150 Years as a Diocese

HISTORY OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH
IN

THE BAHAMAS AND THE TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS

 

The presence of the Anglican Church can be traced from the early beginnings of Bahamian History. The Eleutherian Adventurers after 1647 made the first settlement of the English after these islands had been more or less abandoned by the Spaniards who had eliminated the early Lucayan population. It is said that the Eleutherian Adventurers included two Anglican priests, Stephen Painter and Nathaniel White, who had left the church. In 1670 the Bahamas was granted to the Lord Proprietors of Carolina by the English Crown. Among the requirements of this Grant was the establishment of churches in the islands. Christ Church Cathedral dates from 1670.

 On April 12, 1731 Mr. William Guy, a missionary from South Carolina, visited the Bahamas to administer to the spiritual and sacramental needs of the inhabitants.

Mention has also been made of Thomas Curphey, the garrison chaplain, who was subsequently ordained by the Bishop of Gloucester to the diaconate and priesthood between 1721 and 1723. In residence was a Reverend Halton who caused Governor Elias Haskett (1700-1702) some concern. Reverend William Smith of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel was the first missionary of S.P.G. sent to the Bahamas and arrived in 1737.

As stated earlier, the presence of the Anglican Church in The Bahamas can be traced to the earliest English settlement but it was in 1729, with the arrival of the first Royal Governor, Woodes Rogers, that the church was established by law. According to Rogers' Royal Instructions, the Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson (1723 - 1748) became technically Bishop of the Bahamas. On September 6, 1734, the entire Bahamas was erected into one parish of Christ Church. In 1768, St. John's Parish was created a second Parish which was made up of Harbour Island and Eleuthera. This can be attested to by visiting the Parish Church of St. John at Harbour Island dating back to the early eighteenth century. The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (formerly the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) was in those early days generous in providing missionaries, priests especially from 1733 - 1807 and from 1836 until modern times. In addition the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and Dr. Bray's Associates contributed generously to the building up of the Church in The Bahamas. In 1824 the Diocese of Jamaica was created and The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands were incorporated in this Diocese. An Act of The Bahamas Legislature of 30th January, 1826 recognized the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Jamaica, Christopher Lipscombe, over the clergy in the Bahamas. Bishop Lipscomb visited the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands four times in 1826, 1830, 1834 and 1839. The Bahamas was elevated to an Archdeaconry in 1844 by Aubrey George Spencer, second Bishop of Jamaica who also appointed the Rev. John McCammon Trew as Archdeacon in the Bahamas. The Archdeacon lived in The Bahamas from 1844 to 1857, when he returned home to Ireland. Bishop Spencer visited the Bahamas five times in 1845, 1847, 1848, 1850 and 1852. The Lord Bishop of Kingston, Reginald Courtney, was the last Bishop from Jamaica to visit The Bahamas as Diocesan.

The people in the Bahamas were not satisfied with the occasional visits of the Bishops from Jamaica added to which was dissatisfaction over the decision of Bishop Spencer in 1850 in regards to the Burial Ground Controversy. Bahamians began to see the need for a bishop of their own. In 1848, The Turks and Caicos Islands seceded from the Bahamas and later came under the jurisdiction of Jamaica, although remaining under the Archdeaconry of the Bahamas. On 4th November 1861, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands became a separate diocese. Dr. Charles Caulfield, the successor of Archdeacon Trew was consecrated the first Bishop of Nassau, in Lambeth Palace (The London Residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury) on November 24, 1861. The new bishop arrived in Nassau in May, 1862 and Nassau by Letters Patent became a city. The Letters Patent were proclaimed with much ceremony on the steps of the public buildings by the Provost Marshall, and were read in Christ Church Cathedral in the presence of a large number of parishioners and government officials on 17th June, 1862, in the Cathedral. Six priests took the oath of allegiance to their bishop. Unfortunately the first bishop of the diocese died prematurely in September 1862 of Yellow Fever. He was succeeded by Addington Robert Peel Venables (nephew of Sir Robert Peel).

In spite of setbacks from time to time, The Church has continued to be a tower of strength to the Bahamian Community.

Since its creation as a Diocese in 1861, The Diocese has intensified its ministries of pastoral care and education in conveying its mission in these islands. From its earliest years, the church has established primary and secondary schools. The latter ones continued until the early years of the 1930's.

During the episcopacy of Bishop Spence Burton S.S.J.E., The Diocese returned to the field of secondary education after a lapse of many years. A diocesan high school called St. John's College (After the Patron Saint of the Diocese St. John the Baptist) was established in 1947. This was followed a few years later (1955) by St. Anne's High School which started out as a parochial venture under Canon Pugh. There are two other schools – Bishop Michael High School at Freeport, Grand Bahama and St. Andrew’s Junior High at Georgetown, Exuma.

On 24th June 1971 Michael Hartley Eldon was consecrated Suffragan Bishop with the title Bishop of New Providence. Less than a year later on April 20, 1972 the Diocesan Synod unanimously elected Michael H. Eldon as 11th Bishop of Nassau and the Bahamas including the Turks and Caicos Islands and the first Bahamian Bishop of this Diocese. Similarly, on 1st September, 1996 the Rt. Reverend Drexel Gomez, former Bishop of Barbados, succeeded Bishop Eldon as Diocesan Bishop. Bishop Gomez, who had been Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese prior to his elevation, became the first Bahamian to be elevated as Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies on October 20, 1998.

Bishop Laish Boyd was elected Coadjutor on June 29, 2006 and became Diocesan Bishop on January 1, 2009.

To date this Diocese has had thirteen diocesan bishops. There have been two Suffragan Bishops, the Rt. Rev’d. Michael H. Eldon and the Rt. Rev’d. Gilbert A. Thompson. Two other Bahamians have been elevated to the episcopacy: the late Donald Knowles, Bishop of Antigua and the Rt. Reverend Cornel J. Moss who currently serves as Bishop of Guyana.

 

DIOCESAN BISHOPS                                EPISCOPACY

Charles Caulfield                                            1861-1862

Addington Robert Peel Venables                   1864-1876

F.A.R.C. Cramer Roberts                               1878-1885

Edward Churton                                             1886-1900

Henry Norris Churton                                     1902-1904

Wilfred Bird Hornby                                        1904-1918

Roscow Shedden                                           1919-1931

John Dauglish                                                 1932-1942

Spence Burton, S.S.J.E.                                 1942-1961

Bernard Markham                                           1962-1972

Michael H. Eldon                                            1972-1996

Drexel W. Gomez                                           1996-2008

Laish Boyd Sr.                                                 2009 – present

During these hundreds of years the clergy and missionaries of this scattered Diocese have ministered to all and sundry, high and low in all sorts of circumstances and some have been in perils of the deep and lost their lives providing the gospel to our Bahamian people.

The Anglican Church in the Bahamas has been integrally involved with the life of the nation since inception. Imitating the English model of the Crown as head of national life which included church and state, Royal Governors have forwarded the development of the political, social, cultural and educational life. The English clergy have assisted the Governors and Parliament in cultivating ordered societies based on Christian principals and the rule of law. The Book of Common Prayer which contained a moral code of conduct through its Catechism dictated the duties of man to God and his neighbour. The priests and educated Anglican Catechists and Lay Readers were in the vanguard of instructing the citizenry in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Schools were established by the Church in the eighteenth century in order to enable students to enter English Universities. Other schools were introduced for instructing white, persons of colour and black free persons. Some children of slaves also attended. Bear in mind that this is long before there was any Board of Education, Ministry of Education or any other formal educational effort organised by the state.

Members of the Anglican Communion have always been in the fore-front of the total life of the community through providing teachers, doctors, musicians, athletes, lawyers, politicians, nurses, carpenters and in the sharing of many different talents and skills. The early priests and the present ones are still in our schools – Government and Church – in continuing the tradition of education. Many Anglican politicians in both Chambers continue in making contributions to national life. So it is also with many of our top-ranked and other civil servants and persons all over the private sector.

We have produced leaders in the Arts and Culture. Our Junkanoo development to the present stage was greatly influenced by Anglicans. The Charges made by our Bishops at the opening of Synod and other directives still help to direct the course of our nation.

We can rightly say that the Anglican Church in The Bahamas and in The Turks and Caicos Islands has been true to its calling and mandate as given to us by our Lord and Saviour himself: " Go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I give you". Matthew 28:19-20.