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Religion

Shared belief

A true believer is one who does not hurt others with his thoughts, words or actions.{a}

St Helena has a long history of religious activity

PLEASE NOTE:

The early days

When Governor John Dutton and his band of settlers arrived in 1659 to claim the island for The East India Company there is no record of them having brought with them any religious officials. It wasn’t until twelve years later (1671) that The East India Company assigned the island its first Chaplain, William Noakes. From that point there was always a religious presence (for better or for worse!) and initially always of the Anglican persuasion. It seems reasonable to assume that members of other religions and adherents of different versions of Christianity arrived, but were not specifically catered for. The first setting up of a non-Anglican group came in 1845 with the arrival of Baptist missionary James McGregor Bertram.

When other religions arrived is not recorded. We know when places of worship were established (see our page Churches of St Helena), and clearly that shows that a number of believers of a particular group were here at that time, but not when the first of each group arrived.

Nothing is so fatal to Religion as indifference.{b}

Religion today on St Helena

According to the Wikipedia:

Most residents are Anglican and are members of the Diocese of St Helena, which has its own bishop and includes Ascension Island. The 150th anniversary of the diocese was celebrated in June 2009. Other Christian denominations on the island include Roman Catholic (since 1852), the Salvation Army (since 1884), Baptist (since 1845) and, in more recent times, Seventh-day Adventist (since 1949), the New Apostolic Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses (of which one in 36 residents is a member, the highest ratio of any country). The Roman Catholics are pastorally served by the Mission sui iuris of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, whose office of ecclesiastical superior is vested in the Apostolic Prefecture of the Falkland Islands.

In the most recent Census{c} people described themselves as follows:

Has a faith

Religions on St Helena

⋅ Anglican

2,711

74.0%

⋅ Jehovah’s Witness

167

4.6%

⋅ Baptist

91

2.5%

⋅ Seventh Day Adventist

74

2.0%

⋅ Salvation Army

73

2.0%

⋅ New Apostolic

69

1.9%

⋅ Roman Catholic

44

1.2%

⋅ The Rock Christian Fellowship

12

0.3%

⋅ Other Christian

18

0.5%

⋅ Baha’i

10

0.3%

⋅ Other religions

10

0.3%

⋅ Religion or denomination not stated

63

1.7%

Does not have a faith (Atheist)

321

8.8%

Practicing Religion

As in the UK, the number of people describing themselves as ‘Anglican’ far exceeds the weekly attendance at Anglican churches, and it was ever thus. In 1714 Governor Isaac Pyke was so dissatisfied with the attendance at church on Sundays he ordered that all people in The East India Company’s service who were in Jamestown on a Sunday must attend church. Writing in the St Helena Wirebird{6} in 1957 a church leader lamented that in latter years there has been a decrease of membership and congregation. Imagine if he were writing today!

So if 74% of people are Anglicans, why is Anglican church attendance so poor? It is probably for two reasons:

  1. As in many other parts of the world, many (most?) people know which religion they are supposed to be (i.e. the state religion), and if asked will declare that as their faith, but religion has no impact on their daily lives. They do not attend any place of worship except for ‘hatching, matching and despatching’, never pick up their religion’s holy book(s) and do not perform any private religious observances.

  2. In St Helena many Anglicans have been Confirmed{2} simply because the local Anglican Church will not allow you to be a Godparent unless you have been Confirmed, and being a Godparent is an important family position.

A similar picture probably emerges in other faiths and denominations, but to a much lesser extent because reasons 1 and 2 do not apply.

In recent years an evangelical group calling itself ‘The Rock’ has established and grown its congregation substantially. Indeed, so many younger members of more established churches deserted to ‘The Rock’ that it was feared that some might have to close (though in the end this did not happen). ‘The Rock’ initially had no place of worship, but more recently took over the former ‘Pub Paradise’ in Longwood.

Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different road, so long as we reach the same goal. Wherein is the cause for quarrelling?{d}

Interestingly, after the 2021 General Election, five of the twelve elected members chose to Affirm when taking the oath of office (i.e. omitting all reference to religion).

Please note that Kosher and Halãl foods are not widely available on St Helena.

In Governor Walker’s time church attendance by the enslaved was mandatory; any owner who didn’t make sure their enslaved attended would get fined. So much for Freedom of Religion

Militant Atheists?

If you stop telling people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it out while they’re alive{e}

As covered on our page Our Newspapers, in 2010 Governor Gurr was persuaded that, as the St Helena Herald was funded by the Government of St Helena, it should no longer accept paid-for advertising in competition with the private sector. It did so, but continued printing the ‘Church Services’ page, which advised readers of the dates and locations of religious services around the island. Some argued that this was advertising, and hence should also be stopped, even though the individual churches themselves did not pay the St Helena Herald to have their information printed, but this claim was rejected. One persistent atheist (presumably){3} responded with the following:

From: [withheld]

To: sthelena.herald@cwimail.sh

Subject: Non-advertising

Date: 15th March 2010 13:48

As you are not considering beliefs to be advertising, could you please print this message in the St Helena Herald on a quarter page on Friday 19th March 2010. It would be most appreciated if you put it on the church page where supporters of different beliefs are advertised.

God presumably doesn’t exist. There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. If you agree, call [withheld].

Thanks

(They did, but on Page 9 - the ‘Church Services’ were on page 18.)

That which is asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.{f}

Freedom of Religion

Unsurprisingly, Our Constitution has a lot to say about religious (and other) freedoms. ‘Part 2, Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual’ says (our emphasis):

Whereas every person in St Helena is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, without distinction of any kind, such as sex, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, age, disability, birth or other status, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following:

(a) life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law;

(b) freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association;

(c) protection for his or her private and family life, the privacy of his or her home and other property; and

(d) protection from deprivation of property save in the public interest and on payment of fair compensation,

this Part shall afford protection to these rights and freedoms, and to related rights and freedoms, subject to the limitations contained in this Part, being limitations designed to ensure that the enjoyment of the protected rights and freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.

Later on, under ‘Protection of freedom of conscience’ we read:

15.
(1) Except with his or her own free consent, no person shall be hindered in his or her enjoyment of his or her freedom of conscience, which includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his or her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and either in public or in private, to manifest and propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

(2) Except with his or her own free consent (or, if he or she is a minor, the consent of his or her parent or guardian), no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his or her own.

(3) No religious community or denomination shall be prevented from or hindered in providing religious instruction for persons of that community or denomination in the course of any education provided by it whether or not it is in receipt of any government subsidy, grant or other form of financial assistance designed to meet, in whole or in part, the cost of such education.

(4) No person shall be compelled to take any oath which is contrary to his or her religion or belief or to take any oath in a manner which is contrary to his or her religion or belief.

(5) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to breach this section to the extent that the law in question is necessary in a democratic society-

(a) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or

(b) for the protection of the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right of any person to observe and practise his or her religion or belief without the unsolicited intervention of adherents of any other religion or belief.

(6) References in this section to a religion shall be construed as including references to a religious denomination, and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly.

It should be noted that freedom of religion also covers the right not to have a religion, though this is not explicitly stated.

Faith is not wanting to know what is true.{g}

A Christian Nation

It is often claimed that Our Constitution defines St Helena as a ‘Christian Nation’. This is not actually true. The only place in which Christianity is mentioned is in the ‘Preamble’ (which is not a legally enforceable part of the document) where it says (our emphasis):

(k) wishing to continue as communities of tolerance, with respect for government and the law, Christian and family values and protection of the environment;

It is reasonable to assume that, as St Helena becomes more multi-cultural this reference to ‘Christian and family values’ will be replaced by removing the ‘Christian and’.

Religions are all founded on miracles - on things we cannot understand, such as the Trinity. Jesus calls himself the Son of God, and yet is descended from David. I prefer the religion of Mahomet - it is less ridiculous than ours.{h}

Read More

Below: ReferenceArticle: Deceiving Bishop Welby

Reference

A history of the Anglican Diocese was published in 1985 by Edward Cannan.

The arrival of the first Baptists was documented in The Baptist Quarterly (c.1995).

Article: Deceiving Bishop Welby

By Ian Bruce & Ed Longley, published in the ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{1}, October 2021{4}

Deceiving Bishop Welby

LOL

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.{i}

Credits:
{a} Prophet Muhammad{b} Edmund Burke{c} 2021 Census, taken 7th February 2021.{d} Mohandas Gandhi{e} Terry Pratchett{5}{f} Christopher Hitchens{g} Friedrich Nietzsche{h} Napoleon, in a letter written from St Helena, 28th August 1817{i} Allegedly genuine church notice. All it needed was a hyphen…

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Footnotes:
{1} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{2} Which is where the individual formally joins the Anglican Communion.{3} We think we know who, but will not name him.{4} @@RepDis@@{5} Terry always confirmed himself to be an Atheist, once saying There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.{6} The Government newspaper{1}.

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