Methodism is a Church on a worldwide mission with a ministry directed not only to “those who need you” but to “those who need you most”. It sprang from the Great Revival of religion – sparked off by the Wesly brothers, John and Charlse who had a “spiritual” conversion in May 1738. Methodism spread rapidly in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and then overseas to the West Indies and North America. Through the Missionary efforts of Dr. Thomas Coke and his supporters, the foundations were laid for worldwide communion of “the people called Methodists” – the name John Wesley used for the people who joined the societies.
On August 13,1776 Coke met Rev’d John Wesley for the first time and expected a job offer as a Methodist Preacher, to his disappointment Wesley advised him to return to his Curacy. Within one year Coke was driven out of his Parish when it became evident he was running it as a Methodist Circuit. In desperation he went to Wesley to present his case and was advised “to go Preach the gospel to all the world”
Young Coke became a valuable helper for Wesley and was instrumental in the start of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and soon became one of its Bishops. Methodism began spreading in England and soon Coke was made Wesley’s personal representative thus enabling him to visit America in 1784.
In December 1786 Thomas Coke came to the West Indies. He left England on September 24,1786 destined for the U.S.A. taking three missionaries to their station.. On his way his boat became engulfed in a storm thus sending him off course. Still at sea in December Coke and his companions were almost thrown over board as fish food because they were thought to be bad omen . Early on Christmas morning their boat drifted into St. John’s Harbour in Antigua over two thousand miles from their destination of Nova Scotia.
Coke’s first visit to Jamaica was in 1789. Having landed in Port Royal On January 17, 1789. He received a warm welcome from one Mr. Fishley the master Caulker of the dockyard to whom he presented his letter of introduction. Coke’s first sermon was before a large congregation at the house of one Mr. Treble in Kingston. Mr Treble’s house was small and therefore Mr. Burn a Roman Catholic gentleman gave him the use of a large concert room.
The second evening brought a total of six hundred persons 400 whites and 200 blacks. Coke faced opposition from the gentry and had a first hand glimpse of what it meant to be oppressed when the service was disrupted by a gang of drunken white men shouting “Down with him, Down with him” He was almost seized by one who shouted “who will second that fellow?”
Thanks to a new friend he made named Bull who came to his defence by stepping between him and the rioters and stating “I second him against men and devils” Coke had further support in his defence one member Mary Ann Able Smith drew a pair of scissors and exclaimed “you may now do as you please, but the first man who lays a violent hand upon him shall have these scissors thrust into his heart.” The molesters retreated muttering and abashed and the service continued uninterrupted.
Six months later in August 1789 Rev’d William Hammett the first Methodist Missionary arrived. The first class system was then started comprising eight persons blacks, whites, coloured, bond and free. Mary Able Smith was among them. Another was William ‘Father’ Harris a black man born of Slave parents in America. The other members were Mrs. Venus Harris(wife of William), Daniel Coe, Peter Lewis and his wife Mary, James Fead and Cathrine Dawson. Mrs. Smith was the leader.
A house was secured in Hannah Town which served as meeting house and residence of the missionaries. The seed of Methodism was now planted. Mary “Mother’ Wilkinson was next to join the group. She was a coloured free mulatto woman who had to flee from Manchioneal to Kingston because the White inhabitants disapproved of the marriage of slaves she had gathered for religious instructions. Mrs. Wilkinson was not a clergy member but she performed the marriages of the slaves herself. These marriages were probably the first slave marriages solemnised in the island.
As growth took place a more suitable venue was sought and by the end of 1790 a planter’s house was bought in Kingston and re-modelled as a chapel and residence. This became known as Parade chapel and was opened in 1792. It was replaced in 1841 by what is now known as Coke Memorial chapel in honour of their founder Rev’d Dr. Thomas Coke the founder of Methodism in Jamaica.