In the year 1923 during the General Assembly of the Church of God, in Cleveland Tennessee, USA, George F Walter was appointed as missionary to Jamaica; although information regarding the arrival of Walter is unclear, he was the first missionary officially appointed to Jamaica by the church. Notwithstanding the uncertainty of Walter’s arrival in 1923, the work of the church was already operating in the Island prior to arrival of J.L. Kinder in 1931.This is evidenced in the fact that R.C. Smith was converted during an evangelist service in Kingston where Mrs. Nina Stapleton, a missionary from the Church of God over which A/J. Tomlinson was the overseer, was the preacher. Shortly after his conversion in 1921, at the age of 18, Smith began to answer the call of God to preach the message of salvation in a remote area of Clarendon, called Main Ridge. This district was indeed a fertile field for the gospel, as after a short while, Smith established a church in that area which was named, Holiness Church of God. By the early 1930s he had about seven congregations among them were, Main Ridge, Douce, Chapelton, and Dylon. During those early years a member from the Chapelton congregation felt the call to Point Hill in St. Catherine and the work was started there. Pastor Smith and his wife Rebertha migrated to Kingston and settled in the Whitfield Town area where he planted a church at 2 Moore Street, Kingston 13. At the same time, the work of the Church of God continued to flourish under the leadership of Kinder, with churches organized in Danvers Pen in St. Thomas, Gold Street in Kingston; Stony Hill and Old Hope Road in St. Andrew; and Rose Hill in Manchester.
Before the General Assembly of 1935 , Kinder, who was Island Overseer, due to ill health, decided not to return to Jamaica. The then General Overseer A. J. Tomlinson, enquired of him whether there was anyone in Jamaica whom he could recommend for the position. Kinder advised the General Overseer that no one in the Church of God was ready for such task, however, he knew a pastor who was not connected to a denomination, and thus he recommended R. C. Smith. The General Overseer then sent an urgent invitation to pastor Smith to attend the Assembly that year. During those times, the chief mode of travel to the United States was by boat. This along with journeying by road from Miami to Cleveland Tennessee caused Smith to arrive the day after the close of the General Assembly. Despite this, the General Overseer and other officials ordained him as a Bishop, and he was appointed as Overseer of Jamaica.
Bishop Smith returned to Jamaica as the Island Overseer of the Church of God. By this time there were twelve churches in the Church of God – seven from his previous organization and the five which were organized by Kinder. Shortly after Bishop Smith was appointed, the General Overseer received correspondence from a minister in St. Catherine, stating that he had seen some literature about the Church of God and would like to know more. Bishop A.J. Tomlinson directed him to the Island Overseer. The minister who was Pastor Jonathan A. Riley and Bishop Smith met and agreed to join forces. At that time Pastor Riley had churches in St. Catherine, and Manchester, including Spanish Town, Edward Piece, Redberry, Bishop R.C. Smith and his team of workers would have loved to use the name Church of God as the registered name for the church. However, there was already an organization operating in the country by that name, consequently, the name Bible Church of God was chosen. However in 1953 when the church adapted the official designation, (Church of God of Prophecy), the local organization also took the name, which effectively brought it in line with the General Headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee.
In the nine decades of the history of the Church of God of Prophecy in Jamaica, there have been seven leaders, this doesn’t include Brother Walter who was the first mentioned. These seven men are Missionary J.L.Kinder, 1931-1935, Bishop R.C Smith 1935-1974, Bishop Alvin S. Moss 1974-1982, Bishop Lesmon R. Graham 1982-1992, Bishop Arthur C. Moss 1992-1998, Bishop Clayton N. Martin 1998-2010, and Bishop Winston A. Leith 2010, who is the current presiding Bishop.
As a result of the hard work and dedication of the many faithful ministers and members, God has blessed the church with two hundred and ninety six (296) congregations in the fourteen (14) parishes. Although the local churches are located mainly in the lower socio-economic communities, this has served as a plus, as the membership of the church is diverse and demonstrates the inclusive ministry of the church to win the all lost at any cost. Together we minister to the spiritual and social needs of approximately fifty thousand persons each week.
The church engages its members and adherents in a number of ministries. These include summer camps, retreats, counseling, early childhood education, ministerial and leadership training, senior citizens clubs, youth, children’s, women’s, and men’s ministries, and christian education. The local churches, through their various outreach programs are active in rendering services to the needs of people within their communities.
The Church in Jamaica has remained steadfast to the values and principles of its founding fathers. As time progressed leadership training took on new features. Many will recall Bible Training Camp (BTC) and later Bible Training Institute (BTI), which were responsible for theological education of both ministry and laity. BTI would see hundreds of persons gathering yearly for three weeks of intense training. These sessions would culminate after three years with a diploma. After the BTI program became defunct, a new focus on ministerial training was introduced by the International Offices, known as Center for Biblical Leadership (CBL). This is the program that has now been transitioned to the New Covenant Bible Institute (NCBI).
This year the Church of God of Prophecy celebrates ninety years of service in our beloved country, we have accomplished much as a result of the visionary leadership of the National Overseers, pastors and lay leaders. It is as a result of the faithfulness of each member and God’s grace why we now own the national convention site, the prime real estate where the National Offices is located, 43 acres of land at Barton’s in St Elizabeth and our Camp Facility in May Day Manchester.
The Jamaican church is strong, and has produced many stalwarts who have served in the highest echelon of the church, locally, in the Caribbean and Internationally. Some of these are Bishop R.C Smith our first indigenous overseer, Bishop Lesmon Graham who served as the National Overseer for Jamaica, England, Belgium and France and also Caribbean Mission Representative, Bishop Hubert Martin, Kenya; Bishop Theophilus McCalla, Nigeria & Ghana, Bishop Aston Morrison, Canada, Bishop Clayton Martin, our current General Presbyter for the Caribbean, Bishop Levi Clarke, and the late Bishop Henry A Barclay, Kenya, among others.
The Church of God of Prophecy, Jamaica is marching forward in Prayer, Leadership Development, the Harvest and Stewardship, only by the grace of God and all for His glory.