Rev C Evans Bailey, chaplain of the poor, devoted his life to the 'church without walls'

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

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In a time of enlightenment and renaissance in the Jamaican church, a group of courageous ministers of religion emerged from different denominations with a common message: what Christianity could best contribute to our fledging nation was the building of a church without walls.

That group of ministers included the Reverends Ashley Smith; Oliver Daley; Ernle Gordon; Maitland Evans; Raymond Coke; Burchell Taylor; Henry Earl Thames; S U Hastings; Webster Edwards and, pre-eminent among them, C Evans Bailey.

Rev Bailey, a former chairman of the Methodist Church, passed away on May 29, 2019. His death was somewhat overshadowed by the more dramatic passing of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga and Mr Martin Henry, academic and public commentator.

Because of the media glare, Rev Bailey could, arguably, be better remembered as the third chairman of Radio Jamaica Limited, a position he assumed on July 8, 1980 and held for 14 years, after it was vacated by Mr Peter Abrahams.

But older Christians well beyond the Methodist Church can attest that he was a pastoral giant of his time and a true reverend gentleman, if there ever was one. Enormously bright and yet humble to a fault, he became a chaplain to the poor.

A man who epitomised the spirit of caring, Rev Bailey was drawn to liberation theology, but never in any extreme. He saw a special mission in the church for the poor and deprived, and he understood that as traditionally structured the church was not always on point with the black descendants of slavery.

Hence he advocated building “the church without walls”, a concept in which the church embraced the suffering masses without imposing European standards or forms of worship upon them, and moving the heavy emphasis of the church from “the “pulpit to the pavement”.

For example, he would never force unmarried couples to separate when one partner converted to Christianity. And he recognised that the social structures helped to lead people into sin – describing it as the structures of sin.

Under the leadership of this mild-mannered preacher, teacher, Rhodes Scholar and guidance counsellor, the Methodist Church took full responsibility for the National Children's Home in Hope Gardens, St Andrew.

One of the first things he did upon becoming chairman of the church in June 1976, was to urge all branches to collect an offering specifically for the poor on every first Sunday. He also spearheaded an advice and counselling centre at the famed Saxthorpe Methodist Church on Constant Spring Road, St Andrew.

Methodists will also remember him for his support for accepting women into the ministry of the church, beginning with the historic shattering of Methodist tradition in ordaining the Rev Miss Hyacinth Boothe, the first of many who would follow.

He, like many of his peers in the 1970s and '80s, embraced the ecumenical movement, believing that the church was better off operating in one accord, rather than as individual entities in perpetual competition and proselytising for members.

For more than a decade he was unwell and out of the public glare, but to his flock, Rev C Evans Bailey will always remain a true hero of the faith.

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