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The heart of the community

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Resiliency and a rich history of transformation are two of the things that make Marsden United Methodist Church in Smith's unique.

This came from Joseph Whalen, who has been minister at the church for the last 12 years. He and his congregation are celebrating their 150th anniversary with special events and a commemorative book. They are calling on anyone with information or old photos of the church or even memories of times passed there to come forward with them.

“We are trying to preserve a sense of the legacy of the church,” said Rev Whalen. “We are trying to gather in as many historical documents and artefacts to scan or photograph.”

Craig Tucker, chairman of the church's trustee board, has a long history with the church. His father, Rodney Tucker, played the organ at the church for many decades before his recent retirement.

His grandmother, Mearl Talbot Tucker, and great grandmother, Maimie Lambert Talbot, also played the organ there.

The connection goes even deeper. Mearl and Rodney both attended the Talbot School, once located next to the church in the building that now houses the charity, Tomorrow's Voices. Mearl was a sister of the Talbot Brothers of musical fame. Rodney played with the Talbot Brothers band for the last 15 years or so of its existence.

In a 2009 interview with

The Royal Gazette, another Talbot Brothers band member, Roy, said the Talbots were moved out of Tucker's Town to what is now Talbot Lane, in the 1920s. The lane sits across from the Marsden United Methodist Church.

As part of their compensation for the Tucker's Town land, Roy and Mearl's father Osmond Talbot received a piece of land to quarry. His wife, Maimie, received a piano.

Maimie used the piano to teach her children music. Marsden remained vital to the Talbot family. Often they would sing there on Sunday mornings despite late performances the night before.

“I think the Methodist church's role in Bermuda is historic, particularly as well known methodist preachers, Joshua Marsden, and John Stephenson preached to blacks in the late 1700s/early 1800s in the days when it just wasn't done,” said Craig.

John Stephenson was jailed in 1799 in St George's for six months for preaching to blacks in Bermuda. Marsden's congregation is reflective of the early beginnings of methodism in Bermuda.

Methodist ministers had a difficult time getting into Bermuda In the early days because of Rev Stephenson's imprisonment. Rev Marsden was sent to the Island in 1808.

The Marsden Methodist Church itself actually has a history that goes back beyond 150 years. It had its beginnings in 1830 when John Crofts arrived in Bermuda. He preached in the Tucker's Town area, then mainly populated by blacks. Over a period of five years, the Tucker's Town Methodist Society and a Sunday school was formed. For three decades, the members worshipped in a small wooden building known as 'The Schoolhouse'.

Under another minister, William Ryan, the cornerstone for the Tucker's Town Chapel was put down in 1861. In the 1920s, however, the Bermuda Government's plan to develop luxury tourist properties in Tucker's Town forced residents to sell their homes and relocate elsewhere on the Island.

Many people moved to Smith's, and Methodist trustees made an agreement with the Bermuda Development Co Ltd to construct the current church. The old schoolhouse and chapel in Tucker's Town still stand but are private residences. The congregation's old cemetery is considered sacred ground within the Tucker's Point Golf Course.

Unfortunately, the graveyard has remained a source of contention between the members of the Marsden United Methodist Church and the modern owners. Many parishioners whose family members lay in the unmarked graveyard feel it is disrespectful to have golf balls raining down on the dead. Rev Whalen said there are plans in the works to solve this problem, perhaps by putting up trees around the graveyard and spreading a net around the trees to hold the golf balls back.

“Tucker's Town was very much like St David's Island in the old days,” said Craig. “There was a real connection between the two communities. The airport wasn't there at that time so people from one side used to row across to the other. The Tucker's Town and St David's Island communities, in a lot of respects, were very similar. The Tucker's Town area, like St David's Island was [unfairly] termed a backwater and there was a whole community that was down there. The graveyard is probably the last piece of that community.”

The church doesn't have a record of how many people are buried in the Tucker's Town graveyard. Some graves are marked out but curiously in a North to South direction, when it has long been traditional to lay graves in an East to West direction. The graveyard was probably last used for internment in the 1920s.

The congregation may soon learn a little more about the graveyard through a project going on next week with the National Museum of Bermuda. The museum, in conjunction with the property owners, is bringing in experts to survey and X-ray the graveyard to get a better picture of its history.

“This is really great because out of that will come a report,” said Craig, who has several ancestors buried there. “They will note where the remains are. Our guess is because of the type of community it was at that time, people were poor in that area, the burials probably took place fairly quickly. They were probably just put in the ground. It does touch on people's conscience when you talk about that graveyard. We would like to be able to touch on its historical value. We would like to put information about it into a booklet so that people can read about it at their leisure.”

Rev Whalen said so many times, history goes unchronicled and gets lost to future generations.

“That is the unfortunate thing so often,” he said. “We are trying to see if we can chronicle a little piece of it because our young people don't know their history.”

On September 10 and 11 the Marsden United Methodist Church will hold a weekend of fun and fellowship for friends and family.

Old-time games, food, storytelling and music are among the entertainment planned for the Saturday at the cricket field next to the church.

A 10am worship service the next day will be followed by a picnic at John Smith Bay.

And on October 1, the church is to hold a special Old Tucker's Town Graveyard Memorial Service at 2pm. A train will provide transportation from the church to the graveyard at 1.30pm.

Anniversary celebrations will culminate on October 9 with a special worship service at 10am and 4pm with the theme 'From Trial to Triumph: Honoring Our Past, Celebrating Our Present, Embracing Our Future'. Guest preacher will be Zan Holmes of Dallas, Texas.

For more information telephone 293-7045 or e-mail jwhalen@cwbda.bm .

Pastor Joseph Whalen at Marsden United Methodist Church which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. (Photo by Mark Tatem)
Pastor Joseph Whalen at Marsden United Methodist Church which is celebrating the 150th anniversary. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published September 01, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated August 31, 2011 at 6:45 pm)

The heart of the community

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