February 28, 2009

06CN: From Adventist Pastor to Chief of State

From Adventist Pastor to Chief of State
Patrick Allen, Jamaican of humble origins, now is Governor-General

BY MARK A. KELLNER, news editor, Adventist Review,
reporting from Kingston, Jamaica

capChange came softly on a Caribbean breeze February 26 as the nation of Jamaica installed a Seventh-day Adventist pastor as its Governor-General, or head of state, in a solemn ceremony attended by thousands and broadcast nationally.

Patrick Linton Allen, until recently president of the West Indies Union became the sixth Governor-General as a band from the Jamaica Defense Forces played the national song and a choir from Adventist-owned Northern Caribbean University sang.

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ALLENS, HALLS: Mrs. Patricia Allen, Lady Hall, Patrick Allen, Sir Kenneth Hall at King’s House, Kingston, Jamaica.

Allen was named to the position on January 13, under recommendation of Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding and the approval of Queen Elizabeth II, whom Allen will represent on the island. He replaces Sir Kenneth Hall, a professor and educational administrator, who is retiring for health reasons.

Allen’s new job also involves appointing and disciplining officers of the civil service, and calling or dismissing the Parliament. As the Daily Observer noted in a front-page story announcing Allen’s inauguration, his “assent is necessary for laws to come into effect” and “only in a few cases is he empowered to act on his own discretion.”

Allen is a native of Fruitful Vale, in the Portland district, and a three-time graduate of Adventist-owned Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. He served as union conference president since 2000, as well as serving as chairman of Northern Caribbean University board of directors. Derek Bignall, who gave the benediction at the installation, has succeeded Allen in both posts.

The installation brings to two the number of people from the Seventh-day Adventist Church to serve as a Governor-General in the Caribbean. The other was Sir James Carlisle, a dentist and layman, who is the former Governor-General of Antigua and Barbuda, having served from 1993 to 2007.

Ceremony and tradition were hallmarks of the event, which began in sunlight following a mid-afternoon rain and ended after sunset. Prime Minister Golding and his wife, Lorna, a Seventh-day Adventist, were in attendance, along with opposition leader Portia Simpson Miller, M.P., former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, former Governor-General Sir Howard Cooke, and a raft of other national leaders. Regional dignitaries included the Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis, and the presidents of Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Allen takes office at a time of great national concern here: the economy, as with much of the world’s trade, is in upheaval, with tourism and trade affected by the slowdown in the United States, Britain, and Europe. Crime and violence are also issues; the morning of Allen’s inauguration brought front-page news of a violent death at a party boat in Kingston harbor.
“Jamaicans are hurting – economically, financially, socially, mentally, and spiritually,” Allen allowed in a speech delivered at the conclusion of the installation ceremony. His address sounded several traditional Adventist themes, albeit couched in appropriately secular language.

In focusing on the economic situation, he noted: “Should not this challenge us to find alternate ways of providing for ourselves by using the natural resources with which we are blessed: water, land, fertile soil, and good climate all year round? This may also be the opportunity for us to feed ourselves, rely less on imported goods, promote a healthier lifestyle, and improve the quality of our diet by eating more of what we grow from the soil.”

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P.M. Golding Speaks: Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding addresses crowd at installation of Patrick Allen as the nation’s sixth Governor-General

On the continued violence in Jamaica, he said the nation has room “for conversations … in order to resolve our disputes without resorting to the use of violence. We have a reputation of being friendly to visitors, so why can’t we get along with each other and help each other?”

And, he said, “we must embrace the values that will develop a just society and define us as a people – respect, fairness, punctuality, forgiveness, sharing, caring, and lending a helping hand.”

“The well-being and welfare of Jamaica must be our primary concern,” Allen declared in his remarks. “We must repair the ills that threaten to divide, separate, and destroy us. We must appeal to our better nature and restore mutual respect for each other.”

He said, “every one of us has to participate in the healing, the restoration, and ultimately, the prosperity of this nation. There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.”

Prime Minister Golding said “our Governor-General serves as an icon of national unity, someone who stands above partisan and sectoral differences, someone who embraces the entire nation and whom the entire nation can embrace.”

The appointment of a Seventh-day Adventist pastor to this post – which Golding said would become president should Jamaicans approve a referendum changing the nation to a republic – “is a testimony to the pluralistic, multi-denominational character of our society and reflects the true spirit and hope of our nation that anyone, regardless of color, class or creed, and however humble one’s beginnings, can rise to occupy the highest office in our land.”

Allen noted this himself, saying, “it would be remiss of me not to mention the persons in this audience and elsewhere who have contributed, in one way or another” to his life’s development.

“As a boy from a modest family in the far reaches of the Portland community of Fruitful Vale, I have taken one step at a time toward my goals,” Allen said, “…not wondering where the next step would lead me.”

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CROWD OF WITNESSES: Part of the crowd of thousands who witnessed the installation of Patrick Allen as Governor General of Jamaica

Earlier in the week, according to the Jamaica Information Service, the government’s news agency, Allen told Adventist leaders at Northern Caribbean University “the decision to accept the Prime Minister's offer was not easily reached, but was the result of much prayer and agonizing.

“’We are confident that the path that we are now ready to pursue, will be alright because God is leading. It is the Lord's doing, and not ours,’” the JIS quoted Allen as saying.

As Allen concluded his remarks, he offered a commitment to his nation and his people, saying, “I believe in Jamaica. I believe in the people of Jamaica. I am committed to doing my best as I carry out my responsibilities. I am confident of the support of my wife and best friend, Patricia, as I uphold the dignity of this office, and the confidence which has been placed in me.”

Seventh-day Adventists have a long tradition in Jamaica and church members comprise approximately 12 percent of the population here. Allen’s sectarian roots stirred some controversy on his appointment, but in an editorial, the local Gleaner newspaper said “we do not, however, share the expressed fears about Dr. Allen, a highly intelligent and decent human being, who will be guided by the Constitution and the law and the appropriate balance of public sentiment.”

The newspaper also published a letter to the editor wishing Allen well: “I am hoping that the kind of sympathy and care he showed as a pastor will be transferred to his new role,” wrote Dave McFarlance of Manchester.