A packed Webster Memorial Baptist Church in Granville, St James, appeared stunned as an outspoken preacher railed against the conventional wisdom, declaring that “the church’s place is not in crime fighting”.
Rev Johnathan Hemmings, pastor of the century-old Ocho Rios Baptist Church, St Ann, also used the occasion to lash politicians who could not be humble enough to admit when they were wrong.
“…I take issue with the people who are asking what is the church doing about crime-fighting, as if they expect that the church should be involved in crime-fighting,” Rev Hemmings said, as the church suddenly went quiet, with some members of the congregation looking quizzically at each other.
“The church’s place is not in crime-fighting. We are not trained for it,” continued Hemmings, a former pastor of the Granville Church where he was delivering the sermon at the funeral service for ex-councillor Clifford “Dockey” Cunningham last Saturday.
Cunningham, who died on March 2, aged 67, lived all his life in Granville, which is historically regarded as a cultural and political centre of St James. He served as a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor between 1981 and 1986, earning the love and respect of the community for his lifetime of service and commitment.
He was eulogised as a man with a heart for people and who, as a justice of the peace and businessman, could not say no to the unending stream of people seeking his service or his assistance in many different areas of life.
In his preamble to the sermon, Rev Hemmings said he didn’t seek to be controversial but at the same time he wasn’t afraid of being controversial, clearly anticipating that his declaration that the church was not a crime-fighting machine would not find favour with some.
“The church’s place, rightly, is in peace-making. When it (the church) is faithful in leading the nation to peace-making, there will be a reduction in the need for crime-fighting,” he argued, noting that crime-fighting was more than signing peace treaties or staging peace marches.
“Peace-making must see us working for justice, advocacy, mercy, and counselling humility. Whenever these are absent from any society, we are always going to have a problem with crime and violence,” Rev Hemmings insisted.
He suggested that the political leaders had a wonderful opportunity to be peace-makers by virtue of their offices, as well as to do more to secure justice and mercy for the weak and vulnerable.
The pastor drew prolonged applause when he urged political leaders to “learn the art of humility”, lamenting that too often “our politicians come across as reflecting leaders who are not humble enough to admit when they are wrong”.
Cunningham’s daughters, Crystal and Michelle, were among those paying emotional tribute to their father. His brother Ronald Cunningham, an outstanding citizen of Mississauga near Toronto, and sister Joy Cunningham-Phillips flew in from Canada to join the tributes.
Also speaking in glowing terms of Dockey Cunningham were Mayor of Montego Bay Homer Davis; former councillor Ian Hill; and Leslie McNish on behalf of the community and the Webster Memorial Baptist Church of which he was a member.
The large body of mourners who packed and overflowed the church included former MoBay mayors Shalmon Scott and Noel Donaldson; ex-wives Pauline Cunningham and Sonia Bennett; sons Cloyde and Conrod Cunningham; brothers Glaister Cunningham and Bradley Cunningham; cousins Vilma Brown and Eltha Brown; and niece Brittany Phillips, among other family members and friends.
Officiating ministers were Rev Godfrey Francis and Rev Ephraim Morgan. Paulette Heron read the lesson and organist was Lorna Morgan.
Interment took place at Hillview Memorial Gardens, Moore Park, St James.