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An 80th birthday celebrated in style

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The Rev Dr Erskine Simmons got into one of his most magnanimous moods when his 80th birthday began rolling around. So with the support of Michelle, his busy wife — the soon to retire Principal of the Berkeley Institute — they hosted a fabulous 'Help Erskine Celebrate his 80th' party. White Hall, the imposing historic mansion Erskine acquired for his home two decades ago, three-storeys high (when taking into account the old ground-floor slave quarters) with its spacious lawns was the perfect backdrop for the 200-odd family, friends and colleagues from a broad spectrum of the community to be roundly feted with good food and fellowship just as the Simmons' laid on. As a matter of fact historians have noted many instances of the grand celebrations held 'back in the day' by second Mayor of St George’s town who built White Hall in the early 1800s, using it as the centre of political, social and cultural influences he and others wielded for the nearby St Peter's Church and other institutions. The Harvard and Wilberforce University trained Dr Erskine has wielded his own influence over the years as a civic and political leader as well as a pastor in AME Churches in the US and at home. Most significantly he was a member of The Secret Progressive Group that launched the Theatre Boycott in 1959 that wiped out the government sanctioned racial segregation in hotels, theatres and other public places in Bermuda. Errol Williams' movie 'When Voices Rise’, which has been featured several times on CITV recently has highlighted the role played by Erskine and others in the Progressive Group. FAREWELL FOR VERNON TEMPLE'S CASTROS Vernon Temple AME Church has a new pastor, the Rev Dr Leonard Santucci, a former member of the Senate who has spent the past decade or more pastoring churches in the States. Dr Santucci succeeds Pastor Pedro Castro, Jr. who left Bermuda yesterday for his new elevated role as Presiding Elder of 13 churches in Eastern New York. Rev Castro and his wife Rev Stephanie Castro were the designated pastors of Vernon Temple, but their outstanding service there and outreach ministry was to a community far wider than the walls of their historic Temple. They merited tremendous praise at the farewell service accorded them. Presiding Elder of the Bermuda Conference of AME Churches, the Rev Betty L Furbert-Woolridge, JP, clearly summed up the emotions of the packed congregation when she noted how farewells are ordinarily 'bittersweet' events, but was more engrossing in the case of the Castros. She also made it clear she had no part in the decision to transfer the esteemed Castros out of Bermuda, as it was solely that of the Presiding Prelate, the Rt Rev Gregory GM Ingram. Others extending farewells and praise for different facets of the contributions of the Castros included Bishop Neville Smith, Evangelist Zolita Johnston civic leaders and area parliamentary leaders Zane DeSilva of the Opposition PLP; Stephen Todd, PLP, and Jeff Sousa, MP of the ruling One Bermuda Alliance. Former PLP Assemblyman Reginald Burrows, spoke specifically on behalf of The Village Pride auxiliary the Castros had initiated. Victor Fishington for the dynamic Power Lunch group and Sis. Rebecca Oleary designated on behalf of the after-school programme initiated for students of the nearby Heron Bay Primary School. Principal of CedarBridge Academy, Kelmar Richards, emphasised how indebted her Devonshire institution was to staff member Rev Stephanie Castro and Rev Pedro Castro for having initiated, planned, developed and implemented the first Power Breakfast programme at her senior high school. Mrs Richards said: “Since the programme’s start it has had a tremendous impact on the lives of our students. The Power Breakfast sessions provided a daily opportunity to teach and reach our students; to train them up about the importance of worship and praise and even how to pray, to preach the word and to evangelise by giving them an opportunity to deliver mini sermons and share the word of God with each other. The Power Breakfast programme also taught our students about commitment, persistence, perseverance and time management as many students sacrificed by coming to school early to attend the Power Breakfast sessions.” Continuing, Mrs Richards told how the Power Breakfast programme reached male and female students who would be considered unlikely to attend such sessions but attended on a regular basis. She added: “I know that our students were also grateful for the physical food supplied each day at the end of the sessions and that too was no easy feat for the Castros to ensure a meal, each morning, for sometimes up to 125 students. “Rev Stephanie and Rev Pedro Castro know that your ministry has planted seeds of a great hope and great future for our students. I know that your work has pleased God and without question, you have advanced the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Your work has influenced not only the lives of our students and our school environment, it has also influenced and impacted the future of Bermuda and the world and I look forward to hearing about, reading about and seeing this impact in the years to come through the lives of students involved in the Power Breakfast ministry. “On behalf of our students and faculty, I extend a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to Rev Pedro and Rev Stephanie Castro. I thank you for your obedience to Christ and for putting your hearts and souls into this ministry. Rev Stephanie, you carried a full teaching load and additional responsibilities as a year head and you still made time for power breakfast at the start of the day. Our young women have truly seen a powerful, positive, gracious and beautiful example of a woman of God in you. “I thank God that the two of you understand that the most important work of the body of Christ is outside of the church walls. You also understand that you have to do new and creative things to reach young people and you have done just that with the Power Breakfast ministry.”

Dr Erskine Simmons, centre, as he received a special birthday present from the Rector of St Peter's Church, Rev David Rath, on behalf of Friends of St Peter's. From the left are former St George's Mayor Henry Hayward, Beau Evans, Donnie McLaughlin, Dr Simmons, Rev David Raths, Mary Malone and Jimmy Amos.
Dr Erskine Simmons is with fellow members of the secret Progressive Group who initiated the June 1959 Theatre Boycott that ended government-sanctioned racial segregation in public places in Bermuda. Other Progressives are Mrs Vera Commissiong, former Berkeley Institute Principal Dr Clifford Maxwell and wife Florence.
The party setting at the White Hall, St George's, residence of Rev Dr Erskine Simmons for his 80th birthday party.
Rev Pedro Castro and Rev Mrs Stephanie with their son Khaivon, a student at Clark University in Atlanta.