During your visit in the Cayman Islands, you will hear many stories about the history and culture of the islands. Woven throughout these tales of years gone by is the underlying foundation of a spiritual faith in God and a life of dedication to the church. That devotion and allegiance to a higher power first arrived in the Cayman Islands in 1845 with the landing of Reverend Hope Waddell and his ship of ministers, hailing from the Presbyterian Church of Jamaica. The group of missionaries were en route to Calabar, Nigeria when their ship wrecked along the reefs in East End, Grand Cayman. During his time on the island, Reverend Waddell discovered there was no organized church on the island and, upon his return to Jamaica, appealed to the Presbyterian Church for ministerial help.
When he heard of the plight of the Caymanians, and with no one else volunteering, Reverend James Elmslie, minister of the Green Island Church in Jamaica, took it upon himself to answer the calling and set sail for Grand Cayman in September 1846. “If no one else will go, I will go,” Reverend Elmslie reportedly said.
Life in the Cayman Islands proved to be an enormous challenge for the 50-year-old minister but he laboured valiantly, travelling all over the then-desolate Grand Cayman on foot, horseback or boat planting churches throughout the land; of these, Elmslie Memorial United Church was among the first. The building itself was constructed between 1920 and 1922. The site of the church had been home to three other churches prior to its construction; all three were completely devastated by hurricanes. Great thought and consideration was put into the new architectural design and building materials which would be used to construct the historical building now standing as a monument in the center of George Town and remains a place of worship to this day.
Scottish architect R. Gillies was tasked the duty of designing a building that demonstrated its loyalty to God. He worked closely alongside accomplished shipbuilder Rayal “Captain” Bodden, who was commissioned to oversee its construction. Today, the Elmslie Memorial United Church stands in the shape of a cross – a direct reverence for Jesus Christ – and portrays its respect for the maritime history of the islands with a ceiling in the shape up the upturned hull of a ship. With most buildings and homes in the Cayman Islands still being built of wattle and daub, the Elmslie Memorial United Church was the first building in Grand Cayman to be built of concrete blocks and cement, and with each block being made by hand, the entire construction process was certainly long and tedious.
The Elmslie Memorial Church first opened its doors for worship on 5 December 1922. It stands as a building of national historic interest and was recognized as such by the Cayman Islands National Trust in 1996 during the unveiling of a plaque on the church’s exterior wall.
Explore the history of the Elmslie Memorial United Church at 48 Harbour Drive in George Town, Grand Cayman or learn more about the church by visiting elmsliechurch.org.ky.
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Published: Skies Magazine, July 2014
Cover Photo Credit: Ann Stafford, 1973