Horace Russell, giant of the Church, dies at 91

Jamaican theologian the Rev Dr Horace Russell passed away on Monday, leaving behind a legacy in education and leadership that spanned his island home and the United States.

Russell was 91.

In his last interview with The Gleaner in January, he revealed that he had been recovering from a stroke.

Elizabeth Russell-McKenzie, his daughter, said he was a proud son of Jamaica.

“He paved the way for many and led by example, sharing what it means to truly love and give to others. He walked with kings, but never forgot his roots,” she told The Gleaner Tuesday evening.

His wife of 63 years, Beryl, said he paved the way for many, especially those whom others did not see.

“Through his efforts, they became their better selves, always with humility, never with arrogance,” said Mrs Russell.

The Baptist World Alliance, in a statement said it was saddened by his death.

“Horace Russell can be described as one who bore the brunt of being first in many things,” said the Alliance statement.

It referred to him as a Caribbean pioneer who helped to shape a regional vision and identity. He was also praised for being at the forefront of forging a Caribbean theology for more than 50 years.

“He was a renaissance man, a man for all seasons,” said the Alliance.

Horace Orlando Russell was born on November 3, 1929 in Clarendon to the Reverend Cleveland Augustus Russell, a Baptist minister, and Rowena Nerissa Russell, nee Gordon.

Young Russell spent much of his early years in the Richmond Vale community in St Thomas area where his father served for many years.

Russell, who followed in the footsteps of his father as a Baptist minister, was widely known for his ministry as pastor of the East Queen Street Baptist Church in Kingston where he served from 1976 to 1989. He cast a giant shadow in central Kingston and is still remembered fondly for his ministry by the residents of that community.

Prior to serving as pastor of East Queen Street Baptist Church, he was president of the United Theological College from 1972 to 1976, the first black person to hold that position.

He migrated to the United States in 1989 settling in the Pennsylvania area. He was professor of Historical Theology and Dean of Chapel.

He later served as pastor of Saints Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia until his retirement a few years ago.

PIONEERING VOICE

Russell did not confine his Christian witness to the Jamaica Baptist Union, 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 in 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 chaplain of Calabar High School, his alma mater, and tutor at Calabar College and United Theological College of the West Indies (UTCWI).

Russell 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 on 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.

Russell 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. He was also the former columnist of The Gleaner.

A graduate of Calabar High School, Russell also attended Wolmer’s Boys’ School and Calabar Theological College before matriculating to Oxford University, where he earned his PhD in theology.

Russell also leaves behind son Jonathan, and daughter Heater, as well as six grandchildren.

The theologian was inducted into the Order of Distinction, Commander class. He also published a number of books as well as papers on religion.

editorial@gleanerjm.com