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Centuries of prayer

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The inclusion of women, a steady community of believers and a history of giving back — those are just some of the milestones St Mary the Virgin Atlantic Church will celebrate as it marks its 390th anniversary this weekend.

The church was started in 1626 by a group of Warwick farmers who wanted to get together for regular prayer.

That first building was likely a wooden hut made of cedar, the present-day stone structure was built by 1830. Since then, the 105-member church has undergone many transitions.

“It used to be the case where there was the one old white guy up in the front and now the Anglican church has worked very hard at making its ministry reflect its congregation,” said Andrew Doughty, Archdeacon of Bermuda. “Our ministry team is mostly women and, at one time, women were never even allowed in the sanctuary. Now on the whole we wouldn't survive without them in ministry.

“Women have always been there doing the hard work but their role wasn't recognised in the past. Bermuda is a matriarchal society so we now have a ministry team that reflects our congregation, which is something I'm grateful for.

“We have some very holy, good people in our church.”

He is also proud of the church's efforts to provide needy families with a hot meal.

“After the recession hit in 2008, we saw things shift significantly in terms of Bermuda's income,” Ven Doughty said.

“Seven years ago we started a soup kitchen every Wednesday from 5.30-6.30pm offering soup, a sandwich and piece of cake for dessert. We've kept it simple and that's why it has survived.

“We have volunteers from the community who run that, mostly people from St Mary and other churches, and on average we have 50 or 60 people who come out for that.

“One of the shifts I've seen is you might have someone drive up in a car and think, ‘What do they need free soup and a sandwich for?' After talking to them it turned out in that scenario they were actually living in their car.”

Ven Doughty has met many local characters since taking up the head post at St Mary in 1990. One woman phones as often as four times a day for a word of encouragement.

“She has a few mental health challenges but manages to keep herself out of hospital and functioning well enough because she taps into the church's ministry,” he said. “She calls me to ask me for my prayers or she will tell me where she is.

“I ask, ‘Have you eaten today?' or say, ‘See you in church on Sunday'. Those kinds of connections mean a lot to me.”

Ven Doughty's approach is from an age-old philosophy.

“We try to be a church for the parish and everyone in the parish,” he explained.

“One of the things about the worship on Sunday at 10.30am is there's a part in the service where we go to the door and will give thanks to the doorway.

“The prayer is, may it be wide enough and high enough to accept all people and be open to all who come. That's actually why the doors of our churches are built so big — they are supposed to be open to everyone.”

The church has had to adapt to the times. Keeping pace with technology has been a challenge. When Ven Doughty joined St Mary 26 years ago, social media and smart phones did not exist.

“The technology was fax machines back then,” he said. “We are trying to embrace some of those technologies, for instance through our Facebook group. Moving forward, I hope to see continual growth and discipleship at St Mary. Obviously it's nice to have more numbers and more young people in the pews, but overall we've found it's quite difficult for people to be a Christian in today's Bermuda. There are lots of other distractions.

“All of us are very busy and very few people are able to disconnect from all the stresses and challenges that they've got going on in daily life.

“That's why I would say you need places like this where you switch off and come and just be.

“Places where you can give, receive, find hope and receive an open welcome; where you can have fellowship and are made to feel like you belong and are not alone in what life is throwing at you. When you come to places like this you receive friendship, nourishment and the assurance that God is with you.”

The hall will be open today with the church's historic registry, with details on baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths, on show to the public.

“We will also be having a mini flower festival; members will have special flowers on display,” Ven Doughty said. “We will have some old photographs and archives available for people tracing their family history.

“They might be interested in finding out when their parents got married, or about their own baptism maybe. We hope to have the space set up so people can come and wander around. That's not normally possible and many people have never ventured up the tower.”

Tomorrow there will be two morning services — at 8am and 10.30am. In his message, Ven Doughty will give thanks for the “stable and holy men” who led the church in the past. A jazz service has been planned for 4pm, with Robert Edwards and The Wall Street Band.

“Robert Edwards is the most amazing organist and I wouldn't be surprised if there were some improvisations, as well as a mix of traditional Anglican worship music and modern jazz,” he said.

“We are also having birthday cake and some wine. I'm just looking forward to celebrating Bermuda and Warwick and paying homage to this amazing place where we live and giving thanks there are holy places like this one at St Mary.

“We have people who have worshipped here for 90 years and others who have five generations of their family attend here. Then we have people who literally just moved to Warwick and decided to try our church out.”

•See more on Facebook: St Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Warwick, Bermuda.

All welcome: Andrew Doughty says St Mary's, below, will have archives on display as well as a mini flower festival (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Andrew Doughty, St Marys Church. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Andrew Doughty, St Marys Church. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Andrew Doughty, St Marys Church. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 01, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated September 30, 2016 at 11:49 pm)

Centuries of prayer

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