Messenger catches up with former leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada. In this issue we talk with Fitzroy Maitland.
What was your childhood like growing up in the Caribbean?
I was born in Grenada, the island of spice with everything nice. I was born into a large family. I am the third of nine children and the first boy in my family. I had four brothers and four sisters. But since then, I have lost one in death. So now I have four sisters and three brothers.
Can you share a little about your family life? Thankfully, I was born into an Adventist family. My mother and father were faithful members of the St. George’s Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grenada. They took us to Sabbath school faithfully, so we know what it is to be nurtured in an Adventist home. We know what it is to have to wake up to have worship at 5 a.m. and then help our parents get ready for early morning chores, before getting ready for school. This was the routine for most of my life growing up until I got into high school, and the deeper I got into high school, the more this diminished. My excuse was “Dad, I have to study more now, so I can’t go with you to the gardens in the morning.” But we never stopped worshipping. Morning worship mainly was something that we always practiced in our home. Our parents believed in giving us a good foundation. It is said that there are two things you can give children: roots and wings. Our parents gave us good roots so that we could grow our wings to fly.
Where did you study? When I finished at Grenada Boys Secondary School, I went on to study at Trinidad Union College. I felt the Lord was leading me in that direction. I thought that I had more to offer in saving souls than just to instruct young people and give them information. I felt the call was for salvation, rather than for information. So at the age of 21 I went to school to study theology. I graduated two years later, because at that time, the college offered theology only as an associate degree. I graduated and finished school at age 23 and went into the field.
Tell us about the ministry in Trinidad that you started. Thankfully, when I started in 1966, Dr. Earl Cleveland came to Trinidad and held an evangelistic series for 11 weeks. Those of us who graduated that year were asked to be a part of the evangelistic team with Dr. Cleveland. It was a good start for me in ministry. I learned so much in the three-month program that he ran. When he left Trinidad, he had baptized almost a thousand people. We were all delighted to be a part of it, but upon leaving, we felt that evangelism would never be the same again, and we would never be the same. From there I launched an evangelistic career, which I believed the Lord was calling me to. I stayed in Trinidad for a year longer and did more evangelism with a couple of pastors. Then I was posted by the South Caribbean Conference to work in St. Vincent. I worked there for three years and got married to my wife, Janice, who was working in Trinidad at the time. She joined me in St. Vincent, where we had our first child: my son Ronald. After four years of ministry, at the age of 27, I was an ordained pastor. I began working in Trinidad in the pastoral district in Arima.
Tell us about the churches you helped plant in Canada.
Before coming to Canada, I worked in Trinidad for 12 years as a district pastor doing pastoral evangelistic work, and then I became the youth director of the East Caribbean Conference in Barbados, where I worked for three years. While working as a pastor, I baptized over a hundred in each of the evangelistic series that I held. I planted two churches before my wife felt the urge that it was time to go on to study. That’s what brought us to North America. In March of 1981, I came to Canada. After coming to Toronto, in that first evangelistic series, we baptized 135 souls. After everything had settled, we planted a church called Kingston Road (which eventually came to be called Beulah and then joined with another church and eventually became Shiloh). They told me afterwards that it was the first time that over 100 souls were baptized at an evangelistic series in Canada. It wasn’t that I was the greatest preacher who showed up; I think I came at a time when the ground was ripe. The harvest was ripe and ready for someone to come and reap it, so I came in as a reaper, at the right time. There were several people who had gone head of me, planting, cultivating, watering, nurturing. That’s why we were able to plant the Kingston Road church. Two years after the Kingston church, we also planted the Berea church, and they both came out of Toronto East. Toronto East was the parent church. In later years I was asked to come to the Ontario Conference as the personal ministries director and then the ministerial secretary. I thought there was a need for another church somewhere between Scarborough and Whitby Kendlawood, and so we planted the church in Pickering called Agape Temple.
What service positions have you held in Canada? Well when I came to Canada, I began as the pastor of the Toronto East church. Subsequently, the Ontario Conference asked me to be the conference evangelist, because they thought that I may be able to make a contribution in evangelism. I did this for two years, from 1984–1986, and then from 1986–1990 I was the personal ministries/Sabbath school and stewardship director for the conference. Then from 1990–1994, I was the ministerial director, and then from 1994–1999, I went back into the field as a pastor. I was the pastor of Meadowvale church and then the Toronto West church before going to Trinidad. Then I returned from Trinidad in 2004, and I have been the pastor of the Philadelphia church in Scarborough from that time until the present.
Describe your thoughts about having to rent a building for the Philadelphia church congregation for so long and now finally having your own church building. God is very unpredictable. While I was ministerial director of the conference, we started the Philadelphia church. When I came back from Trinidad, they needed a pastor, so the conference asked me whether I would be willing to go and pastor Philadelphia church. I said, “Sure, Philadelphia, here I come!” So when I got there, I knew the church had been renting for a long time, for about 10 to 12 years, about 11 years, actually, before I got there. After searching, praying, fasting and doing everything that we could have, the Lord opened the door for us. We have a building that we can call our own now, to the glory of God. It took a lot of patience, work, sleepless nights, meetings and a lot of looking—I can count on double fingers the number of buildings that we went to. On December 15, 2011, we claimed ownership of that church, of the building that we bought in Scarborough. This was 19 years later. Last year, we celebrated our 20th anniversary of the start of the Philadelphia church. All along I was praying, “Oh, Lord, help us not to have 20 years in the wilderness!” It’s a breath of fresh air that flows through that church. We went in there singing, “To God be the glory; great things He hath done!”
What is the most noteworthy moment that you can recall over the years? One that I recall, that has been etched in my memory, is the death of my son. Soon after we came to Canada, we lost our youngest child. He had a brain aneurism that suddenly erupted, and in three days, he died. It happened when he was eight years old. The loss of a son at the age of eight was something that traumatized us. I remember preaching at the funeral. I told the church members that I’m not preaching because I have to preach, but because I want to preach. I did it because I believed that I ought to be a role model in ministry. God gave me the strength to do that. And so I preached, and we buried him. Years later people were still asking about the sermon that I preached at my son’s funeral. In fact, when my treasurer lost his 19-year-old child some years later, he said, “Can you preach that same sermon that you preached at your son’s funeral for us?” Because we can still recall the comfort that it brought us. So it comforted me and it comforted them, and we all were comforted. So that was a significant milestone that happened in our lives.
Where are you now? We are continuing ministry. My wife has been with me throughout the years. While she continues in her own professional role as superintendent of education at the Ontario conference, I pastor at Philadelphia church. We have a church of over 600 members, and we are constantly growing. We believe that evangelism is the lifeblood of the church. We are constantly baptizing people and opening the doors of the church and bringing them to know Jesus. So that’s what Philadelphia is all about. The church of brotherly love. We try to live up to our name. Teaching people how to share God’s love. Not just saying it but acting it. So Philadelphia: hopefully in name and experience.
Interview by: Alexandra Yeboah, Messenger Staff Writer