Christianity was introduced to Jamaica with Roman Catholicism through Spanish plunderers. In 1655, the British plundered and Church of England (later called the Anglican Church) became the state church. In 1754 the Moravians landed in Black River as the first missionaries, and devoted themselves to the conversion of Jamaica’s non-white population. They were followed by other groups – Baptists in 1783, Methodists in 1789, and Presbyterians in the early 19th century.
Because these non-conformist denominations preached a message of equality for all men, they met with extreme and at times violent opposition from the slave-owning class and the state church.
In 1860, there was intense religious activity called the Great Revival. It started in the non-conformist churches, using vibrant evangelism to spread Christianity throughout the country.
In this time of religious fervour, African elements and rituals (whuich were still entrenched in the lives of the ex-slaves) intermingled with Christian beliefs, and the outcome was a genuinely Jamaican religion called Revival. It features spirit possession, and music as a central feature of the worship experience. The two branches of Revival are known as Revival Zion and Pukumina (Pocomania).
In 1872 the Church of England was disestablished as the state church. Newer denominations such as Salvation Army, African Methodist Episcopal (AME Zion), Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Mormons and Bahai came in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The largest single denomination in Jamaica today, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, came to Jamaica in 1894. The Pentecostal movement started in Jamaica from about 1918. It blossomed in the 1940’s when missionaries from America came to the island during an upsurge in American Revivalism.
Pentecostalism appealed to the poor who had been alienated by the established churches. It encompasses many fundamentalist groups that interpret all of the Bible as literal truth, and emphasise the experience of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the late 20th century and into the 21st century, many more churches and denominations have been established. These are often movements that break away from previously established churches. Many start out as Crusades, held under a tent.
Although the Seventh Day Adventists (who worship on a Saturday) are the largest denomination, they are far outnumbered by Sunday worshippers, most of whom belong to the Pentecostal movement.