‘This is where you belong’

  • Cannon Thomas Nisbett (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Cannon Thomas Nisbett (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Cannon Thomas Nisbett (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Cannon Thomas Nisbett (Photo by Mark Tatem)

Canon Thomas Nisbett would certainly be welcomed with open arms into the local Anglican clergy these days, but 50 years ago was a completely different story.

In 1962, having finished his theology studies at Codrington College in Barbados, he couldn’t find anyone to sponsor his ordination.

His mentor Bishop Anthony Williams, who encouraged him to go to school, resigned without giving Canon Nisbett the consent necessary to be ordained into the church.

“He didn’t issue for my ordination I suppose because I was going to be the first black Anglican priest in the church in Bermuda and I don’t know what pressure he had gotten from certain people in those days.”

His college wrote to others in the Anglican Church to see if they would sponsor him, including Archdeacon John Stowe, formerly of St Peter’s Church, but no-one was willing to make the bold move.

“No-one wants you,” Canon Nisbett was told.

But in a stroke of divine intervention, the Bishop of Barbados Lewis Evans went out on a limb to sponsor him in exchange for two years of work in the Caribbean country.

Canon Nisbett went on to make Bermuda history by becoming the Island’s first black Anglican rector and serving as chaplain to Governor Edwin Leather.

A special service in honour of he and his late wife Winifred will be held at the Cathedral on Saturday at 3pm. The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, will also be hosting a lecture highlighting Canon Nisbett’s work.

Canon Nisbett told The Royal Gazette he returned to the Island briefly after getting the job in Barbados and spoke with new Bishop John Armstrong about his prospects.

“I told [the Bishop] I only want to ask one question and I said ‘Is there a future for me in the church in Bermuda?’

“And he said ‘Yes. I want you back here. This is where you belong, but you go back to Barbados now and you finish off your year-and-a-half there in the diocese and in the meantime we will find a place for you’. The Bishop asked: ‘Would you be happy about that?’ And I said ‘yes’.”

Canon Nisbett then put out his hand to shake; Bishop Armstrong instead gave him a hug and pat on the back.

He said this was one of the experiences that most stuck out in his mind during his long career.

Canon Nisbett attended St Monica’s Mission in Pembroke and was given his first leadership role in the church at an early age, thanks to former lay reader Carl Wade.

After being in the boys choir for a number of years, Mr Wade asked him if he wanted to read the lessons at the morning and evening service. He said he was happy to take over the task, particularly after Mr Wade fell ill for several months.

“I was probably 19 years old. Mr Wade came back after being away from the church for two or three months so he was looking for someone to take his place as the lay reader in charge.”

Primary school founder Victor Scott was in the running for the post, but after seeing Canon Nisbett in action he decided not to pursue the role. “[Dr Scott] told me I conducted the service and had given the address in such a capable manner that he couldn’t think of becoming a lay reader over me.

“I suppose I was nervous [in those days], but I was so accustomed to the church and the people because I first became a choir boy by the age of six or seven.”

There was much segregation in the church and society as a whole back then. When his father Eli had arrived on the Island from his home in the West Indies, he was told that the AME church was for the ‘coloured people’, while the Church of England was largely reserved for the white population.

Still Canon Nisbett said it was always his life’s desire to become a priest in the Anglican church.

“I loved the Anglican church because of the beauty of the worship and so on. I could have joined the AME church and they would have sent me off to Wilberforce University if I just said the word, but no my heart was in the Anglican church.”

Another special moment in his career came in October 1974 when he went to serve at Christ Church in Devonshire.

The clergy were worried high-profile members of the congregation such as Sir John Cox would stop going there to worship.

Sir John not only attended the induction ceremony, but sent Canon Nisbett a bottle of wine, box of fruit from his orchard and card each Christmas for many years after that.

Canon Nisbett said he was pleased to be recognised for his work but insisted: “I am person who prefers not to make a fuss of these things.”

You must be registered or signed-in to post comment or to vote.

Published Nov 15, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 14, 2012 at 7:37 pm)

‘This is where you belong’

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon

  • Take Our Poll

    Today's Obituaries

    eMoo Posts