Dr Patrick Allen: Shepherd of the Adventist flock, servant of God, friend of man
First published in the February 20, 2005 edition of the Sunday Observer in The Desmond Allen Interviews series.
It is written in the Old Testament and taught down through the ages that Samuel was given back to God by his parents, Hannah and Elkanah, to be a temple child. No one would be surprised if Patrick Allen were similarly given to God by his parents, Ferdinand and Christiana Allen. His has been a full life of service to God and community, and if truly there is a man of God, let it be said of Dr Patrick Linton Allen.
There is a mystery that is still to unfold, for Allen may yet be one of Jamaica's best kept secrets. Shepherd of the numerically dominant
and fastest-growing denomination, presiding over more than 230,000 souls and steward of one of the Caribbean's most significant entities - the West Indies Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists - this holy man recoils from the search for power and self-aggrandisement. Lesser men of lesser means and in lesser circumstances can be found up in your face.
But maybe it is not time to marvel yet. Allen lives by the tenet "Not my will but Thine be done". It was evident from as early as age 11, if not before that, when he heard "the call" from the cross. And even though it would take a Jonah experience; the journey through the pain of losing a father and asking God 'why hast Thou forsaken us' and the struggle to carve a path through rather humble circumstances in Fruitful Vale, Portland, he always knew that his life was not his own, but the God of his parents and people everywhere.
There are memories of his baptism of fire when he began his pastoral ministry in the violence-scarred slums of St Catherine, of times he could not lead his flock across political boundaries, of the guiding hands of mentors inside and outside the Adventist Church who protected him at moments of uncertainty and unseen danger; and then the gritty, relentless pursuit of the divine mission he felt called to serve, through education and sacrifice.
As he nears completion this year of five years at the helm of his church, "Patriotic Patrick", as he was branded in the cold months of a Michigan winter, is heavily burdened by the spectre of crime and violence in the land of his birth. He had seen it first-hand in the St Catherine badlands and continues to hear the cry of the nation against this nemesis. As he has always done when the going got tough, Allen on March 5 will turn to a tried and proven weapon, leading hundreds of thousands to their knees to focus on an issue that has defied solution, in a Day of Prayer throughout Jamaica, The Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands.
Fruitful Vale, Portland
Allen came into the world when Hurricane Charlie ravaged Jamaica in 1951. It rained copiously in Portland, and when the sun finally crept from behind the water-sodden clouds, his maternal grandmother, Diana Grant, gave him the pet name 'Sonshine' (or some spell it 'Sunshine') to commemorate the event.
Ferdinand Allen and his wife, Christina nee Grant, were peasant farmers in Fruitful Vale, and the quality of their life would have been severely impacted by the recovery effort in the aftermath of the hurricane. But bit by bit they rebuilt their lives, and when Patrick was old enough to understand, he saw that they were devout Adventists given to prayer.
Born on February 7, 1951, he is the fourth of five children, his siblings being Phillip Allen, Cornelius Allen, Pauline Allen and Koral Allen. Rural Jamaica of the 1950s believed that the children belonged to the entire community, a remnant concept, perhaps, of a distant African heritage.
And even though at times Patrick found Fruitful Vale a tad too restrictive for a young boy wanting to explore the pleasures of mischief, he would come to salute the virtues of the nurturing hand of his community. With his siblings he roamed the expansive bushes, learnt to swim in the river, played marbles and flew kites as boys did. But life in Fruitful Vale largely revolved around home, church, school and, of course, the farm.
His parents eked out a living, growing a variety of crops and rearing goats and chickens. The family mostly grew what they ate and ate what they grew. The Baughs, parents of the now leader of the Opposition, Dr Kenneth Baugh, were neighbours before they migrated to Montego Bay.
Escape to freedom
Patrick was sent to the community basic school at about age four and remembers his "very strict and oppressive" teacher. "I was a free will type of person. Maybe I was born to be a Methodist," he jokes. What sometimes seems casual is not always so. To escape a beating from the teacher, he walked out of the school and never went back.
The grade one teacher at Fruitful Vale All-Age School "hid me in her class" by not registering him, bearing in mind he was a year younger than the age for admission. From that day on he would always be ahead of his time.
The young Patrick had an incredible memory and his mother taught him many poems to be recited in church. Fruitful Vale Seventh-day Adventist Church was more than church for the Allens. It was everything.
His parents also noticed something else about their offspring. He was very bright. Although in those days it was largely expected that after school one would go to work on the farm, the Allens recognised that Patrick could go further. People in the community reinforced what his parents knew, by remarking that "this one have head" and encouraging them to "spend money on him".
At the time, children of Adventists were expected to go all the way to the Mandeville-based West Indies College, now the Northern Caribbean University (NCU), for their tertiary education. His older siblings would go first. But Patrick was already well on the way with his education. He read voraciously and was fascinated with the textbooks of his older brother Phillip, who was then attending the Adventist-run Portland High School.
He memorised the things he had seen in the books, and so after elementary school, while he awaited his turn to go to high school, he received private tuition and found that much of the things they were teaching, he had already gone through. The principal, David St Elmo Wright, had a practice of bringing the Daily Gleaner to class and Patrick loved to delve into the national and international news.
His mind was firmly set on going to university and he learnt that he would need to qualify through the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Examinations and so applied to sit the tests as a private candidate in Kingston.
A friend introduced him to GCE model answers which helped him in his preparation. With money he earned from selling bananas off his dad's farm, he bought the syllabus for five subjects from the Teachers Book Centre. It arrived by Royal Mail van from Kingston.
Not long before that, the Government had introduced the Jamaica School Certificate (JSC) Exams and he prepared for it by correspondence courses. "I had a lot of time on my hands and used it to read everything I could lay my hands on. I could not get enough of The Gleaner and The Children's Own newspapers.
"My teacher used to drill the words into me - 'Reading Maketh the Man' and I remember determining in my heart that I would escape a life of drudgery as a field worker on a peasant farm."
He'll always remember the assistance and encouragement he received from many people, especially his first grade teacher, Miss Reynolds, later Kong; his fourth grade teacher, Miss Murdock, later McKenzie; and principal Wright who wrote in his book once: "Try hard my boy". Wright had just let him write his answers to a test on the chalkboard. "That was a defining moment in my life. I determined that I would not back away from any challenge after that," Allen recalls.
Patrick got all five GCE subjects at one sitting, recalling how he had taken the bus at 2:00 am from Fruitful Vale to the exam centre at Coke Methodist Church in downtown Kingston. His sister, Pauline, now in the United States, was elated and marvelled how her younger brother could pass five GCE subjects on his own!
All that changed things around. He and Phillip were set to go to West Indies College. But now that he had passed the GCE, Patrick no longer needed to go to high school there. Instead, he got a job as a pre-trained teacher at Fruitful Vale All-Age. This was 1968 and he was only 17.
"Despite my youth, the community nurtured me and respected me. I was mentored by the second grade teacher, Rosamond Josephs, and the principal guided me through," Allen recounts.
Up to this time, Patrick's progress in a little backwater district was stupendous. He enjoyed the admiration of his peers and he was widely regarded as most likely to succeed. But beneath the surface, there was inner turmoil.
For years, Patrick had been trying to drown out a voice that kept calling him to full-time service of his church. He had requested baptism from age nine, having to seek help from his pastor, A H Hunter, to persuade his parents to give consent. "I was a little vivacious boy and they thought I had not been pious enough. But inside I had felt the transforming work of God and I confided to my pastor that if I did not get baptised I would burst."
On September 15, 1962, he was one of 12 people who were baptised into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Mr Allen dies
Then at age 11, the voice upped the stakes and called him into full-time ministry. He didn't think he could handle that, and so he ignored it. When he turned 18 years old, it came back, more persuasive than ever and he finally decided he must do the will of God.
A plan was laid for him and Phillip to prepare for the ministry at West Indies College, when disaster struck. His beloved father fell gravely ill, ravaged by cancer, and could no longer work the farm. The plan was re-worked and Patrick stayed home to help support the family. Not long after, his father died, aged 62.
The young man was perplexed. What did God really want? Why this and why now? He had, after years of resisting, yielded to the call to the ministry and now on the eve of his departure for study this tragic thing had come to pass. He loved his father and, feeling that at 18 he had not yet completed his rights of passage, needed him more than at any other time.
He was angry and in despair. "Why should I even bother with this ministry thing?" the other voice coaxed. In that moment of emotional turbulence, Patrick decided he would not go into the ministry, not now at any rate.
He was reading the newspaper one day when he saw an ad inviting applications to Moneague Teachers' College in St Ann. By now his older siblings had left the home. The thirst to pursue tertiary education had deepened and the ad seemed to have been placed there for him. As he read the ad again, Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Wander Thirst came to him: "Go I must and come I may and if men ask you why, you may put the blame on the sun and the stars and the white road."
He applied, was accepted after a successful entry test held at Excelsior High School, an interview at the education ministry and, with the blessings of principal Wright, he hit the road for Moneague.
"It was the first time I was leaving home for any serious period of time and I was looking forward to the adventure," he recalls. Far from his mind was any thought of the adventure of them all, the fight for conquest of a woman's heart. Allen plunged into his studies, achieving distinction for years one and two.
He came under the influence of the noted Dr Kenneth Anderson, a graduate of Cornel University who was shortlisted for governor-general along with Sir Florizel Glasspole, the eventual appointee. His roommate was Stanley Jones and close friends were Steve Howsen, Fontley Corrodus, Millicent Williams who married Jones, Amy Watt and Ruby Bennett.
Two students who also stood out for him were Esserene Hudson and Lawrence Fray, a Baptist lay preacher and an older man "who walked me through the vagaries of life".
"These two students were very supportive. I have always fallen into the hands of good people who looked out for me and protected me. They were my guardian angels," Allen reflects. But now the real adventure was about to begin.
A thing of beauty
At the start of second year, Allen was among a group appointed to welcome the first-year students upon arrival in September 1971. A car pulled up and out stepped a petite young girl, "the most beautiful thing I had ever seen".
Patricia Beckford instantly gave him a new reason for living. Winning her love was never going to be easy because other men had seen her and had similarly desired her. But Allen, mustering all the charm he could, and utilising means "fair and foul", driven by desperate love, finally won the heart of the woman he adored.
Third year was internship spent at Water Valley All-Age near Islington in St Mary where he taught grade nine. He thinks it was providence that the school he was sent to was only five miles from the home of Patricia Beckford.
He corresponded with her by letter and their relationship blossomed. This now must be providence because the following year on internship, Beckford was sent to Fruitful Vale, Portland and lived with Allen's mother!
The long and the short of it was that on July 20, 1975, he married his lady love. They have three children - Kurt Allen, now a computer analyst with Whirlpool in Michigan, United States; Candice Allen, a nurse in Atlanta, Georgia; and David Allen, who also resides in Michigan.
At Water Valley, Allen worked under principal Leslie Thompson and his wife Joyce. Chairman of the school board was the venerable Rev Henry Ward who stood tall over the community.
He became good friends with Steadman Fuller, now the owner/manager of Kingston Bookshop. He got his diploma, pleasantly discovering for the first time that the programme was under the School of Education of the UWI. But he decided to stay on at Water Valley for another three years.
Elder Allen is ordained
During this time, he remained an active member in the church. He was trained to be an elder by James Gordon who had been like a surrogate father to him, and ordained by K G Vaz, to carry out administrative and saccerdotal (priestly) functions.
A gracious mentor, pastor Vincent Miller encouraged him, saying he would make a better pastor than he. But the thought of serving the full-time ministry was still on the back-burner.
Rat dung at Sherness caves
In 1976, he won the job as principal of Robins Bay Primary School in St Mary, despite being one year short of the required five years of post-college experience. But that was consistent. He describes the time there as "the most exciting period of my life up till then".
The community revolved around him and he decided he would expose the 200 children on roll to all the social and cultural experiences he had been deprived of at Fruitful Vale. That included entering the Jamaica Festival in which they won gold medals in music and speech; participating in track and field athletics; cricket, Four-H movement and the Spelling Bee competition. Working beside him, his wife taught grades one to three.
They were assisted in the extra-curricular activities by the other teachers, Sandra Barrett, Sonia Beckford (a distant relative of Patricia) and one Mr Blackwood who later became a policeman. Allen also taught farming, recalling how he used to take the students to the nearby Sherness Caves to gather rat dung for fertiliser.
In 1977, he attended a youth conference in Panama. When Pastor Richard Baron made the call for young men to enter pastoral ministry, he felt the pull but quietly asked God that if it was His will, He should force him out of his seat. That did not happen and he again pushed it out of his mind.
Back at Robins Bay, someone was watching and admiring Allen for his work. It was the soon-to-retire principal of the neighbouring Hillside Primary, Una Benjamin. She approached Allen to take over from her.
This school was four times the enrolment of Robins Bay, with a staff of 20 teachers. On day one he arrived to face his first major challenge when he was met by a demonstration of parents, whipped up by the vice-principal who had served the school for donkey's years and felt she deserved the job.
But that was short-lived and the Allens settled in to a dynamic two years at Hillside. Here again he was the centre of the community. As they are wont to do, politicians from both sides of the fence courted him. Always, he politely declined. But something else was happening.
The time comes
Sometime in 1980, Allen was waking up in the middle of the nights, sweating profusely. He was not ill. Then it became clearer and clearer. It was now 12 years since he had put off going into the pastoral ministry, and the voice that called him had arrived in Hillside and was more persistent than before.
Again, it might have been providence, but he started to feel dissatisfied with what he was getting out of his teachers at the school, although the students were wonderful. It was 1974, the year before he married Patricia, and if he needed more signals from God, he got it when she told him she could not guarantee she would be waiting, if he followed a plan he had to enter the UWI.
It was a risk he couldn't take.
One night as the couple lay in bed in a tete-a-tete, he confessed. Teaching was only his Jonah experience. This time, he must respond to the call. "Teaching was a fascinating journey and I would not have traded it for anything. But the time has come and I cannot resist any more the pull by God on my life," he told her. She hugged him understandably and they drifted off into blissful sleep. Tomorrow a new journey would begin.
He applied to the Seminary at the Adventist-run Andrews University in Michigan. To matriculate for the seminary, he completed a degree in History and Religion.
He then pursued a Master's in Systematic Theology, earning honours from a paper on how the Great Depression affected the role of women in the SDA Church. The paper was later published in the scholarly church magazine, Adventist Heritage, which was distributed worldwide. Then he returned to Jamaica to begin his pastoral ministry.
Baptism of fire
He was sent to head up four churches in St Catherine - Central Village and Tredegar Park near Spanish Town, Standbury Grove in Sligoville and Gordon Pen. It was a baptism of fire. Violent gangs ruled the narrow zinc-fenced lanes teeming with the urban poor.
But Allen took up the challenge. They developed feeding programmes, skill training and counselling projects. He did most of the funerals, and from the pulpit, endured the unmistakable whiff of ganja floating towards the church, and watched superstitious women pass babies over graves.
One day, he recalls, he had to lead one section of his flock to a point, allow them to turn back, cross over the imaginary boundary himself and meet another section of the flock - because of the sharp political divisions.
In 1988, after two years, he was called to May Pen, again ahead of his time because he had only completed four months of his two-year internship. When he was ordained, it was one year less than the four years of pastoral experience that was normally required.
But he had met the primary requirements, including having led some 500 new believers through a conversion experience. He loved it at May Pen, saying the congregation had pushed him from a "pedagogical, didactic teacher to an evangelical preacher of the word". He remembers with deepest honour, Hazel Coley who adopted him into her family; and he enjoyed the interaction with non-Adventist ministers.
He notes that he has always drawn inspiration from within and without the Adventist Church, naming mentors who at various times included the American preacher, C D Brooks and K G Vaz, a former West Indies College president; the Rev Dr Maitland Evans of the United Church, the Rev Dr Swaby of Tower Isle and Rev McNally of the Church of God in Jamaica. "One of my best colleagues is Rev Courtney Stewart, a Baptist," he notes.
In 1989, he was called to Spanish Town, the largest church in the Central Jamaica Conference covering St Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St Ann and St Mary. While at Spanish Town, he was called to serve the Central Jamaica Conference as education director and communication director under Cornelius Gray and later Leon Wellington.
The following year, he was appointed to serve the West Indies Union as family life director, one of the youngest pastors ever to serve in that position. But after a year, he began to feel the need to resume frontline ministry or to further his studies.
He went back to Andrews University to pursue a doctorate, and on the advice of Dr David Penner, now principal of Newbold College in England, decided to do the PhD in Administration and Supervision.
Trailblazer at Andrews
Things were tough financially at Andrews and he applied for a job there as assistant registrar, becoming the first black to hold the position. In this job, he was responsible for processing the records of all graduate students at the campus, the five affiliate schools worldwide and undergraduate extension schools. Patrick Allen was now ready for greater things.
On the day of graduation, some Adventist pastors from Jamaica turned up on his doorstep to enquire of him if he would be interested in taking the helm of the Central Jamaica Conference, with some 200 congregations and over 60,000 members. Flattered that they thought so well of him, he awaited his wife's agreement.
He would also have to take a pay cut of 50 per cent of the salary he was getting at Andrews, if he accepted. He did.
Shepherd of the flock
At the end of two years, midway the four-year term, Wellington, who was president of the West Indies Union, was called away to the Inter-American Division and Allen was elected to succeed him. The year was 2000. It was a long and meandering road from Fruitful Vale, Portland but the Lord had brought him there, to shepherd His 230,000 active members in 720 churches.
He is also chairman of the board of NCU and Andrews Memorial Hospital, overseeing the evangelical, health, education and youth programmes, involving 10 high schools, 22 elementary schools and numerous basic schools.
He will look back with satisfaction on some of the achievements under his tenure: the creation of new missions; the growth of NCU under president Dr Herbert Thompson, including acquisition of the Kingston campus and the North campus in Mandeville; addition of the east wing at Andrews Hospital under Patrick Rutherford; establishment of Investment Management Limited (IML), a faith-based entity to harness and grow members' finances; the launch of the Adventist Business and Professional Leaders Directory to improve the delivery of quality services through the Adventist Health Professionals Association, ADRA; the Adventist Laymen Services and Industries and the Youth, Community and Prison ministries; as well as the launch of the Educational Foundation to channel scholarships to needy students.
And he credits the prayers and support of a large team of colleagues in his administration and at various levels of the Union, including: Dr Windell McMillan, secretary; Pastor Herman Ming, treasurer; Dr Thompson; Rutherford; Derek Bignal; Everett Brown; Basil Reid; Milton Gregory; Peter Kerr; Balvin Graham; Jeff Thompson; Keith Albury; Joseph Smith and Leonard Johnson.
When he completes his tenure as president, Allen says he will be happy to return to the pastoral ministry where he can fulfil his desire to be a servant of God and friend of man.
"Something wonderful and supernatural happens to me in a baptismal pool. My pastoral role is one of the things that bring me greatest joy."
Now, with his appointment as governor-general, Dr Allen will exercise a pastoral role of another kind over his largest congregation to date - the people of the Jamaican nation.