Celebrating a beacon of hope and struggle
The 113th Anniversary of Grace Methodist Church has been marked with a joyous and soul stirring service.
Grace Methodist is the beautifu landmark built close to the border of Pembroke and Devonshire Parishes in what has always been a predominantly black populated village, a church Deputy Premier Hon. Michael Dunkley pointedly described as a beacon of hope and struggle.
The corner stone of the edifice was laid in the closing years of the 1800s and the church was opened on April 26,1900.
The rich legacy of Grace Methodist manifested itself through the leading participants in the service, beginning with 90-year-old Mrs. Thelma Trott, who gave the formal welcome; continuing with the Anniversary Sermon by England-born Rev. Dr. Andrew Stirling, who like his Bermudian-born friend Rev. Dr. Charles A. Swan gained prominence ministering in Canada.
There were the gleanings from the families of the three mothers singled out as the Grace Honourees.
The North Village Community Band under Major Kenneth ‘Tokie’ Dill, with its own legacy rooted decades before Grace Methodist, rendered selections.
The more contemporaneous Mrs. Elizabeth Isaac presided at the ancient organ for the spirited congregational singing of the selected hymns and other renditions, leading with The Church is One Foundation.
Recently appointed interim pastor of ‘Grace’, Rev. D’Wain O. Wells presided over the service. He has succeeded former pastor Rev. Damaris Lowe, who resigned and returned to the USA for personal reasons.
Significantly Rev. Dr. Stirling was first brought to Bermuda from England by his father, who had been recruited to be the religious knowledge teacher at Whitney Institute, serving there for many years.
Father Stirling became part of the ministerial staff at Grace Methodist Church. Young Andrew continued his education at Whitney and later at Warwick Academy. Those two institutions were then exclusive, white only parts of Bermuda’s rigidly segregated school system.
Mrs. Thelma Trott whose residence is directly across from Grace Church, brought a broad smile to the face of the distinguished guest speaker, when she recalled seeing how “Andrew ran around the rocks” of ‘Grace’ with the other village boys.
Several doors to the east of the church was another family by the name of Stirling. They were a prominent entrepreneurial black family who owned, and operated, a mineral water factory that carried the family name. The two families were not related.
Andrew accompanied his father to South Africa when he received an appointment there. Experiences in Bermuda led the Stirlings to fully support efforts of the African National Congress to free Nelson Mandela from prison. That was a stance in opposition to the ruling apartheid power structure, that made the position of the Stirlings most untenable.
The Stirlings left South Africa, going to Canada. Andrew continued his education, earning degrees of BA, M. Div., D. Min. and D.D., and the award by the University of Toronto of an Honorary D.D. for his work as a preacher, and author of two books, and countless theological and devotional articles. In 1997 he was a nominee for the office of Moderator of the United Church of Canada.
Dr. Stirling stated unreservedly from the pulpit that Bermuda is his spiritual home, and Grace Church was the place where he got fired up (this writer’s terminology).
He told friends he was happy to accept the invitation to be the 113th anniversary speaker, as it gave him opportunity to meet many old friends and show his wife Mariel around. She is a lawyer, and chartered accountant.
It has been a long tradition for the church on occasions such as Sunday, to single out stalwarts for special honours with family members doing the citations. Mrs. Esther Bean on behalf of the Church Council that is presided over by Mrs. Gretchen Brangman, named the honorees.
Firstly was Ms Grace Martin, who has dedicated her spiritual walk in Christ for the past 35 years; and credited with having three families, her own Mallory Family; the Dill Family where she works, whose ancestors instituted the law firm that carries its name, and the ‘Grace Church Family.’
Second honoree was Violet Kathleen Mallory, who was born July 18, 1902, and was in her 96th year when she died in 1998.
And, thirdly, honoree Mrs. Annabelle Melvina Burchall-Preece, born September 1921, being the eldest of seven children, whose father was killed while working as a longshoreman on the Hamilton docks. Two of the Preece sisters, Betty and Dawn rendered a duet in tribute to their deceased mother.
At age 21 Annabelle married her best friend, Kenneth Preece, a union that produced twelve children, leading Betty to joke in passing Sunday, it was ‘cheaper by the dozen’ for the Preeces.
She added: “Mother participated in all the adult programs at Grace Methodist. She was proud of her family, and involved them in the church work. And as a rule she would send her children to bed at 5.30pm, everyday. The children did as they were told. Often their friends would come to the ‘pull in blinds’ mocking them because they could not be out playing with them.”
Members of Violet Mallory’s family described her as an “up front’ Christian woman, and ardent choir member, who was renowned Island-wide for the performances of the community girls she trained to plait the May Pole.