The Reverend Dr Horace Russell, a pioneering Jamaican & Caribbean theologian and pastor, died on Monday at the age of 91.
Reacting to new of his passing, Rev. Dr Glenroy Lalor, Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Half-Way-Tree, said Dr. Russell would often describe himself simply as a pastor, “but to that, those of us who knew him, would add, pioneer, mentor, teacher, scholar, theologian and ecumenist.”
Reverend Russell, a Baptist minister, was widely known for his ministry as pastor of East Queen Street Baptist Church in Kingston from 1976 to 1989, and is still remembered fondly in Central Kingston for his ministry by the residents of that community.
He later served as pastor of Saints Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia up until his retirement a few years ago.
Dr Russell did not confine his Christian witness to the Jamaica Baptist Union, however, as he was a pioneering Caribbean voice on the international ecumenical scene. He served the World Council of Churches in its theological think tank called the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Church, Geneva, Switzerland from 1968 to 1990. He also served the World Association of Christian Commission and the Students Christian Movement, and held membership in the Society for the Study of Black Religion, and the History Society of Great Britain.
In the field of education, he served as the of chaplain of Calabar High School, his alma mater, and tutor at Calabar College and United Theological College of the West Indies (UTC). He was the first Jamaican to be engaged in theological education full-time and the first Black person, and first Caribbean person, to head UTC. He lectured in Church history and developed courses in Caribbean Church History.
He later served as dean of chapel and professor of historical theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, USA.
He is remembered as being responsible for educating and mentoring a generation of pastors and theologians in Jamaica, the Caribbean, North America and the wider world.
In further reflections on his mentor, Reverend Lalor, said of Dr Russell that he “brought a perspective that was uniquely Caribbean; and he saw the Caribbean’s point of view as important and significant… He was always showing and giving the Caribbean a voice.”
“He had a notion that the church ought to serve as a chaplain to the nation, Reverend Lalor explained, which he demonstrated in practical terms by serving on various public boards, “and sought to build a bridge between the church and the nation, as well as the church and the academy.”
Horace Orlando Russell was born on November 3, 1929 in Clarendon to the Reverend Cleveland Augustus Russell, a Baptist Minister, and his mother Rowena Nerissa Russell, nee Gordon. Young Russell spent much of his early years in the Richmond Vale community in St. Thomas area in which his father served for many years.
He attended the Calabar High School where he distinguished himself in academics and athletics and later, to prepare for the Christian ministry, he attended the Calabar Theological College.
He attended St. Catherine College, Oxford, 1957, and in 1972 he received the Doctor of Philosophy, Regent's Park College, Oxford in 1972.
That achievement was quite special in the circumstances of the time, according to Reverend Lalor, who described Dr Russell as “a scholar of no mean order”.
“Imagine a Black man with a PhD from Oxford in 1972; that was a kind of novelty; that was a kind of novelty, and so he gave the Caribbean a voice on the world stage.”
He added that Dr Russell contributed significantly to Jamaica’s post-colonial development through education, which he fervently believed was crucial to the society that would emerge in Independence.
In that regard he also developed close relationships and mentored many young people who went on to exercise significant positions of national leadership themselves.
The Baptist World Alliance( BWA) also paid tribute to the memory of Rev. Dr Russell, noting that he had left “a truly global legacy of academic brilliance, pastoral care, and genuine love.
In its statement, the BWA reposted a 2014 a tribute to Dr. Russell, which reads in part:
Horace Russell can be described as one who bears the brunt of being first in many things:
• Esteemed as the foremost church historian in the English-speaking Caribbean
• Widely known as an encourager and mentor who shares his knowledge and experience willingly, both with his contemporaries and students
• A renaissance man, a man for all seasons, a man who moves with ease in different spheres, whose level of competence is as broad as his breadth of knowledge
• A Caribbean pioneer who helped shape a Caribbean vision and identity, who was at the forefront of forging a Caribbean theology for more than 50 years
• A prolific writer, some stemming from his own groundbreaking work in Caribbean church history, as well as in theology, mission, and ecumenism, author of books such as "The Missionary Outreach of the West Indian Church", "Foundations and Anticipations: The Jamaica Baptist Story (1783-1892) and "The Baptist Witness: A Concise Baptist History."
• Decorated by the government of Jamaica with the Commander of the Order of Distinction for his commitment to religion and public service