Moravian Church Contributing Much to Education


In Jamaica, the churches have done more than just deliver sermons. In addition to building sound moral values in the church, they have contributed significantly to the development of education in the country.
One such institution that is playing its part, is the Moravian church, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary in the country. With just under 30 schools, ranging from infant to the tertiary level, the Moravian church has made a significant mark on the educational system.
With the arrival of three Moravian missionaries on December 9, 1754, the church was birthed in Jamaica, with a particular focus on community development through education. Today, the church still contributes significantly to the development of minds through the various educational institutions. Quite a leader, the Moravian church was the first to establish an elementary school and a female teachers’ training college, both of which are still in existence.
Many of the great minds in education owe their sound background to the Moravian institution. One such person is Travert Spence, Principal of Bethabara All-age School in Manchester and Chairman of the Moravian Education Commission, who attributes his and his colleagues’ growth in their respective fields to the Moravian faith.
“When you think of the Moravian church you think education, because wherever the Moravians started a church they always started a school,”Mr. Spence tells JIS News.
One of the most outstanding personalities of the Moravian church, Mr. Spence notes, was a man called Comeniues who in the early stages of the Moravian faith, advocated for the educational system to be structured in terms of early childhood, primary and secondary and for the putting of pictures in classrooms. “Having come out of that background, everywhere she (church) has gone, whether it is England, Jamaica, the United States or Europe, there is a church settlement to an extent, and that settlement always has a school,” Mr. Spence explains.
Hence the Moravians, known for their hill top locations, have throughout their 250 years of operation set up schools in the parishes they have settled in, namely Manchester, St. Elizabeth, Westmoreland and to a lesser extent Kingston.
“Put it this way, the activity from Monday to Friday and to a lesser extent on a Saturday for the Moravians, was just as important as the Sunday activity, so you couldn’t build a community with religion and you couldn’t build it without the discipline of the mind and the heart,” Mr. Spence says.
Now that most of the Moravian schools have come under public financing, there is not as much hands-on influence from the church, but this does not impact on the sound education received by Moravian school students. “Since most of them (Moravian schools) are supported by public finance, there is hardly any difference now between a Moravian and say a Baptist school, but there are some things that we as a church try to instil in both our educators and our students, and it is that respect for life and respect for Almighty God and that idea of thankfulness,” says the Chairman.
For the Moravians, Mr. Spence explains, it is not only what is done in the school but maybe the encouragement that the children and the teachers would have received at home and maybe on a Sunday. “As a church, we have always encouraged our teachers, principals especially, to ensure that we maintain and inculcate high standards, while at the same time as we teach and administer, we display them,” he tells JIS News. The real test of who the Moravians are, in regards to education, is evident in the prominent sons and daughters it has produced, who are now contributing significantly to the development of minds. “For instance, you will find that quite a few of our educators have excelled in this country in very unusual ways and maybe that is the test of who we are. Maybe, it is not what we do as we prepare the product but what the product becomes at the end of the day,” Mr. Spence says.
He cited Byron Farquharson, who originates from a Moravian community. “You will know why he was bound to become a Jamaica Teachers’ Association President and eventually President of the Caribbean Union of Teachers and I believe one day he will move on in the international circles,” he adds.
He also mentioned the quality service that Senator Noel Monteith, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture, who is of Moravian background, is offering to this country.
“When you look at a person like Ranny Watson, who was former Principal of Bethlehem Moravian College; and Professor Larry Reid, who set the Common Entrance Examinations for years, then you see where that urge for excellence is coming from. The point I am making is there is that training that says, ‘look, you must come out to give back to the society, some of what you have gotten’,” Mr. Spence says.
Manchester, one of the parishes known for its Moravian institutions, has seen the identifying marks of the Moravian faith on its educational system in more ways than one. “In Manchester, we have a Principals Association and sometimes one runs the risk of calling it Manchester Moravian Principals Association. For instance, I have just given up as President of nine years because I am about to retire, and now it is another Moravian who has taken over and the majority of the members on that Executive are Moravians,” the Chairman notes.
He says that there was more hands-on interaction between the Minister of the church and the schools in the early days than now, but emphasises that this has not changed the sound teachings of the Moravian schools.
“To have missed devotions in those days was to have committed sacrilege. There is something else about Moravian and education that I don’t think we sometimes appreciate. We have not only given education to our young people through the formal education system, I think there is an education that we have given to many people of my age group and maybe people down to the 40s and top 30s that we gave through the uniform groups that we operated,” he tells JIS News.
These uniformed groups include the Boys’ Brigade and a Moravian youth organization called Upward and Onward, which was started for girls. “This was where we taught the vocational skills to the girls, and for the Boys’ Brigade, this was where we taught many things like discipline and the badge work, which has equipped some of our boys as they move into other fields,” he adds.
Mr. Spence hopes that through the year-long celebrations to commemorate the Moravians 250th anniversary in Jamaica, that people will become more aware of the role the Moravians play in the development of education.
Another outstanding Moravian who has impacted the educational system, is Myrtle Williams, a stalwart educator who describes herself as Moravian born and bred. She reiterates the point that when one thinks of Moravian, then education immediately comes to mind. She says that within the Moravian institutions, teachers also aim at training young minds to develop socially and morally, which is in addition to developing them intellectually.
“In the 21st Century, when you think of the development of the Moravian church, you have to think of Bethlehem, because Bethlehem Moravian College, as it is now called, is the one that is making the great strides,” Mrs. Williams tells JIS News. When the college was first founded, Mrs. Williams says it was a training college for female teachers to teach in infant schools. “As I read over the history of the church, I said imagine from those early days of the 1830s the Moravians were emphasizing the development of early childhood education and here we have it today, that is where our focus lies,” she says.
She notes that as society changes there are greater needs and hence Bethlehem Moravian College is trying to meet the needs of the people, so that instead of being a single disciplinary institution, just training female teachers, it is now a multi disciplinary co-educational institution, offering more than teacher education.
Apart from literacy, Mrs. Williams says the church tries to instil moral values and attitudes, but it does not indoctrinate its students into Moravianism.

JIS Social