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St Peter’s pulls out all the stops

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The very thought that Edith Clair Spencer was definitely going into retirement on Sunday, February 27 after 38 years as organist of historic St Peter's Church in St George's, seemed to convulse the Anglican Church community Island-wide. It was her request that her retirement be marked with a service of Choral Evensong. But the Rector, the Rev David Raths, churchwardens and vestry, fully respecting her wish, wanted to make it an event of far greater purport. A steering committee was set up back in September to make it happen, and happen it did. Retired Head of the Bermuda National Library Grace Rawlins headed the steering committee. St Peter's next year will mark the anniversary of its 400th year, making the oldest Anglican Church in the New World in continuous worship. It was filled to capacity with people from all walks of life from all over Bermuda, and some from overseas. They came to thank Mrs Spencer and acknowledge her 38 years of service to St Peter's Church and to the St George's community at large. The head of the Anglican Diocese in Bermuda, the Rt Rev Dr Patrick White and most members of the Anglican clergy were present as well as members of the East End Ministerial Association. Mrs Spencer was unmistakably delighted with the programme, especially with the congregation singing her favourite hymns; and by the reading of her favourite scriptures from the King James Version of the Bible by her son Dennis Spencer and daughter Marie Binns. St Peter's Choir was augmented by choir members from other Anglican churches. Following the Choral Evensong, Mr Raths was the first to pay tribute to Mrs Spencer. He was particularly grateful for her sound advice and support when he first arrived at St Peter's six years ago. Other acknowledgements and kudos came from Anglican Bishop the Rt Rev Patrick White, former Premier and St George's North MP Jennifer Smith and Opposition Leader and St George's West MP Kim Swan. Citations were presented by Senior Vestry Wardens Henry Hayward and Beau Evans, St George's Mayor Kenneth Bascome and Tourism Director William Griffith. The Wardens also presented a special chair as a gift. Choir members Theresa Callabras and Naomi Hall paid tribute and presented a gift. Mr Raths read greetings from the Rev David Addington and church acolyte Amani Walker presented a beautiful posy which was given by St Peter's Choir. After absorbing al of the tributes in song, words and gifts, the biggest surprise was still to come for Mrs Spencer. Arm in arm with her Rector, she led the choirs, clergy, family and friends down the steps to the church hall at the edge of the main road for a reception. The organist obliged when asked to unveil the name of the hall. To her utter surprise she saw for the first time that its name is The Edith Clair Spencer Hall. Steering Committee chair, Ms. Rawlins said naming of the hall was a Parish 'open secret' and it was a miracle that for four months Mrs. Spencer remained unaware of the plan. She thanked Bermuda Blueprinting Company for producing the sing, and the sign and the photographer Ann Spurling for the picture of Mrs. Spencer gracing the hall. A reception, organized by Committee member Mrs. Naomi Hall, followed. Initially, Mas. Rawlins said, the plan was to hire a caterer but Mrs. Hall convinced the Committee that church members wanted to contribute to the day by providing the refreshments. Some offers were received as early as October, 2010! It proved to be an excellent idea; with an overabundance of food making the event inclusive of the entire congregation. The Steering Committee held regular meetings from October for this special service of Choral Evensong, Ms. Rawlins explained. Meetings began and ended with prayer. Communication and public relations were key elements that ensured the success of the overall tribute to Mrs. Spencer. In addition to meetings and numerous telephone calls, flurries of emails were making the rounds. During the first week of December 'Save the Date' flyers were sent to all Anglican churches in the Diocese, to the East End Ministerial Association (EEMA) and posted on community notice boards. The service was also talked up; by word of mouth on the radio and other media. By the middle of February there was a definite buzz around the service and it seemed to take on a life of its own, which was borne out by the huge attendance on the day. The Steering Committee was grateful to parishioner Ashton 'Tim' Fox. Ms. Rawlins said he worked tirelessly to get the hall 'spruced up' for the unveiling. The curtains hiding a makeshift storage area were removed and considerable amounts of junk discarded; walls and windows repaired, painted and cleaned. Some of the windows, she explained, hadn't been opened in years. Edith Clair Callabras Spencer, daughter of Nicholas Leon and Grace Ella Marie Simons Callabras, was born and raised in St George's She is a lifetime member of St Peter's Church. She married Leroy 'Toby' Spencer and is the proud mother of 3 sons and a daughter; her eldest child, a son, is deceased. She has 5 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. Mrs. Spencer hails from a family of musicians, singers and dancers several of whom have been dedicated in serving the church. For many years her late sisters and brother Millicent Swan, Muriel Callabras, and Earlston (Ikey) Callabras provided music for churches in the St George's and St David's communities. Another sister, the late Marlene Denbrook, was also an organist at St Peter's. Currently Quinell Kumalae, a granddaughter, serves as pianist at St Peter's West and Dorothy Caisey, a sister is a longtime member of St Peter's Choir. Thirty-eight years ago Clair Spencer was asked to act as organist at St Peter's until a permanent appointment was made. At the time she was employed as a guide in the church while teaching herself to operate the organ. This took hours of practice frequently requiring that she lock herself in the church after hours. Patience and the will to succeed paid off, and eventually this pianist mastered the organ! She shared her knowledge by mentoring young up and coming organists. As organist at St Peter's, Mrs. Spencer has had the honour of playing for visiting Royals, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Heads of State and many other dignitaries. Untold numbers of visitors from abroad to this historic church have enjoyed her music.

Mrs. Edith Clair Spencer is surrounded by some of her family at the reception marking her retirement after 38 years as organist of St. Peters Church. Back row, left to right, Philip Spencer, Marie Spencer, Marie Binns, Mayor Kenneth Bascome, Dennis Spencer, Shirleen Spencer, Cayden Spencer, Dennessa Spencer, Shirrea Spencer. Front row l-r Alan Caisey, Mrs. Clair Spencer and Quinton Binns
Clair Spencer is led by her Rector, Rev. W. David Raths from her retirement Choral Evensong Service to unveil what was to her utter surprise, the church hall named after her, in her honour. (Photo by Ann Spurling)