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Allen Temple celebrates 142nd anniversary

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The original Allen Temple AME. Church(Photo supplied)

My feature this week could well be called a “double-header”, with emphasis firstly on the celebration of the 142nd anniversary of Allen Temple AME Church, Somerset.

Rev Howard Dill led the congregation on Sunday last with the spirited singing of hymns of praise and thanksgiving. The song of celebration was God be the Glory, with the senior choir leading the praise.

A feature of Pastor Dill’s tenure is the number of church members who have been inspired to travel abroad to engage in missionary and other services. He saluted Sis Nelda Smith, who had just returned from a missionary trip to Zimbabwe. Other Allen Temple members currently abroad are Sis Valery Wade in Florida and Bryson Doars and Matthias Lawrence who are in Malaysia.

The current celebration culminates Thursday next when the Allen Temple Senior Choir will present in concert the Lowcountry Voices of Charleston, South Carolina. They were most recently chosen and seen as the guest choir that ministered at the funeral of Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. President Barack Obama gave the eulogy.

As a historian, I have been intrigued from my earliest preteen years on how the Allen Temple AME Church moved on from those earliest times in 1873 when its founding fathers and mothers first met in the open air on a cliff at Ely’s Harbour. They graduated four years later to a wooden edifice that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1899.

The present Allen Temple edifice on Sound View Road was dedicated on July 8, 1907. It was built to replace the destroyed wooden church in Ely’s Harbour. Prime movers for starting the congregation in the first instance was the family of Charles Roach Ratteray.

According to Dr Kenneth Robinson in his book Heritage, “Roach” was a celebrated black boat builder, trader and substantial landowner who featured heavily in the religious and commercial life of Bermuda during the years leading up to the Emancipation of Slavery in 1834, and for the next quarter century. He was also one of the men responsible for inviting Bishop Nazrey of the British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada to Bermuda; the BME later became the AME church. Allen Temple was the sixth AME church in the Bermuda Conference.

It was Nathaniel Ratteray, a kin of “Roach”, who along with George Lambert in 1877 purchased the land for erection of the wooden building under the pastorate of Rev WB Hill that the hurricane completely destroyed. Dr John W Cann spearheaded the work of rebuilding the temple.

According to church records, “Roach’s” daughter, Mary Hamilton Ratteray, was instrumental in the voluntary conveyance in 1904 of the family property on which the present edifice stands. Mary became the wife of William Horatio Trott who was the second black man to be elected to the Bermuda House of Assembly.

Throughout its long history, descendants of the Ratteray family have been intimately connected with Allen Temple in particular and the AME church in general. Most prominent among them is the former presiding elder of AME churches in Bermuda, the Rev Malcolm Eve. He and his late cousin Bishop Vinton Anderson were brought up in the home of Charles Lawson Ratteray and his wife Fanny. Lawson inherited the land that was the homestead of “Roach” Ratteray, and bequeathed it to Allen Temple.


Part two of my “double-header” deals with reflections on some of my own exploits as a journalist, radio and television broadcaster attempting to cover the Bermuda scene and abroad for about 80 years. I sometimes even made the news.

Two points flood my mind: As the Holy Writ notes, a prophet is not without honour except in his own home, and what we were told back in the day — self praise is no recommendation!

A week ago I reflected on how I was thrust into my own archives dealing with the celebration of the life of “First Lady” Sybil Robinson and how she wanted everybody to know she was the only daughter of Edward Bosun Swainson. I also wrote about the impact of his being the first to score a century in the annual Cup Match.

In any case, while engaged in my regular Sunday night pastime of listening to my friend Kim Swan hosting his two-hour programme with his guest Ayo Johnson trailblazing into this new 21st century technological news era, the thought occurred they might have their perspectives broadened and deepened by the following, an unsolicited invitation to yours truly from Bishop Vinton R Anderson dated January 29, 2003:

Dear Mr Philip,

It has been my good pleasure to note your diligence in consistently proclaiming what the African Methodist Episcopal Church has embraced since our inception in 1787 — that self-determination, self-reliance and self-help are critical steps to freedom and a sustainable quality of life. Because we are fully convinced that black media has been a prophetic voice and needs to be sustained as an independent voice, the church, especially for the African American churches, must make the survival of the black media a primary agenda.

The commitment of persons in media like yourself to this critical aspect of life in our society has stirred me to organise our constituency to dedicate Founder’s Day to focus on the African American Media in general, and its partnership with the black church in particular. During our annual Founder’s Day celebration the Second Episcopal District will focus its energies on the theme, “The Church Honours, Challenges, Empowers the African American Media”.

We are honoured that you will be our special guest for the occasion which includes serving as a panellist during the symposium, dinner dialogue along with our leadership and the evening worship service. During the evening worship experience our preacher will be Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie. We hope that you would accept our special award as a trailblazer in promoting the causes, detailing our struggles and celebrating the successes of the international black community. The event will draw approximately 2,000 people from throughout the Second Episcopal District, comprising Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

Your knowledge of African Methodism, the legacy of Bishop Richard Allen, our church’s long history in economic development, including the Free Africa Society, the Free Burial Society, the hospitals, publishing houses, educational institutions and other efforts founded and sustained by this church opens the way for you to challenge us, as we dialogue during the dinner hour, to meet contemporary responsibilities both in the black community and in the larger community. Of special note is the AME Christian Recorder, the oldest newspaper published by and about blacks in this country.

Bishop Anderson (now deceased) at that time was the presiding prelate of the Second Episcopal District of the AME Church, headquartered in Washington, DC. And, notably, preacher Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie was, among other things, the first female bishop in the AME Church. I accepted the invitation and proceeded to Washington with my late wife, Ismay, where we were royally feted.

The current Allen Temple AME. Church(Photo by Ira Philip)