New book on island’s religious past
Michelle Simmons's book, The Guild of the Good Shepherd and Bermuda's Forgotten Anglican Missionaries, could not have come at a better time.
As one may expect based on its name, it chronicles the birth of the Guild movement in Bermuda and the lives of Bermudian missionaries.
Mrs Simmons, a long-serving and faithful member of The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, was excited to launch the book in celebration of the Guild's 125th anniversary next year.
“I grew up on Church Street in Hamilton, about three blocks from the Cathedral, and every Sunday morning my mother and father ensured that my sister and I attended church and then Sunday school in the afternoon,” she said.
“The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity was the church of my great-grandmother and grandmother, so our family history is associated with the Cathedral. I am so grateful for the involvement I have had with the Cathedral over the years, singing in the choir from age 9 or 10, serving on numerous committees, assisting with stewardship campaigns, providing readers' lists and more.”
Despite that grounding, it took “some time” for her to discover there was a difference between going to church and having “a very personal relationship with God”.
“My relationship with God grew immensely when, at a very low point dealing with a serious illness, I realised that I was not in charge, but God was.”
Mrs Simmons, a retired educator and independent senator, had never planned on adding “author” to her résumé. However, inspired by a desire to document the untold stories of the Anglican Church, she began researching the history of the Guild of the Good Shepherd last year.
“The Guild is a ‘lay' or ‘congregational' organisation which has been in existence at the Cathedral since 1896,” she said. “My parents, Phillip and Marjorie Grant, had been members and, when the Guild celebrated its centenary, I decided to join, thanks to lots of encouragement from my mom and other members. There are several members of the Guild who decided to join around the same time, to keep family legacy alive.
“We all knew very little about the early history of the Guild but, thanks to research by Enith King and Mildred Hill, we had heard the name Reverend Fredrick Edmondson and knew that the Guild had tried to support his missionary work in Sierra Leone. Members wanted to know more and my sister, Sonia, and I began the research. As stories unfolded, it became clear to me that the information needed to be shared, not just with members of the Guild, but with the community at large. “
The book highlights how the Guild movement was “critical to the development of the black community” as it was formed during a time when Bermuda and its churches were still segregated.
“This is a very important part of the history of the Anglican Church of Bermuda, and it should be noted that the Guild came into existence during our segregated past,” Mrs Simmons said.
“The guilds came into being so that blacks could provide mutual help and support for one another, but they really wanted to work for the church and to raise the social and intellectual standard of members as they did so. Through the work of the guilds, blacks — or coloureds as they were known then — took the lead in their own organisations in a church where segregationist policies meant that only whites could take leadership roles.”
Bible classes, music concerts, fundraisers “to assist with numerous church projects including completing the Cathedral building” and “an array of classes to further the intellectual development of its members” were among the many things the Guild organised.”
A junior branch of the Guild was later formed, its members were children who attended the Sunday school the Cathedral held for blacks Sunday afternoons.
“Here we are in 2020 and we are a diverse church, but are we united?” Mrs Simmons questioned. “In my opinion, knowing and understanding our history will help us to eliminate any institutional practices of the past which are preventing us from having a church where all are welcomed, encouraged to share their gifts and participate fully.”
Mrs Simmons's book also tells the stories of Anglican clergy members who were instrumental in establishing the guilds locally as well as missionary projects abroad.
In Sierra Leone, Bermudian Ernest Graham Ingham was made the country's bishop while Bermudian teacher Frederick S. Edmonson was given the title of Canon of the Cathedral of St George.
Mrs Simmons hopes that the stories will inspire others to answer a call to Christian service.
“I would like readers to see, as quoted in the book, ‘That God uses ordinary people to fulfil His purpose on earth',” she said. “The examples of the pioneers of the 15 Anglican Church Guilds ... all served an important purpose and even when roadblocks were in their way, they were not deterred. From their examples, I am hoping that people will see that all we need to do is allow God to lead us in all that we do.”
• To get a copy of The Guild of the Good Shepherd and Bermuda's Forgotten Anglican Missionaries e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The book is also available from Caesar's Pharmacy, People's Pharmacy, The Bookmart and Bermuda Bookstore