SPURRED by phenomenal growth, Jamaican Adventists are moving out on their own from the parent West Indies Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists which will go out of existence, church leaders have confirmed.
As of November 29 this year, the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (JAMU) will formally come into being, with responsibility for the five regional East, West, Central, North and North East Jamaica Conferences.
The new Jamaica Union will cater to the spiritual needs of 250,000 Adventists, making it the largest Christian denomination in Jamaica, and a beacon in the worldwide Adventist church.
"We are looking forward to this change in our ecclesiastical landscape," said Pastor Derek Bignall, the Jamaican president of the 104-year-old West Indies Union. "This is a sign of maturity and growth within our region."
One of the biggest items of church news in recent times, the decision to create a Jamaica Union will have a ripple effect on other territories of the West Indies Union and on the Mandeville-based Northern Caribbean University (NCU).
The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and the Turks & Caicos Islands which were also part of the West Indies Union with Jamaica before the reorganisation, will now become the Atlantic Caribbean Union Mission, with approximately 25,000 members.
The Herbert Thompson-led NCU, previously known as the West Indies College, will be jointly owned and operated by the Jamaica and the Atlantic Unions, church officials also confirmed.
Church elders have also decided to build a new church to perpetuate the memory of the West Indies Union in Mandeville.
"It will not only memorialise the history of the growth and development of the Union's conferences/Missions, institutions and churches, but also of individuals," Bignall told the Sunday Observer, adding: "It (the memorial church) is a worthy monument to establish for the preservation of the work of the church to ensure that our history is not forgotten."
Thompson explained that current plans to establish an NCU church would be abandoned in favour of the WIU Memorial Church, as the new church will be named.
In addition, the original NCU church site would now be dedicated to the expansion of a Science Department accommodating the university's emerging Engineering Programme, which will make use of the multi-billion software donation made to the NCU by Siemens Inc in November 2009.
Said Thompson: "When years from now our children and grandchildren ask 'What is this West Indies Union I hear so much about?' there must be a place where information is archived about what we used to be and the memorial church will be just that."
The new configuration was voted into existence by the executive committee of the Adventist World Church at its April 7, 2010 annual spring meeting, and details presented to anxious pastors, workers and church elders assembled at the NCU gymnatorium on May 31, 2010 by Pastor Israel Leito, president of the SDA Inter-American Division.
"This reorganisation is in recognition of the significant growth and development that has taken place in West Indies Union over the past few years," Leito said.
He shot down claims among some members that the dissolution of the West Indies Union was the beginning of a move to create an English-speaking Division within the Inter-American division which has its headquarters in Miami, Florida.
Leito also admitted that some West Indies Union staff would lose their jobs, but said every effort would be made to reabsorb them into other institutions of the church.
The IAD president said the changes would come into effect at the final West Indies Union Session set for November 29 to December 1, 2010, during a ceremony of separation. The separation of finances and assets would become effective January 1, 2011.