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Charles Rawlins: a dedicated man of God

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The brotherhood: brothers Vernon, Charles and Reg Rawlins(Photograph by Ira Philip)

It was a pivotal moment in Charles Rawlins’s life when he was formally affirmed as senior minister of Emmanuel Baptist Church before a packed congregation last Sunday.

Rev Rawlins has been a member of the church for 75 years and has a rather impressive resumé highlighting his dedication.

He has served in every capacity: usher, choir member, Sunday school teacher and trustee were among his many offerings before becoming pastor.

Rev Rawlins’s love, affinity and dedication of service manifested at the tender age of 7. He lived only a stone’s throw away from the church, on nearby Angle Street.

He would religiously, prior to the Sunday morning service, attend the church upon instructions of the pastor of the day and place ice cold water on a table for the minister to drink during the morning sermon.

The Baptist denomination was established in Europe in the early 17th century and formalised in the United States upon the arrival of the early settlers.

According to the church archivist, Sharon Lacey, the first Baptist Church was introduced in Bermuda in 1932 by Hurbert Mayers, who migrated from the United States with his wife. That first church was, in fact, the Emmanuel Baptist Church.

The first service was conducted on May 8, 1932, at Lily Hall, now Alexandrina Hall, on Church Street, Hamilton with four members. Gabriel E Stewart served as the first pastor.

Early members of the church included Charles G. Rawlins, Archibald Eve, Charles Stevens and Joseph J. Famous.

All of these men were later ordained as deacons and served as trustees of Emmanuel. The church was formally granted its charter by the Governor of Bermuda, Sir Ashley Cubitt, in 1945.

Robert J. Parker, who hailed from Philadelphia, USA, was appointed pastor of Emmanuel in 1948.

Under his auspices and stewardship, the church acquired the plot of land it sits on today; the deacons of the church mortgaged their homes to assist in the financing of the building.

Groundbreaking took place on November 4, 1949 at which time John Kellman became the first Bermudian to be ordained as a baptist minister.

After 15 years of labour and dedication, the church cornerstone was laid in 1961 and the church building was finally completed in 1964.

With great fanfare and celebration, the members of Emmanuel, led by Rev James Stanmore, marched from the Alves building on Angle Street to their newly completed church on Dundonald Street.

Over the last 84 years, 17 pastors have served the church. The eighth pastor, Trinidadian Daniel Stanley, served the longest, from 1972-1987.

Under his administration the four deacons were repaid their portion of the mortgage funds.

Rev Stanley was also instrumental in organising the Bermuda Baptist Fellowship which joined the First Baptist Church, Devonshire, the Wellington Baptist Church in St George’s and Emmanuel Baptist, Hamilton in a spiritual fellowship.

The first Bermudian to be appointed as pastor was Ronald K. Smith. During his tenure, the lower basement was dedicated and renamed The Founders Fellowship Hall.

The first female ever to be appointed as pastor was Donnamae Postlethwaite. She was installed by Rev William Cattrell Sr in 2012, and served in that capacity for a period of two years.

Rev Rawlins, 84, is the 17th pastor. Prior to his most recent appointment, he gave 35 years of service to the Bermuda Government as a principal customs officer.

He also volunteered as a Scout master for more than 50 years and sat on various government boards.

He has been recognised, in particular, as a longtime member of the Treatment Offenders Board and a respected Family Court panellist.

Family occasion: Gwyneth Rawlins, Emmanuel Baptist Church worship leader and sister of its new pastor Charles Rawlins(Photograph by Ira Philip)
Major milestone: ecumenical participants in Charles Rawlins’s affirmation and appreciation service. Pictured from left Leonard Santucci; Rev Rawlins; Georgette Prime-Gordon; Donnamae Postlethwaite and Gordon Shaw(Photograph by Ira Philip)