Church of Scotland in Trinidad & Tobago
Greyfriars Church Church of Scotland, Port-of-Spain is the largest of the four congregations which make up the single Charge of the Church of Scotland in Trinidad.
The first minister, Rev. Alexander Kennedy of Greyfriars Secession Church, Glasgow, arrived in Trinidad on 25 January, 1836 to begin a mission to the newly emancipated enslaved people. At this time, apart from the Catholic church (Immaculate Conception), the town of Port-of-Spain had a single Church of England church (Trinity) and a Wesleyan chapel (now Hanover Methodist Church).
From the outset, the Wesleyans were very helpful. They allowed their church to be used by Rev. Kennedy until he was able to rent a building, formerly used as a theatre. This, the first place of worship, opened for service on 25 September, the same year. This building, soon discarded, was in Cambridge Street (formerly, the section of present day St. Vincent Street from Park Street to Oxford Street).
The first moves to build a church in Port-of-Spain were in 1837. The Governor offered land, and perhaps would also have given funds for a church, as he had done for Trinity. He was surprised to learn that the new ‘Greyfriars’ congregation would not accept this; they insisted on purchasing the land and paying to build their own ‘kirk’. The building commenced on 10 April, 1837, with the first service being held on 10 January, 1838. It then opened under the historic name of Grey Friars on 25 January.
A mission was started at Carenage, a lively place at the time and at Belmont. In addition, ‘Cottage’ meetings in the open were organised in other districts. James Robertson, who had, initially, come from Scotland to teach in the National School, returned there to be ordained, then came back to Trinidad and took charge of the mission at Carenage.
An ardent abolitionist and great supporter of the rights of the formerly enslaved people, Rev. Alex. Kennedy, over time, made enemies in high places. This was the result of his denunciations of the immorality and brutality he found within sections of that community. As the Catholics and Church of England increased their efforts to convert the ‘African’ population, Rev. Kennedy was critical of these churches’ practice of “indiscriminate baptism”. He suggested both required a less exacting standard of morality from their members.
After Carenage, there was a mission to the Arouca district, followed by a fourth station established at San Fernando where Rev. Kennedy had found “many ungodly Scotsmen”, and from San Fernando, other stations developed at Marabella, St. Madeleine and Couva.
In 1877, Greyfriars was enlarged and almost rebuilt at a cost of $12,000, relying entirely upon the generosity of its members.
The congregation, up to 1887, when the minister was the Rev. S. H. Wilson, M.A., had to bear with rather frequent changes of ministers. In 1929 there were only two Scottish ministers left in Trinidad and the congregations of St. Ann’s and Greyfriars were included in the Presbytery of Edinburgh and the ‘Scots Church’ in San Fernando was united with the Canadian Mission
Church of Susamachar.
St. Ann’s Church of Scotland, Port-of-Spain in the 19th century known as the ‘Presbyterian Free Church’ was part of the Free Church of Scotland and distinct from the nearby Greyfriars. Until 1972, both churches had their own ministers, Kirk sessions and management.
In 1846, 197 protestants, men, women and children arrived in Trinidad from the island of Madeira seeking refuge from religious persecution by the Catholic authorities. Others refugees followed soon after, but in Port-of Spain, they were not welomed by the Madeiran Catholics, but were helped by Greyfriars Church on Frederick Street and St John’s Baptist Church on Abercromby Street. In 1848 it was reported to the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland that there were 900 Madeirans in Trinidad.
Prior to the 1850s until 1853, these Presbyterians of Portuguese ancestry from Madeira, who lived in Port-of-Spain, worshipped at Greyfriars, along with the mainly English-speaking Scots. Later, they rented the upper area of a house at the corner of Duke Street and St. Ann’s Road (Charlotte Street) in Port-of-Spain, and then, in 1854, under the leadership of their pastor and former catechist, Reverend Henrique Vieira, they built their own church, dedicated to St. Ann at the corner of Oxford Street and St. Ann’s Road.
In 1873 the Rev. D. M. Walker, the new pastor, having learned enough of the Madeirans’ language preached every Sunday, for some time, in Portuguese. Eventually, knowledge of English was sufficiently well known by the Madeiran refugees and their families that the services were then conducted only in English. As time passed, a considerable number of Scots joined the congregation and two Sunday services were arranged.
Early in 1881 Rev. D. M. Walker was succeeded by the Rev. Alick M. Ramsay and by 1887, the Free Church congregation was composed of Creoles, Portuguese, Scots, English, Irish, Germans and Americans. By this time, English was used as the common language of all.
Like all the other Presbyterian Churches in the island, the Free Church declined Government aid, and relied for support on the generosity of its members.
Initially, known as the Portuguese Chapel or Church, then the United Free Church (or Free Kirk), it finally adopted the current name, St. Ann’s Church of Scotland. Greyfriars and St. Ann’s were formally united in 1978.
In November 2007, the church was deemed unsafe for use and repairs started in January 2009. Some restoration has been completed