The Diocese of Belize serves as the Anglican Church home for the people of Belize, the new Central American nation in the heart of the Caribbean.
Established in 1883 as a member of the Church of the Province of the West Indies, today the Diocese is comprised of 31 churches spread throughout the country, and is engaged in missionary outreach on a national and international scale. In partnership with the government, we also operate 20 schools across the country.
To help all our members seek Jesus as the Christ and discover the authority within us so as to:
Be faithful stewards of the church and of God’s creation.
To be in fellowship and partnership with all other Christian denominations, bodies, governments and states in creating a nation to love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
To be an open, growing, nurturing and worshipping community of faith for all of our multi-racial and multi-ethnic society.
To proclaim the Gospel of Christ through meaningful programs, to seek the root causes and address crime, violence and other social challenges of the nation.
In some sense, to understand the history of the Anglican Church in Belize, one has to look back to the Indian tribes of the Moskito (or Mosquito) Shore in the mid-eighteenth century. After repeated appeals by the Rev. Mr. Peat, Rector of Jamestown, Jamaica, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) sent a succession of missionaries to work among the Indians. Thsi started sometime after 1747 with the Rev. Nathan Prince. Many of these missionaries did not fair well, succumbing to the harsh conditions and dying shortly after arrival in the region.
The Moskito Coast Mission received the Rev. Robert Shaw in 1774. However, in 1776, due to illness and inability to bear the climate there, Shaw was forced to return to England–being replaced by the Rev. William Standord. On his way from the Moskito Coast, Shaw made a stop in the Belize settlement (the ‘Bay Settlement’) which then comprised of British buccaneers living on St George’s Caye, located a few miles offshore the mainland. Shaw stayed on to become the first chaplain of the Belize settlement.
Shaw’s chaplaincy was interrupted by a Spanish invastion in 1779 from which Shaw escaped to the Moskito Shore. The public records make no mention of a permanent chaplain between the late 1780s and 1794. Ecclesiastical functions were carried out by the magistrates during this period.
In March 1794, Rev. William Stanford was appointed as chaplain. By this time the settlement had moved to the mainland, developing into what became known as Belize Town (today’s Belize City). Despite early confrontations with the settlers and Superintendent, Stanford later became a Police Magistrate. This was a full-time administrative and judicial office in the local government and a most influential position. In 1803, by resolution of the magistrates, and through the efforts of Stanford, public funds were used to support the chaplaincy.
Between 1776 and 1810, the two chaplains (Shaw and Stanford) were more involved in the affairs concerning the government of the settlements than to that of the Church. They were more social stabilizers than evangelists. Yet partly due to their efforts and a growing sense of permanence among the settlers, the settlement was preparing to build a church building, call a rector and establish a school by 1810. on the twentieth of July, 1812, that the foundation stone of what was to become St John’s Cathedral was laid by the then Superintendent, Lt. Colonel John Nugent Smyth. By 1817 the magistrates were petitioning for assistance for the completion of the building. in 1818 the SPG approved $200 for the project.
Around this time the Rev. John Armstrong arrived to replace Standford as the third chaplain of the settlement. His arrival was to produce remarkable changes in the relationship between the Church and the community at large. Armstrong was the product of the Wesleyan-initiated Evangelical Awakening that was taking place in England. Armstrong thus marked the start of the evangelical influence in Belize.
Two years later, in 1814, when the settlement received its new Superintendent in the person of George Arthur, the evangelical influence intensified. Arthur was also an Evangelical Anglican with very strong Calvinist views. He and Armstrong embarked upon a program to reform the society much to the disgust of many of the settlers. He condemned their drunkenness, immorality, cruelty to the slaves and the injustice of their courts.
Armstrong and Arthur did not always agree on certain issues of government, however. Arthur’s constant meddling in Armstrong’s work often created tensions between them. Yet both men were driven by similar religious convictions. They did their best to advance the work of the Church in the settlement by erecting chapels and opening schools. Armstrong periodically expressed his desire to extend his ministry to the Indians near the settlement and at the Moskito Shore, but was never able to pursue this goal.
By 1825 the evangelical influence had all but come to an end following the departure of Arthur and Armstrong, and thanks to the efforts of the majority of the settlers. Arthur was replaced by General Edward Codd, and Armstrong by the Rev. Dr. Matthew Newport in 1824. Newport was ‘a high Churchman of the old eighteenth century type’ who believed in the historic orthodoxy of the Church. His determination to return to traditional Anglicanism characterized the approach to his chaplaincy. He was to make the settlement his home for the next thirty six years.
On the thirteenth of April, 1826, St. John’s Cathedral was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Christopher Lipscombe, Bishop of Jamaica. He had earlier, in July 1824, been consecrated and appointed to the Jamaican See with jurisdiction over the Church in the Belize settlement, with state-supplied stipends for two clergymen. His visit marked the first such visit of a bishop to the Belize settlement.
This relationship with the Diocese of Jamaica proved beneficial for the Church in the Bay Settlement. A grant from the SPG’s Negro Instruction Fund was secured for the erection of a school at Belize Town as part of the effort to provide education for the slaves who were now legally free. SPG missionaries could now also be sent from Jamaica to Belize, such as the Rev. Charles Mortlock in 1844–the first in over forty years.
The expansion of Belize Town to the north in the mid-1800s necessitated the construction of a second church building. A small wooden building was erected on the north side of the town dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin. It was consecrated by Bishop Aubrey George Spencer of Jamaica in 1852.
The Bishop of Jamaica in 1862 sought the support of the SPG in a scheme for the establishment of a mission in Northern British Honduras. By 1868 the bishop was able to send the Rev. A. T. Giolme to Corozal.
On the second of August, 1872, the Anglican Church in British Honduras was disestablished following that of Jamaica in 1870. Some have suggested that by this time the prominence of the Anglican Church was already on the wane due to internal differences within the Church concerning ‘High’ and ‘Low’ church forms of worship; the growing strength of the non-conformists (primarily Methodist and Baptist); and the arrival of the Roman Catholic Church within the influx of the Yucatan refugees. These developments changed the status of the Church in the settlement which then had to become more self-supporting.
The disestablishment of the Churches in Jamaica and British Honduras also placed both Churches under separate jurisdictions. When the Bishop of Jamaica, the Rt. Rev. R. Courtenay, resigned in 1879, his successor, the Rt. Rev. W. G. Tozer, was separately appointed as Bishop of Honduras, holding the title even after he had resigned the Jamaica See. Tozer’s replacement, the Rt. Rev. Enos Nuttal, was then requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury to reorganize the Church in British Honduras. Nuttall succeeded in getting the Colonial Office to make some amendments to the Disestablishment Law thereby securing the property of the Church. During a visit to the colony in 1883, Nuttal was able to supervise the reorganization process.
On the tenth of August, 1883, through Instrument by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Edward White, the Church in Belize was duly constituted into a separate bishopric and diocese. Nuttall of Jamaica continued to exercise jurisdiction over the diocese until 1891.
The Venerable Archdeacon Henry Redmayne Holme was consecrated first bishop of British Honduras in St. Michael’s Cathedral, Barbados, on the first of March 1891. This was the first such consecration in the West Indies. Holme arrived in the colony on the fourth of April but died shortly thereafter. He was succeeded by George Albert Ormsby whose appointment took place in 1983 with the SPG contributing to his stipend.
A year later, on the tenth of January, 1894, Bishop Ormsby’s jurisdiction was extended to include Guatemala, Spanish Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. By 1895 it was further extended to include Panama, Bolivia, Magdalena, Isthmus of Panama, and the City of Panama. Ormsby divided the colony of British Honduras itself into eight large mission districts and had eighteen clergy at work throughout his extended diocese. Grants from the SPG were a great support for these expansions.
Ormsby was succeeded in 1908 by Herbery Bury. At this time the diocese was reduced by transferring the Isthmus of Panama and all areas south of it to the jurisdiction of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA. Bishops to follow Bury included the Rt. Rev. Walter Farrar in 1912, and the Most Rev. Edward Dunn in 1917.
By 1927, Bishop Dunn had ten clergy to serve six countries. Much work was maintained among the Moskito Indians who gave generously to the Church, longing to live under the rule of the Britsh flag, as their ancestors had so done.
The shortage of priests remained, however. In 1930 the Diocese of Derby in England sought to assist by sending priests to work in the Diocese of British Honduras. The Rev. Steven L. Caiger was among the first to go. He first served in British Honduras itself and later in Guatemala. He was followed by the Rev. R. A. Pratt, who later became Archdeacon of Belize.
The 1931 hurricane that devestated the colony caused tremendous damage to church property. The Cathedral, St. Mary’s Church, and their respective rectories were seriously damaged. Again the SPG came to the rescue making a grant from the Marriot Bequest. Further depression set in when the United Fruit Company began to suffer serious losses in the 1930s.
Between 1947 and 1957 the diocese was reduced by transferring Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church of the USA. The diocese was now back to its original geographical area of British Honduras.
In 1973, when the name British Honduras was changed to Belize, the diocese became known as the Anglican Diocese of Belize. It is one of eight dioceses that constitute the Church in the Province of the West Indies (CPWI) which was formed in 1883. The Anglican Church in Belize is a member of both the Belize Council of Churches (BCC) and the Caribbean Council of Churches (CCC). The Church is also seeking to establish relations with a newly formed Province consisting of Episcopal Diocese of Central American countries.
Starting in 1975, the Belize Diocese established a ‘companion relationship’ with the Diocese of New York. This was to be followed with similar relationships with the Dioceses of North Carolina (1984-1993), Georgia (1990-1996), and Los Angeles (1996). Today the diocese maintains a relationship with the Diocese of Southern Virginia. These relationships have consisted primarily of exchange programs involving youth groups and other church organizations. There has also been tremendous financial support for the Diocese of Belize as a result of these companion relationships.
The USPG is also active in the diocese.