By Brother Walter Lawrence -Bethesda Congregation

O God our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home

In order to know where we came from, we have to reflect on the past. However, we must not live in the past, but learn from the past and make whatever adjustments for the present and the future.

Bethesda Methodism has a history that goes back far beyond 1871. As is well known, the first schoolroom that was erected for the black slaves in the West Indies was opened on May 29th 1813. The teacher was Mr. Charles Thwaites, an English Methodist who had married into an Antiguan Methodist family. The school was built in Bethesda by the slaves from Blake’s Estate led by the slave headman known as Vigo Blake. The school was a community school that was managed by Methodists and the Methodist Missionaries of those days. They taught in this school and took much interest in it.

In the meanwhile, the Methodist meeting place for worship and fellowship in the area was at Willoughby Bay. However, on 8th February 1843, a disastrous earthquake destroyed the building, along with many other buildings on the island. Most of the population of Willoughby Bay there upon moved to Freetown, where a chapel was built there to accommodate them, and regular worship was established at Bethesda centering more or less on Blake’s Estate. It appears that the old school building had probably fallen into disrepair and a chapel was virtually built upon its foundation and took the same name of the original school. It should be noted that the name of the village of Bethesda came from the church.

The Chapel at Bethesda was soon so crowded that in 1847 it became necessary to enlarge it. It was then, under the Pastoral charge of the minister who lived at English Harbour. It was a wooden structure and in about twenty years time, it began to fall into serious disrepair and in any event more space was still required. In 1871 a new Chapel (with enough accommodation for school) was erected on the present site. Extensive repairs were carried out in 1912 by Mr. Charles Allen. The minister at the time was Rev. R. Symons.

From 1912 this wooden structure provided elementary education for the community of Newfield, English Harbour, Bethesda and Christian Hill. It was also used during the evenings for night school for young men and women who did not have the opportunity to go to school during the day. Various types of concerts were also held in the building, but with much respect and reverence for the building and even the entire church premises. It was also a place of refuge during the time of hurricane. In 1950, a hurricane struck Antigua, and many people from the village had to find refuge in the Chapel, so it became necessary to prolong the summer vacation for the school to accommodate the homeless. However, every Sunday the word of God was proclaimed. Countless number of baptisms, weddings, confirmations, funerals were held in this place.

The Government built a new school, so in 1962 children were transferred from Bethesda Methodist Church to Bethesda Government School. It must be noted that the Bethesda Methodist Chapel was the only institution in the early days, so everyone in the village in some way received something for their up bringing.

In 1963 the Quarterly Meeting of the Antigua Circuit decided that the time had come for either major renovations or a new building should be erected. The conference in 1970 gave approval for a new building to be erected, so in 1971 the Church Hall was erected for worship, until a new structure was constructed. The Circuit Superintendent at that time, the Rev. Donald C. Henry, wasted no time to get a steel frame building to replace the wooden structure. In 1975 the new concrete structure was completed and was dedicated to the Glory of God by the Superintendent the Rev. S. Wilfred Hodge

On the 5th September 1995 Hurricane Luis struck Antigua causing much damage to include the Methodist Church roof. However, the congregation continued to worship in the building until the roof was repaired. Despite the damage to the church roof, the congregation at Bethesda celebrated nonetheless its 125th Anniversary of the life and witness of the Church on May 19th 1996. The minister at the time was the Rev. Jefferson Niles.

The Bethesda Congregation has produced one of our Methodist ministers in the person of the Rev Dr Oral A W Thomas, former Superintendent Minister of the Antigua Circuit and former Secretary of the Leeward Islands District Conference. Rev Dr Thomas presently serves as Tutor at the United Theological College of the West Indies (UTCWI), Jamaica.

The Church continues its witness and presently meets at 8:00am for worship on Lord’s Day. Its present pastor is the Reverend Roger Deane. He is ably assisted by Congregational Stewards: Lucinda Payne, Mariette Matthew, Kirthley Maginely; Care Fund Stewards: Ruthlyn Moore, Goldine Quinland, Condacy Browne and Hildred Tonge; Property Stewards: Franklyn Joseph, Rudolph Roberts and Doreen Richards.

The Standing Committees are led by Dawn Scotland with secretary Iotha Thomas (Mission and Evangelism); Lucinda Payne with secretary Dawn Scotland (Organization and Education); Kirthley Maginley with secretary Novella Sheppard (Resources and Development). We acknowledge the contributions of our faith band of Class Leaders and our sole extant Local Preacher Walter Lawrence.

The church ministries include Bible Study and Prayer Meeting, Youth Fellowship, Church School with Dawn Scotland as its Superintendent; Cradle Roll Secretaries – Hildred Tonge and Iotha Thomas; and the Women’s Group which refers to itself as “BLISS – Bethesda Ladies In Service for the Saviour.” Our present organist of many years is Josephine Lawrence, with organist Adrianne Donowa-Henry officiating on 3rd Sundays of the month.

We give thanks to God for the countless number of ministers and preachers who proclaimed the word in this place. As the Church continues its witness, we thank God for all that is past and trust Him for all that’s to come.

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