The Cathedral Church of St. John the Baptist, 1812 - 2012, Through the Ages.
Following appeals by the Rev. Mr. Peat, Rector of Jamestown, Jamaica, the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel (in Foreign Parts), SPG (now USPG), sent a succession of missionaries to work among the Indian tribes of the Mosquito Coast, Nicaragua. The missionaries started to arrive in 1747, but most succumbed to the harsh conditions of the region. Among them was the Rev. Robert Shaw who, due to illness, was forced to return to England in 1776. On his way he made a stop in the Belize Settlement then comprising of British Buccaneers living on St. George's Caye which was located a few miles offshore the mainland. Shaw stayed on to become the first chaplain of Belize.
In March 1794, the Rev. William Stanford succeeded Shaw, as chaplain of the settlement which was located on the mainland, today's Belize City. He served until 1809.
Coinciding with the arrival of the Rev. John Armstrong to replace Stanford in 1812, the foundation stone of what was to become the Church of St. John the Baptist was laid by the then Superintendent Lt. Colonel John Nugent Smyth on July 20th. By 1817 the magistrates were petitioning for assistance for the completion of the building. In 1818 the SYG approved £ 200 for the project. On 13th April, 1826 the building was consecrated by Rt. Rev. Christopher Lipscombe, Bishop of Jamaica. Two years earlier, in 1824, Armstrong was replaced by Rev. Dr. Matthew Newport. Newport was to make the settlement his home for the next 36 years.
In 1851, a small wooden Church building, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, was erected on the north side of the expanding town. It was consecrated by Bishop Aubrey George Spencer of Jamaica in 1852. (This was later replaced by a new building which was consecrated in 1890). The Rev. F. R. Murray, later to become Archdeacon of the Diocese, was appointed Rector of St. Mary's.
In 1868, the Rev. A. T. Giolme was sent to Corozal, opening missions to the north of the country.
By ordinance, on 2nd August, 1872 the Anglican church was also established following that of the Church in Jamaica in 1870. On 10th August, 1883 through Instrument of the Archbishop of Cantebury, Edward White, the Church in Belize was duly consecrated into a separate Bishopric and Diocese. The Bishop of Jamaica, however, continued to exercise jurisdiction over the Diocese until 1891.
The Venerable Archdeacon Henry Redmayne Holme of St. Kitts was consecrated first Bishop of British Honduras in St. Michael's Cathedral, Barbados on March 1, 1891 marking the first such consecration in the West Indies. Holme was succeeded by George Albert Ormsby in 1893. A year later, on January 10, the Diocese was further extended to include Panama, Bolivia, Magdalena, Isthmus of Panama and the City of Panama. Not until 1908 was the jurisdiction of the diocese reduced by transferring the Isthmus of Panama and all areas south of it to the jurisdiction of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA. Between 1947 and 1957 the Diocese was further reduced by transferring Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church of the USA.
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; and is a member of both the Belize Council of Churches (BCC) and the Caribbean Council of Churches (CCC). Starting in 1975, the Diocese of Belize established a 'companion relationship' with the Diocese of New York. This was to be followed with a similar relationship with the Diocese of North Carolina (1984-1993), Georgia (1990-1996), and Los Angeles (1996-present). These organizations 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 the companion relationships. The USPG remains active in the Diocese. It presently supports 'mission partners' in fields of parish ministry, medical care, administration, and social work. The Church is also seeking to establish relations with the newly formed Province consisting of Episcopal Diocese of Central American countries. Today the Diocese of Belize is made up of ten parishes and seventeen 'missions' in the six districts of the country. The Belize district has four parishes: three in the city and one in the rural area. There are two parishes in the Cayo district and one each in Orange Walk, Corozal, Stann Creek, and Toledo. The 'missions' are scattered throughout the country. Outreach ministries have been started in the predominantly Spanish speaking areas of the Cayo district. Work has also begun in the Maya communities of the Toledo district and in the Garifuna communities of Stann Creek.
The Church has long been involved in the field of education, establishing several schools from the early nineteenth century. It now manages, with the financial support of the government, fifteen primary schools, six pre-schools, and one high school catering to students from almost every ethnic and cultural background. The role of the Church itself in the life of the schools has gone well beyond simply running a scholarship to needy children and assists with the feeding programs in the majority of schools. It also sponsors a weekly Soup Kitchen and has organized Addiction Recovery Seminars as Outreach programmes.