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Guiding light at Harrison College

Lisa king

Guiding light at Harrison College

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From childhood he always knew that being a minister of religion was what God wanted him to be.
“I was always attracted to the Anglican Church community, the pomp and ceremony. When I was a boy and attended St Joseph’s Parish Church for Christmas midnight Mass, and the organ struck up and they started singing Christians, Awake, Salute The Happy Morn, it just sent something down my spine – even though I was just a little child,” said Reverend Joel Cumberbatch.
For Cumberbatch, his complete life so far has been one of service to people. He said that was what mattered most: to be in that key position where you are able to influence the lives of people; not only for now, but for eternity.
“I think it is something exceptional,” he added.
Along with having that inner feeling to be a minister, Cumberbatch said a combination of factors had shaped him for the role he now plays. It goes right back to his upbringing as a child and the community in which he came up.
The church was a dominant part of life, and though parents might not be “practising Christians”, they insisted that their offspring go to church. In addition, Cumberbatch had grown up surrounded by godly men and women, and peers “who were a tremendous source of inspiration”.
Cumberbatch is the minister in charge of the Whitepark Wesleyan Holiness Church, and has been in the ministry for the past 32 years.
Additionally, for the past 14 years he has been teaching at Harrison College where he helps prepare students in third form for the Caribbean Examination Council’s religious education examination.
Cumberbatch said the school had been entering students at that level for the past nine years and the results had been very good.
“Last year I entered 24 students in third form and 19 got Grade I, while the other five got Grade II passes – which is the norm for our students. We have also entered children in second form, and they have done quite well,” Cumberbatch boasted.
As pastor and teacher at Harrison College, no one breathes down his throat what he can say to the students.
“Sometimes you hear people say that religious education has been removed from the schools; but sometimes they are speaking out of ignorance. Every single day at this institution, in one way or another, emphasis is on The Bible, or prayer,” Cumberbatch said.
He added that students preparing for CXC looked at all the different religions, the orthodox and the unorthodox.
“We do not try to force Christianity down people’s throats, but we take the opportunity within reason to talk about Christ.”
The pastor said being among the students was a good place to be because fewer and fewer children were going to Sunday School.
He said that in almost every form a significant number of children did not go to church, so that as a teacher he had to grasp those opportunities to impart “the religious dimension” to them.
Cumberbatch has served in several posts in the Wesleyan Holiness Church and now holds the second highest office, having direct responsibility for the church in the Caribbean.
He has also spent the past 24 years as assistant chaplain with the Barbados Defence Force, taking care of the army’s spiritual needs and offering counselling in times of bereavement.
He said the church was still doing much good with charity, but that sometimes the right hand did not know what the left was doing. And, as he put it, the church just needed to be relevant in terms of its programmes.
Cumberbatch said preaching had its place, but felt pastors needed to have more forums for interacting and dialogue.
Yet, many people still see the relevance of the church, says Cumberbatch, “and in times of crisis the first place they come is to the minister – and not always about need for money, but for a listening ear or prayer”.