West Indian Churches Leasing Land for Income

Reid Simon, parish priest of the Pro-Cathedral of St. Mary

By Melissa Williams-Sambrano

Anglican churches in the West Indies have found creative ways to generate income for the maintenance of churches and their outreach work. They no longer rely solely on fundraising events.

Last year the Anglican Diocese in Barbados announced that it would explore the possibility of renting its vacant lands for use by farmers as a means of earning money for the church and to assist in bolstering the island’s food security.

Since the announcement in November 2022, a secretariat has been established to oversee the plan and ensure it comes to fruition.

In the Diocese of the Northeastern Caribbean and Aruba, lands have already been leased or rented for residential, commercial, and even agricultural purposes. This venture has been assisting the diocese in restoring its churches, some of which were constructed more than 300 years ago.

The diocese spans 12 islands: Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Barbuda, Dominica, Montserrat, Saba, St. Barthélemy, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Martin/St. Maarten. It has 36 parishes and 52 churches, which include Dutch, French, and English-speaking congregations.

Some of the islands are independent, while some are overseas territories and dependencies.

Bishop Ernest Flemming, who has led Northeastern Caribbean and Aruba for just over a year, said the church has been using its assets to sustain itself.

“We do have situations of church land being leased or rented, both for residential and business purposes. In some islands we also have houses and apartments constructed on church land, which we rent to assist with income,” he said.

While some lands are not as arable for agriculture as those in Barbados, the diocese has worked for optimum results.

St John’s in Antigua, the cathedral of the Diocese of Barbados

He cited the see city’s cathedral, St. John’s, Antigua, as an example of “where the diocese has constructed various buildings [that] are being rented out for dwelling purposes.”

Despite the barrenness of most of the acreage under the care of the diocese, some property has been leased for agriculture. In the Parish of St. John in Nevis, Flemming said, the church’s land was rented to grow pepper, which was used to make pepper sauce, a major culinary and economic product of the island.

A portion of the money derived from the rental of properties is used for crucial restoration of churches.

In the Diocese of the Northeastern Caribbean, some churches were constructed in the 17th century.

St. Paul’s Cathedral in Antigua is celebrating its 350th year, while St. Thomas Anglican Church in Nevis is older still.

Others with history at their foundations include St. Peter’s Church in Montserrat, St. George’s Church in Dominica, and Holy Cross Church in Aruba.

With several churches in the diocese older than a century, Flemming said restoration is essential and is not cheap.

“The age of the buildings, and the materials used to construct most of the buildings, make it quite challenging to properly restore,” he said. “Some of the buildings would have been constructed using what they call lime. … Because the bricks have aged over the years, they begin to crumble because of the lime that was used to keep the bricks together. it is difficult in modern times to repair those buildings.”

Even St. John the Divine, the cathedral church of the diocese, is the site of repair works.

The restoration of these historic churches is critical since many of them serve as tourist attractions to visitors who frequent the Caribbean and present another avenue for the church to raise its own money.

Aside from aging infrastructure, some churches have been badly harmed by natural disasters like Hurricane Maria in 2017, which pounded Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis.

“Monies for funding church restoration are raised primarily through fundraisers, and we have quite a few activities from time to time and pledges from members of various parishes,” Flemming said. “Success stories may differ from parish to parish, but most clergy concur that they seldom raise enough or adequate amount of money to complete the work that is necessary.”

The Rev. Canon Reid Simon, parish priest of the Pro-Cathedral of St. Mary, with St. Augustine and St. Andrew’s in Anguilla, believes that “each diocese within the Province of the West Indies has been challenged to make use of its assets, especially where land is concerned, to generate funds.”

He said more should be done.

“The real challenge may be to get at least one building constructed, and this could serve as a springboard for further development,” he said.

Until something major is done, Simon said, the diocese will continue to use its assets, like the preschool it runs in Anguilla, or rely on fundraisers and taking loans from lending agencies as ways of obtaining necessary funds.


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