- The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI), which Sir Howard Cooke served diligently up to the time of his death, believes that the fire of his devotion lit the way for many.
- General Secretary of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Rev. Norbert Stevens shared with JIS News some highlights of his life of service to that institution.
- Sir Howard’s involvement in the UCJCI as a lay pastor was preceded by his role in the community as a teacher at a time when that occupation was important in the life of the church.
“May all who come behind us find us faithful, May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave, lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey, Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful”- Steve Green.
As the rest of Jamaica pauses to salute the life and work of the man who bore the title of third native Governor General of Jamaica, there is one institution that is celebrating his life, his legacy and the impact he has had on its witness.
The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI), which Sir Howard Cooke served diligently up to the time of his death, believes that the fire of his devotion lit the way for many and that his life would have in many ways inspired others to obey.
General Secretary of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Rev. Norbert Stevens shared with JIS News some highlights of his life of service to that institution.
He noted that the former Governor General’s involvement in the United Church seems to have been scripted long before his birth. He was born at Goodwill in St. James, a free village that was established by the Presbyterian Church which is one of the antecedent denominations of what is now the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. As a consequence, his life in the church began at a very early age.
According to Rev. Stevens, Sir Howard served three of the most important institutions in society, Church, School and State through his life’s work. A lesser known aspect of his stellar service however was to his beloved church.
Sir Howard’s involvement in the UCJCI as a lay pastor was preceded by his role in the community as a teacher at a time when that occupation was important in the life of the church. ‘Teacher’ was numerously called upon to be organist, church school teacher and default preacher, when the minister was away and he performed those functions with pride for many years.
He was involved largely in four congregations of the UCJCI. His early years were spent at Goodwill United in rural St. James near to the border with Trelawny. He later became a member at St. Paul’s United in Montego Bay. When he retired from active service as a parliamentarian, he became a lay pastor and was assigned to the Farm Heights United Church in Norwood, a satellite mission station of St. Paul’s and while serving as Governor General, he worshipped at Hope United Church in St. Andrew.
One interesting feature of his service within the Farm Heights congregation was that while serving the nation as Governor General, on a Sunday morning he would be there with his congregation on a regular basis.
According to the General Secretary: “He was Governor General during the week and on Sunday he would put on his robe as lay pastor and serve his congregation because he felt that his office as Governor General should not deny him the opportunity to continue to serve the church at the local level and that he did.”
Farm Heights United Church evolved and grew under his leadership from a tent in the community to what is now one of the largest sanctuaries within the UCJCI.
Sir Howard was instrumental in the construction of the sanctuary.
“He thought big and felt that you had to have a sanctuary that could facilitate growth based on the context and its location within a large and growing community. The Farm Heights community is renowned in terms of its understanding of his contribution to its life and development,” Rev. Stevens points out.
There is also a Basic School affiliated with the church that serves the community.
Sir Howard was a regional delegate to the UCJCI Synod (the highest decision making body of the church), and would take time off from work to be at the four day Synod every year and then every two years when it became a biennial event. He would also make himself available for other gatherings of the UCJCI such as the biennial Convocation.
Based on his expertise and commitment to the church he was asked to serve as an ex-officio member of the Central Mission Council of the UCJCI which is the decision making body of the UCJCI outside of the Synod, where he served right up to his passing.
Of note is that on many occasions he had to travel to Kingston for meetings from his home in Montego Bay but he was unflinching in his commitment.
Sir Howard was also very instrumental in the establishment of what is called the Lay Person’s Initiative (LPI), which was born out a need to find additional resources to fund the mission activities of the church such as the children’s homes and retirement homes. He brought together lay persons of the United Church and formed them into a body which would raise funds towards the mission programmes of the church.
The LPI has been very successful and is the major proponent of the biennial ‘Starry Night’ event held to raise funds for the Mt. Olivet Boys’ Home and the Pringle Home for Children both owned by the church.
He was also one of the conceptualisers of the International University of the Caribbean (IUC), which is owned by the UCJCI and was its first Chancellor. He served on the governing body and continued to make significant contributions through this avenue to the area of education.
According to Rev. Stevens, Sir Howard lived his calling. He was not just teacher and community and government leader but he was also a church leader who played an important role.
He had a strong interfaith connection. “He was very instrumental in having conversations with Jews, Muslims and Rastafarians as a way of saying that God is not restricted to one set of people and any way in which we can bring people together as church to serve the community and the wider society, is something worthwhile and that’s a legacy that he has established and must be celebrated,” Rev. Stevens explained.
“The United Church celebrates his life. We believe that he was not only a gift to the church but to the society… He served his country, he served his community and he served his church with distinction and we honour his memory and we honour the legacy he’s established within the United Church and we’ll continue to find appropriate ways to celebrate that legacy,” he concluded.