Shaw, Donald Nembhard, Astley Burnett, Roy Nelson, and Glester Johnson; the Church was “destroyed” and rebuilt each week, so as to allow for worship services each Sunday. Not a single worship service was missed! The newly expanded Church also included the addition of a Columbarium, named the “A. J. and Iris Mc Dowell Columbarium”, in memory of the couple who had made an initial donation. The columbarium was also funded through money donated by other Webster members as well as through funds raised for the expansion of the Church including special donations from the Women’s Fellowship. The Columbarium was officially opened in a special service of Consecration, Sunday, May 9, 1999.

On the first Sunday in July, 1999, Rev. J. Oliver Daley, preached his last sermon at Webster as its Senior Minister.

Rev. Dr. Lewin Williams


Rev. Dr. Lewin Williams served as Interim Minister until the new Minister was called.

Rev. Norbert Stephen


The Rev. Norbert Stephen assumed office as Webster’s new Senior Minister on October 1, 1999. A dynamic preacher, whose themes and sermons encouraged introspection, Rev. Stephen’s first act was to motivate discussion and analysis of the Vision and Mission of the Church.

He identified three areas of focus for his Ministry at Webster to include: Worship, Congregational Involvement and Nurture. He espoused the establishing of an intergenerational approach to worship. The concept of the “Family Church”; he described, as a Christian principle that reflects an inclusive and dynamic community.

He challenged the congregation to the formation of Ministry Groups and to ask the question, “What is it that God wants me to do here?” In his thrust to engage the youth, while at the same time ministering to the wider congregation; a bus was purchased, enabling transport of young people to and from engagements outside of the Church. “Movie Nights” were instituted as a means of engaging persons in a social setting; a building was constructed to house the Sunday School.

A website was established. With the newly expanded sanctuary, now with north and south wings, visibility and participation was enhanced by the installation of an audio-visual system complete with screens enabling the projection of hymns and readings to the congregation.

An Outreach Project in Information Technology afforded certified training for young people and a newly formed “In-Reach” Ministry sought for the first time, to respond to emergency financial needs of members within the congregation. A comprehensive Administrative Block was constructed with a state-of the art Board Room; a Senior Life Ministry was established; and the offerings of the Community Care Ministry were further broadened to more effectively respond to the needs of members of the wider society.

During Rev. Stephen’s ministry at Webster, Rev. Norman Francis came to Webster in September 2000 as Graduate Intern. He was inducted November 2001, and assumed the post as our second Associate Minister in February 2002, - a post he held until July, 2004.

Yet the ongoing challenge not only for Webster but also for the entire United Church was a gradual but steady decline in membership.

HISTORICAL NOTE: The response to this unsettling phenomenon by the UCJCI, had resulted in a detailed and comprehensive survey, and after four years of study, the decision was taken that the entire United Church should completely revamp itself; its administration, and manner of operation, so that it would be able to more effectively respond to the needs of its members and others in the wider society.

The final series of studies which involved numerous small group meetings with all the Churches Ministry Groupings in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, was carried out under the leadership of then UCJCI General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Collin Cowan, by Consultant, Mrs. Elaine Commissiong, with the assistance of UCJCI Communications Coordinator, Ms. Marsha Martin. After numerous drafts, on July 10, 2008, at a special sitting of Synod, in an overwhelming affirmation of over 99%, ministers and leaders of the United Church voted ‘yes’ to a proposal to engage in a programme of “Renewal and Transformation” of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI).

“Renewal and Transformation”, therefore became the mantra, and focus of worship for Webster Memorial United Church, as new ministry groups were identified, and a Change Team established to manage the process to Renewal and Transformation. As part of the operational change of the United Church, four Deputy General Secretaries were appointed to preside over geographically delineated Councils, to help bring closer to local congregations and their ministers within them, the help they would need to empower their congregations to function as the focal point of development and growth. As part of the change, Rev. Norbert Stephen was appointed Deputy General Secretary for the North Eastern, Regional Mission Council (NERMC). On August 2009, Rev. Stephen said goodbye to Webster, to assume that post.

Rev. Raymond Coke


Rev. Raymond Coke served as Interim Minister (August – December 2009), while the Church prepared to call a new Minister to succeed Rev. Stephen.

Rev. Astor Carlyle


Astor Carlyle hails from the cool hills of Mount Olivet, Manchester, where under the nurturing and discerning guidance of the leaders at the Mount Olivet United Church, he candidated for ordained Pastoral ministry within the United Church in Jamaica and The Cayman Islands.

The Knox Complex of Schools, in Clarendon, provided the base for his educational development.

A graduate of the United Theological College of the West Indies [UTCWI], and The University of the West Indies , he holds a BA in Theology and a Diploma in Ministerial Formation.

Rev. Carlyle, since graduating from UTCWI in 2000, served the Greendale Charge of United Churches in St. Catherine for 9 years, and assumed Pastoral responsibilities for the Webster Memorial United Church in January of 2010. He is noted for his gifts in Preaching, Bible Studies, and faithful care of his parishioners.

He has a keen passion for Church renewal and community transformation, and has been widely engaged in overseas programmes with Council for World Mission.

Rev. Carlyle is currently enrolled as a Masters Student at the International University of the Caribbean where the focus of his studies is Transformational Leadership.

Rev. Carlyle has been married to Keisha and they bask in the joy of parenting Abigail, their daughter, and Khaeron, their son.