The Presbyterian Church in Trinidad and Tobago has 40,000 members, 105 congregations and 100 house fellowships. The church maintains 72 Presbyterian primary schools and five Presbyterian secondary schools. Many notable persons in the society spanning law, medicine, academia and politics have come out of a Presbyterian School Education.
In the mid-19th century there was an influx of East Indian indentured labourers to Trinidad to work in the sugar cane estates. Because of the language barrier, the evangelizing efforts of the existing Christian churches among these people were very marginal. It was not until the arrival of a missionary sent by the Presbyterian Church of the Maritime Provinces of Canada in 1868 that a new dawn of enlightenment for this sector of the population was ushered in.
The great contribution made by the church to the development of education in the country is recognized both by the state and the general public. In 1960, the church severed its mission status with the United Church in Canada and has since been known as the Presbyterian Church in Trinidad and Tobago. In 2004, the congregation in Tobago was officially recognized by the synod.
The Presbyterian Church in Trinidad and Tobago (PCTT) belongs to that system of church government that was founded in the mid-sixteenth century by John Calvin.
Calvin was instrumental in organizing the leaders at Geneva to formulate a democratic form of church government. By 1559 an ‘ACADEMY’ was functioning sending out teachers, preachers, and scholars to further the missionary enterprise of the Protestant Reformation initially started by Martin Luther with the publication of his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.
In 1555 Calvin produced the first edition of his monumental work, ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion,’ that defined the Presbyterian ‘Way of Life.’ This book went through several editions and was based on Calvin’s close study of the Word of God.
Calvinism spread rapidly through Western Europe, England, Scotland and eventually to North America.
In what was then known as the Presbyterian Church of the Maritime Provinces of Canada, the Calvinistic spirit of missionary endeavour soon influenced men like John Geddie, John Morton and Kenneth J. Grant – men who gave their lives in response to the Great Commission:
‘Go then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always to the end of the Age’ (Matthew 28:19 ).
The earliest known documentation of a Presbyterian presence in Trinidad occurs in October 1833, when a group known as the ‘Trinidad Presbyterian Association’ dispatched a memorial to Sir George Fitzgerald Hill, the Governor, requesting that provision for Presbyterian churches and clergy be made available to the colony of Trinidad.
It was out of this initiative that the first Presbyterian Minister in Trinidad arrived – Rev. Alexander Kennedy, on 31st January 1837. The first formally constituted congregation became a reality on 31st May 1937 – the Greyfriars Church, so named because the Rev. Kennedy had been sent out as a missionary from the Greyfriars Church in Glasgow, Scotland.
There were however a number of other Presbyterian ‘Missions’ that developed in Trinidad over the following decades.
In 1843, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the United States began a mission among the newly emancipated slaves. Emancipation had taken place throughout the British West Indian islands between 1834-1838.This effort was located at Iere Village and was referred to as the ‘America Mission.’ Unfortunately this endeavour ended ten years later (1853) due to the terrible hardships suffered by the missionary personnel. On the church grounds at Iere Village Memorial Presbyterian Church there is still to be seen the tombstones of two of these American pioneers.
It was in fact this little plant at Iere Village that became the nucleus for the ‘Canadian Mission,’ that was initiated by Rev. John Morton in 1868.
Another stream of Presbyterianism flowed out of the troubled water of Madeira. Dr. Kalley, a Scottish medical doctor, led a spiritual revival there. Being subjected to ‘fierce persecution’ by the Roman Catholic authorities the converts fled to Trinidad. At first, in the year 1846, they were accommodated by Greyfriars, but later established their own congregation in what is known today as the St. Ann’s Church of Scotland, on Charlotte Street in Port of Spain. It was so named because the location was then known as St. Ann’s Road.
There was another ‘Mission’ in the history of Presbyterianism in Trinidad. In 1870, Dr. N.H. McGhirk, a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church from Missouri, USA, who lived and worked in Trinidad, invited his home church to send a missionary to Trinidad. The Rev. S. Thomas Anderson was appointed to Trinidad and Venezuela in November 1873, while Dr. McGhirk was appointed ‘lay helper.’
After Anderson’s arrival in Trinidad, however, there was a dire need for a ‘supply pastor’ at the Presbyterian Mission Church on High Street, San Fernando. This congregation was sponsored by the Free Church of Scotland. Anderson was thus ‘converted’ to fill this need and eventually in 1877 the Board of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church recalled Anderson.
In the meantime the Scottish Churches had established other congregations in Trinidad, at Belmont, Carenage, Dry River and Arouca in 1842 and finally in Sangre Grande in 1904. The last two are still very much alive. In South Trinidad, in addition to High Street, San Fernando, Scottish Churches were established at St. Madeleine, Vistabella, Marabella and Manzanilla (Kennedy Memorial).
On 3rd October 1845, the original ‘Presbytery of Trinidad’ was duly constituted. One of its first acts was the ordination of Rev. James Robertson. Robertson was a Scottish school teacher in Trinidad who had been encouraged to return to Scotland and complete his theological education. After his ordination he was assigned to work in the High Street Church in San Fernando and later to Carenage.
On 18th January 1848, a Madeiran, Arsenio Nicos De Silva, was sent out as a missionary to the Madeiran refugees in Trinidad and was duly ordained by the Presbytery of Trinidad as a Minister of the Word and Sacraments.
In1864 John Morton, a young Canadian Presbyterian Minister, travelling in the West Indies while recuperating from a ‘throat infection,’ became aware of the East Indians in the colony of Trinidad.
“To think,” Morton would say later, “of these people living in a Christian community for years making money and returning to India without hearing the Gospel of Christ! What a stain on our Christianity.” Morton offered himself as a Missionary to Trinidad, arrived there on 3rd January 1868. The ‘sending church’ was The Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces of British North America.
Morton had inherited the little American Mission at Iere Village, with its outstation at Mt. Stewart. There was a little church building, a manse, and an African former slave congregation, which was Morton’s ‘first duty.’ He was duly inducted to the Iere Village Pastoral Charge by the Presbytery of Trinidad, of which Morton had become a member. This event occurred on the 29th January 1868, and constituted the official genesis of the “Canadian Mission,” which has become the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago (PCTT).
The early growth of the Canadian Mission was propelled by evangelistic outreach and the establishment of an educational network. In 1870, Morton was joined by Rev. K.J. Grant, and until 1975 the Canadian Church sent out a stream of ministers, women workers, educators and administrators, as well as provided financial grants, that all led to a vigorous and well established missionary enterprise.
During the course of its existence and up to the present time, the PCTT developed into a Church with twenty-three (23) Pastoral Regions, with a total of one hundred and seven (107) congregations, seventy-two (72) primary schools, five (5) Secondary Schools, one (1) Teacher Training College (closed by the government in 1975 due to its centralizing policy), a Vocational Institute (now transformed into a private Secondary School), Iere Home for girls (now a pre-school) and a Theological College. This latter institution, St. Andrew’s Theological College, has been in continuous existence since 1892.
Important to the development of the PCTT was the selection and training of a cadre of local men and women for the work of teaching, preaching and administration. The continued existence, and indeed the growth of any organization, depends to a great extent on the leadership that it is able to generate. The pioneers, both missionary and local, recognized this and through their efforts there were established institutions for training of teachers and preachers and the nurturing of boys and girls and young men and women.
It was no easy task, working among a people steeped in their own religion and their heritage and intent on finding a place in the world. Indeed, it was not until the 7th February 1871, that the pioneer missionary, Morton, could note in his diary “… baptized six, first fruits of a long season of husbandry.”
The recruitment of local leadership had begun early in the life of the Canadian Mission. Devoted converts gave of their time, after their day’s work in the sugar cane plantations, and eventually some of them became ‘full time’ workers. For example, Babu Lal Behari was ordained a Minister in 1882, while C.C. Soodeen rose to prominence in later years, and these gave promise of the potential that was being nurtured in these early decades. Included among the early leadership were also outstanding women personalities like Deborah Talaram, Fanny Subaran and Mary Jamadar.
The full story of the work, the struggles and triumphs of the early church workers – the Catechists, the Bible Women, the Head Masters and ‘Native Ministers’ is only now being told.
1915 was a significant year in the history of the PCTT. On January 8 that year seven (7) ordinands were received as Ministers of ‘the Word and Sacrament’ – the largest number to be so ordained in any one year. They were C.D. Lalla, Henry Laltoo, Colin Pragsingh, S.B. Ramrattan, James Rameshwar, Henry Ramcharan and Charles Gordon Cumming. The last named being a Canadian Missionary. The six Trinidad men were appointed to Pastoral Charges while Cumming served as Head Master at Naparima College and Assistant Principal at the Presbyterian Theological College (now SATC). It is interesting to note that in 1913, Rev. H.F. Kemp was the first Canadian Missionary to be ordained in Trinidad. As far as can be ascertained these were the only two Canadians to be ordained under the auspices of the Presbytery of Trinidad. The Moderator at the time was Rev. John S. Wilson of the High Street Church, San Fernando.
Also of note is the fact that in 1932 two men of the Church of Scotland in Trinidad were trained at the Presbyterian Theological College in San Fernando and were duly ordained by the Presbytery of Trinidad. These two men were Rev. Felix Barrow, ordained at Arouca and Rev. J.A. Worrel, ordained at Sangre Grande. Much earlier (on the 16th March 1906), W.H. Mayhew, ‘licentiate of the Presbytery of Trinidad,’ was ordained at the High Street Church in San Fernando. The Trinidad Presbyterian Newsletter of March 1906 notes: “He is probably the first West Indian, ordained to the Ministry of the Word by this Presbytery.”
With the growth and expansion that was rapidly taking place, major missionary centres were established, headed by Field Missionaries. These were located at Princes Town, San Fernando, Couva, Tunapuna and Cedros as early as 1876. However, due to the shortage of personnel it was only in 1959 that the Point Fortin/Cedros Charge was inaugurated under the leadership of Rev. Roy Jordison.
In the early decades the admonition ‘to go out into the world … to teach, preach and baptize,’ found a ready response in the willingness of native workers to themselves become missionaries. Thus Catechists from Trinidad were sent to Grenada, St. Vincent and St. Lucia, as well as to Jamaica and Guyana. Even as late as the 1960’s, Hindi speaking ministers of the PCTT were in Suriname to assist the Moravian Church in the thrust of evangelism (these included Rev’ds Joseph Doman and James Radhakissoon).
Indeed the PCTT has been recognized as the ‘sponsor’ of the Guyana Presbyterian Church and the two Canadian Missions (Trinidad and Guyana) were closely intertwined. For example, Rev. J .A. Scrimgeour was transferred from Trinidad to Guyana in 1912, but later returned (1929) to become the Principal of the Theological College in San Fernando.
In the midst of these developments there were also some dis-satisfaction among the local clergy and teachers.
Although Rev. C.D. Lalla was the first East Indian to be elected Moderator in 1924, it was not until 1931/1932 that the Presbytery of Trinidad was completely reorganized. Around then the Canadian Mission Teachers Association (CMTA) come into being – later called Presbyterian Teachers Association (PRESTA).
In 1931/32 the Scottish Churches withdrew from the Presbytery of Trinidad and realigned themselves with the Presbytery of Edinburgh as the Trinidad Church sought to establish its own identity. It was during this time that the CMTA proposed that the ‘CM’ connotation be changed to ‘Presbyterian,’ and by mid- century this alteration was fully effected. This was a small step, but indicative of the search for ‘selfhood’ and the transformation from ‘missionary’ church to an autonomous and self governing institution.
By 1961 the Presbytery was structurally re-organized into three (3) Presbyteries with the Synod being the highest church court. In 1971 thirty-three (33) Pastoral Charges were realigned to form twenty-three (23) Pastoral Regions, a change which was due mainly to the dire shortage of ministerial personnel.
In 1955 a motion was accepted by the Presbytery, that the Moderator should be styled “the Rt. Reverend,” in conformity with the practice in all churches holding the ‘Presbyterian Order’ throughout the world.
While the Theological College continued to train persons for the ministry since 1892, it was recognized that training at university level was necessary. In the 1940’s J.F. Seunarine, R.G. Neehall and C.F. Beharry proceeded to Canada, to be followed by others. However, from 1960 the first set of ministerial candidates were sent to Jamaica. These were Jeff Elder, Karam Chandoo, Harold Sitahal, and Kenneth Kalloo.
By 1984, and under the Principalship of Rev. Harold Sitahal, SATC resumed its original function and a programme of studies for ministerial students extending over four years was introduced. The first graduates of this L.Th. programme were:
- Elvis Elahie
- Joy Evelyn Abdul
- Ian Gajadhar
- Dianne Ragoonanan
It is also noteworthy that following in the footsteps of the ‘Bible Women’ and ‘Women Workers’ a new Deaconess Order was introduced and the first ever Deaconesses’ graduated in 1982. They were:
- Christine Chowti
- Rose Gobin
- Beryl Kallicharan
- Annabelle Lalla (later Rev.)
- Anna Sharma (later Rev.)
Throughout the decades of growth and development there were certain aspects of ‘churching’ and ‘schooling’ that remained constant. These were:
- The work of the Sunday Schools.
- Youth Groups. For example, Christian Endeavour (CE) and Young People Society (YPS).
- TGIT and Explorer, looked after by the Girls’ Work Board.
- Trail Ranger, Tuxis, looked after by the Boys Work Board.
- WMS, renamed Presbyterian Church Women (PCW) and Board of Women.
- The AOTS Men’s Fellowship and Board of Men.
There have always been as well church choirs, various boards at local and regional levels, as well as ad hoc committees carrying out the work and witness of the church. In addition, there were Prayer Meetings. No other Christian denomination in Trinidad and Tobago holds the Prayer Meeting (an adaptation of the Hindu puja) as dearly as does Presbyterians. This has always been a powerful and effective instrument for proclamation of the Word.
By 1968 (the year of the Centenary) the PCTT was virtually an autonomous and self governing body. The Mission Council which for long had virtually run the affairs of the church, had been reduced to a ‘Committee of Missionaries’ to look after its internal and necessary affairs. In 1974/75 the last of the Missionaries, Rev. A.C. Dayfoot, Ms. Mabel Brandow and Rev. C.G. Kitney returned to their homeland. For the first time there was a complete and total supply of a ‘national’ ministerial complement – a self supporting, independent and self governing church. In fact, the last financial grants from Canada were made in 1977.
This marked the end of the Missionary Era – one hundred and seven years (1868-1975) of a fruitful and blessed service. This era propelled the PCTT into new and unexplored dimensions, motivated by the ‘great calling.’
In all of this the PCTT is seeking in its service, administration and mission, the ‘celebration’ and the ‘empowering’ of the great triad of the New Testament :
Kerygma - Proclamation (of the Word of God).
Koinonia - Fellowship (of Believers of the Faith).
Diakonia - Service (to all Humanity).
Written by Rev K Kalloo, Archivist, PCTT
When the Presbyterian Church made provisions for a clergyman to serve on the island in the early nineteenth century, the local Court House was placed at its disposal until its new church was built. The island’s first church (or “Kirk”), The Church of Scotland was built in Scarborough in 1813. At a meeting of the committee of the Presbyterian Association held on October 5th 1841, it was resolved that the Kirk(Church) in Scarborough and the one in Delaford should be lent to the established church on the island, The Church of England(Anglican Church) for ecclesiastical purposes, until required by the Association.