Zion’s God is all our own
Who on his love rely
We His pardoning love have known
And live to Christ, and die
To the new Jerusalem
He our faithful Guide shall be
Him we claim, and rest in Him
Through all eternity
The Historic Gilbert Memorial Methodist Chapel, which is located at Zion Hill was named in honour of Nathaniel Gilbert who, in 1760, introduced Methodism in Antigua, the first place to receive Methodism outside of England. Gilbert preached to his slaves on his estate, a location not too far from the present site of the Gilbert Memorial Chapel. Kindling the Flame makes mention that “Gilbert Memorial Methodist Church is nicely situated on a hill overlooking a few of the plantations where Nathaniel Gilbert often strolled in the early days of Methodism in Antigua.”
Historical records bear out that Zion Hill was always a very thriving community. Given its proximity to the Gilbert’s Estate, and the fact that there was never a chapel on the Gilbert’s Estate, it is likely that Zion Hill was the place where the slaves from Gilbert’s Estate erected their first chapel. Historical records indicate that the work in this area started in the early 1800’s. It is also generally believed that there were more than one chapels built on this site.
In speaking of the existence of the work at Zion Hill, David Farquhar in his Caribbean Adventures, presents entries in Reverend Thomas Hyde’s journal for December 30, 1821 and March 17, 1822, both of which call attention to Hyde’s visit to Zion Hill. Hyde records: “Had a profitable but hard day at Zion Hill. Preached to a packed congregation with nearly as many people inside as outside. Amongst the hearers and communicants was Mrs Taylor, for the first time with the Methodists.” Hyde also indicated that the chapel served as a school for the education of men and women as well as children. Clearly, by the time Mrs Taylor first worshipped with Blacks at Zion Hill, there was a chapel already in existence.
Another account in reference to Mr and Mrs Taylor makes mention that, “the worthy couple built a Wesleyan Chapel at Zion Hill for the black of their own and adjoining properties. They provide for their dependents a maternity hospital, which Mrs Taylor personally supervised. A new conscience and spirit was being awakened in the slave-holders of the West Indies.” That reference is made to slave-holders would seem to suggest that this second chapel was built after 1821 and before 1834, the year of the abolition of slavery. It is likely that the present chapel is the one that was built by the Taylor’s and this raises questions about the date of 1843 that appears on the front of the present chapel.
Farquhar sheds some light on this date by presenting a list of those Wesleyan establishments that received parliamentary grants to build or enlarge properties in the years 1837 – 1843. Interestingly Zion Hill was listed as requesting a grant of two hundred pounds as its total cost of building and actually receiving one hundred and thirty-three pounds. Since the amount of two hundred pounds which represented the total cost could not have possibly been the cost of building an entire chapel (when compared with other requests at the time), one may conclude that the grant was actually for the enlargement or renovation of an existing structure, and not actually for a completely new structure.
UNIQUE FEATURES OF GILBERT MEMORIAL CHAPEL
The chapel is Trinitarian in its architecture. There are three stain glass windows at the front and three at the back; windows and doors are in configuration of three; there is a threefold progression of the vestibule and three sections to each buttress. Located in this chapel are three stones attesting to its historical significance and antiquity. One stone located in the base of the pulpit bears the date 1760, and was taken from the steps from which Nathaniel Gilbert preached to his slaves. Another stone in this area bears the date 1957 which is the date of the last renovation. The stone above the communion table also comes from the step where Gilbert preached and has a cross along with Gilbert’s initials (NG) inscribed on it. Given that the stone on the vestibule indicates a date of 1843, and given that this date is in question, the challenge for the Gilbert’s congregation is to find the stone that will provide us with the date of the original chapel. The chapel also boasts a plaque to its patron and Founder of Caribbean Methodism – Nathaniel Gilbert. There is also a plaque in memory of the slave women – Mary Alley, Sophia Campbell and Bessie who kept the flame of Methodism alive.
CHAPEL AND VESTRY RENOVATION
The Gilbert Memorial Chapel is one of the monuments of Caribbean Methodism and must be cherished and preserved. Kindling of the Flame, appropriately describes this chapel when it says: “ The Methodist Chapel at Zion Hill –known as Gilbert Memorial Church – a strong stone building is undoubtedly the Methodist Shrine of the West Indies and should be preserved as such.” The building has a special charm, breeds a tranquil air and remains the choice location for weddings. This chapel has sheltered us from youth, so we need to protect it now. This is the noble aim of our present restoration efforts.
The last major renovation to the chapel was some fifty-three (54) years ago in 1957. In 2009 under the guidance of the Rev Dr Novelle Josiah, the chapel and vestry, the latter that was in a state of disrepair, underwent substantial renovation. This involved the replacement of both roofs; repointing of the stone work, replacement of windows and doors; rewiring and replacement of light fixtures; upgrading of the vestry facilities and installation of stain glass settings at the head of the windows and doors of the chapel. Renovation costs exceeded $300,000 and we continue to appeal for donations to defray this cost.
In 2005, the congregation built a gallery on the church grounds to be used for Church School and other social gatherings.
During the tenure of the late Rev Donald C Henry, the congregation acquired a piece of land at Carty’s Hill for the purpose of constructing a church hall given the remote location of the chapel itself. Also during this era, the congregation acquired a wooden structure that served as a church hall. Unfortunately, this structure succumbed to the ravages of the hurricanes of the late 1990’s.
In 2009, the congregation acquired a tent that is pitched at Carty’s Hill and which served as a temporary meeting place while the chapel was being renovated. This tent is intended to serve as a temporary church hall, until one is built. The Congregation looks forward to putting the chapel and vestry renovation project behind of it, at which time it can resume its efforts towards the erection of a much needed church hall at Carty’s Hill.
THE CHURCH’S MINISTRY
Over the years the Gilbert Memorial Chapel has served as a worship place for Methodists located in Glanvilles, Seatons, Willikies and Pares Villages and beyond and a shrine for all and sundry. Many have been baptized, married and buried there. Many are the persons who have served with distinction. They include but not limited to: Solomon David who was the noted Local Preacher. David Charles of Glanvilles and Mr King Roberts were sexton for many years. Beatrice George of Glanvilles was Care Steward. Eulalie Josiah was organist for many years and was succeeded by her nephew Mervin Gore who has been serving as organist in excess of fifty (50) years. Clarence David presently assists as organist. Steadroy Josiah was one of the longest serving Congregational Stewards having served for over thirty (30) years on his retirement in 2000. William (Willie) Francis was a stalwart Class Leader and President of the Men’s Fellowship; Norris Abbott was Congregational Steward. Maisie Abbott, Dennis Artwell and Vermalie Constant were faithful choristers. The late Lorna Josiah-Jeremy, former President of the Women’s League and MCCA Women was the resident poet.
We recognize Sis Louisa Coates who is still alive and who used to call out the hymn and lead Class Meeting. The oldest active member Pearline Roberts is ninety-three (93) years old and still attends church. The Gilbert Memorial Congregation has produced one Methodist Minister in the person of the Rev Dr Novelle Josiah who presently serves as its pastor and the Superintendent Minister of the Antigua Circuit. We celebrate his accomplishments and pray for God’s continued blessings on him, his ministry and his family.
Gilbert Memorial has a present membership of 166: 54 males and 112 females. Worship services are held at 9:00am each Lord’s Day. Prayer Meeting and Bible Study fellowship meet regularly. The Church School meets on Sunday afternoons at Carty’s Hill. Its Superintendent is Bernadette David. Cradle Roll Secretaries are Deborah Martin and Jessica Payne. Allison Leadette works with both the Youth Fellowship and Young Adults. The Women’s League that goes by the name SSTAR meaning “Sisters Striving To Attain Righteousness” is presently without a president. The Senior Choir serves faithfully with Georgette Welsh coordinating its ministry.
The present Congregational Stewards are: Alberdeen Morris, Rhonis Gore and Bernadette David; Care Fund Stewards are Irose Nicholas, Sonia Owen and Janet Dover; Property Stewards are Steadroy Josiah, Clarence David, Trevor Henry, Ruthlyn Martin and Iris Henry. The Standing Committees are led by: Hesketh Phillip (Mission & Evangelism); Bernadette David (Organization & Education) and Alberdeen Morris with secretary Tulip Blanchard(Resources and Development).
We express appreciation to our lone Local Preacher – Hesketh Phillip and to our band of Class Leaders and Assistant Leaders of our 13 classes. Ionie Phillips can be relied upon to supply floral arrangements and to decorate the chapel especially on special occasions. The work you do is much appreciated.
Many have rendered faithful service and supported the ministry of Gilbert Memorial over the years. For this we are eternally grateful. To God be the Glory!