- The tiny nation of Belize was an English enclave when Spain controlled most of Central America. Pirates used its protected coast as a base to launch raids against Spanish ships. It evolved into the colony of British Honduras, and since attaining independence in 1981 has remained in the British Commonwealth. until recently, it was the only Central American country where Protestantism prevailed.The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts commissioned the first Anglican clergymen in the 1770s. Their primary task was to tend to the spiritual needs of British citizens, and not much attention was paid to evangelizing the indigenous population. Methodism was imported in the early 1800s by the layman William Jeckel, who organized several churches. The first Methodist preacher came in 1824.In 1822, British Baptists commissioned Joseph Bourne and his wife to evangelize the resident Africans both slave and free. At the time, all but 300 of the colony's 4,500 recorded inhabitants were African, about half of them freemen. The early Methodist and Baptist churches both suffered from periodic fires and hurricanes. The British Baptists withdrew support in 1850, leaving the work to the one man who chose to stay, Alexander Henderson, who toiled for the next 25 years until failing health forced retirement. A thin thread of leadership continued the church until the Jamaican Baptists took responsibility for Belize. Robert Cleghorn arrived in 1889 to begin a half century of distinguished service.The Seventh-day Adventist Church arrived in 1927, eventually overtaking the Anglicans as the second-largest religious group. Pentecostalism has done quite well, though its work is scattered among a half dozen groups, the Assemblies of God being the largest with some 3,000 members.Beginning in the 1950s, Mennonites from across North America began to arrive and establish agricultural colonies. Most represented either the Old Colony Mennonites (Reinlanders) or the Kleinegemeinde (Little Brotherhood), who had retained their use of German. The 1961 hurricane that devastated Belize brought in other Mennon-ites as relief workers, and some stayed to create a permanent presence in Belize City and support an outreach effort among the native population.The Belize Christian Council includes the more liberally minded Protestant churches along with the Roman Catholics (who represent 60 percent of the population). it is affiliated with the World Council of Churches. As with other countries relatively close to the United States, Belize has welcomed into its land representatives of the whole spectrum of Protestant and Free Church life.See also Central America.Further reading:■ Robert Cleghorn, A Brief History of Baptist Missionary Work in British Honduras (1822-1939) (London: Kingsgate Press, 1939)■ Clifton L. Holland, ed., World Christianity: Central America and the Caribbean (Monrovia, Calif.: MARC-World Vision, 1981)■ W. R. Johnson, A History of Christianity in Belize: 1776-1838 (New York: University Press of America, 1985).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.