Memories of Jamaica published

16.12.2022 | Mission News, Global Mission, Moderator, Presbyterian Women, Church Life

The life, work and ministry of Claire Trueman, one of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) overseas mission workers, has been celebrated with the launch of her memoir ‘Wonderful Years – Memories of Jamaica over the years’ by the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland (PHSI) and PCI’s Council for Global Mission.

One of around 35 men and women who went to Jamaica from PCI between 1858 and 1988, Claire arrived three months after the island’s independence from Britain 60 years ago. Born in Rostrevor, County Down, in 1938 it was while she was training to be a teacher at Stranmillis College in Belfast that she believed that God – in her own words – “was calling me to climb farther.” As she recounts in her memoire, ‘I wrestled with this call throughout College and while in my first teaching job I finally disposed of all twenty plus excuses and…surrendered to my call. From that moment on I had peace in my soul. The next question was, “Where does God want me to go?”

Claire soon had a response when she received a call from the Presbyterian Women’s Association (PWA) Mission Secretary asking if she would consider teaching in Jamaica. “That for me was my answer..,” she writes, “…so I said ‘I will go’” beginning her journey to the Caribbean island on her 23rd birthday. After a three week voyage across the Atlantic, on 17 November 1962 the Italian liner the SS Ascania dropped anchor in Kingston Harbour. “From the moment that I set foot on Jamaican soil I knew I was home…” she writes.

Initially Claire taught in a preparatory school in the capital Kingston, a school that was run in those days by the Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, the precursor of today’s United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (United Church). It was just the start of a journey of service to children, young people and adults, in various capacities, that spanned 36 years.

Across just over 100 pages, her story is told through a collection of letters, diary entries, articles, reports, general reflections and poetry, which have been edited by former PCI Moderator Very Rev Dr John Dunlop, who served on the island from 1968 to 1978. Claire’s ministry came to a formal end with her retirement in 1998. Her love for the island and its people, however, didn’t stop there as she chose to make Jamaica her permanent home. Now aged 84, she lives in Mandeville, 60 miles to the west of Kingston.

The book launch took place at Assembly Buildings in Belfast where guests heard a message from Claire, who expressed her appreciation to all who had helped to get the book to this stage, including its editor, Dr Dunlop and Rev Dr Liz Hughes, who also served with her minister husband Brian, working with the United Church on the island. They attended the launch along with others who had served in Jamaica. Esther Parker, President of Presbyterian Women (PW), which is a part of PCI’s women’s ministry and the successor organisation to the PWA, also attended.

Speaking from Jamaica via video link Ms Trueman sent her ‘warm greetings’. “I cannot express enough appreciation to all who made this possible,” she said. “I am so glad I started compiling the book when I did because my memory and technical ability are fading rapidly. It gives me great satisfaction to share just some of my experiences. I received a very clear call to Jamaica which I never doubted. I left my biological family in October 1962…and have been blessed with a much larger family as numerous as the stars. This is my legacy to the United Church, as well as PW, and I sincerely hope who shares it will be enriched.”

Also joining from Jamaica via audio link was the United Church’s General Secretary, Rev Norbert Stephens, who paid tribute to Claire. He also described the book as her legacy to the United Church “…which chronicles her amazing journey of faith, hope and love. By God’s grace, her path is one that was not confined to a church building but she has taken the love of Christ and the heart for mission across Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Mr Stephens concluded by saying, “As a stalwart and a trailblazer in the service of God she has positively influenced the lives of many persons. The Synod of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands honours and salutes Claire Trueman for her wonderful of service and dedication. Truly, an amazing journey. God bless the day you were born!”

Speaking at the launch, PHSI chair, former Moderator Very Rev Dr Michael Barry, said that when the Society heard that Claire had written down her reflections they felt that it was something that should be made more widely available. “Claire’s original manuscript was about twice the length of this booklet, which is being published in full in Jamaica. We thought that for an Irish audience a shorter version would be more appropriate so with the guidance of Dr John Dunlop, one of our Council members and a someone who served in Jamaica, it was abridged into the publication we have launched today. The full manuscript is held in the Society’s library in Belfast and is available for anyone to consult,” he said.

Dr Barry continued, “As a society we endeavour to preserve the heritage of the Presbyterian story within the island of Ireland, making the rich story of Irish Presbyterianism more widely known to the present generation. Along with public lectures, publishing material is therefore an important part of our role and each year we make available a selection of new material. Like Claire’s reflections, we also republish older works, combining the academic discipline of historical studies alongside the telling of the fascinating story of how Presbyterians have contributed to the development and welfare of this island over 400 years and farther afield.”

Also attending the launch of Claire’s book, Rev Uel Marrs, Secretary to the Council for Global Mission, said, “Wonderful Years provides so many insightful snapshots of Claire’s unfailing commitment to serve Christ. It also speaks to us profoundly of a life and witness utterly embedded and completely at home in the local church and communities of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, such hallmarks of long-term missionary service.” The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, who attended as well, closed the meeting in prayer.

Photos: (1) Front cover of Claire Trueman’s book ‘Wonderful Years – Memories of Jamaica over the years’ (2) Very Rev Dr Michael Barry, chair of the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland and guests at the book launch listen to its author live via video link from Jamaica (3) Launching the book are (standing left to right) Dr Michael Barry and Rev Uel Marrs, Secretary to PCI’s Council for Global Mission with (seated) Very Rev Dr John Dunlop who edited the publication and Esther Parker, President of Presbyterian Women (4) the Moderator Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick (centre) with those who launched the book and colleagues who over the years served in Jamaica.

You can order copies of ‘Wonderful Years – Memories of Jamaica over the years’ by Claire Trueman from the PHSI website or call into the Society’s offices at Assembly Buildings, Fisherwick Place, Belfast, BT1 6DW. Alternatively telephone 028 9041 7299.

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