By Sister V Iothie Wyre – Freetown Congregation
And if our fellowship below
In Jesus be so sweet
What heights of rapture shall we know
When round His throne we meet
In reflecting on the history of the Freetown Congregation, it is necessary to bear in mind that the work of the congregation predates its existing place of worship that is only 128 years old. Methodist work among the people of this community goes back to sometime before 1820. In that year, a Chapel and a Mission House were erected at Willoughby Bay.
The Emancipation of the Slaves in 1834 resulted in the migration of the Willoughby Bay population to Freetown (Far’s Hill). Rev. Atherton Didier mentions in his document on the 1942 Anniversary Celebrations for Freetown Methodist, a statement written in the Baptismal Register for Freetown by the Rev William Box, the Minister at Willoughby Bay at the time of Emancipation. Rev Didier concludes that any written document, concerning the things of significance in the history of the Methodist Church at Freetown, would be incomplete without mention of that glorious expression of freedom by Rev Box, namely: “Here endeth all registration in which distinction of Civil State is specified. August, 1st 1834 being the glorious day of immediate, entire and universal FREEDOM for every human being in Antigua.” Then at one side of the page he writes; “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men,” then on the other side- “Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth,” and at the end wrote his and all the names of his colleagues in Antigua at the time.
In 1841, it was found necessary to relocate the Willoughby Bay Chapel and Congregation. That is only about twenty (20) years after the erection of that Chapel and schoolroom at Willoughby Bay. This was due to the migration of the Willoughby Bay population to Freetown, which in his book “A Voice from the West Indies”, published in 1859, John Horsford calls “a rising village in a charmingly salubrious neighbourhood overlooking the sea.” “In order to accommodate these emigrants,” John Horsford wrote, “we built here in 1841 a School-Chapel.“
A Chapel was built and a Teacher’s House was attached to it. The Teacher’s house still stands (and has been renovated several times). The corner stones of the first Freetown Chapel are still visible on the eastern side of the Teacher’s house. In 1843, a great earthquake shook Antigua and did extensive damage throughout the island. The School – Chapel was destroyed and a new and larger schoolroom and a Mission House were built in 1847. This Schoolroom was the place of worship until 1882. It was also the education institution for the Freetownians until when a new Schoolroom was built by the Government in the 1960’s.
The Minister had continued to reside at Willoughby Bay until 1847 when a new Mission House was erected at Freetown. It was because of the rapidly dwindling population of Willoughby Bay that, the Methodists decided not to rebuild there but instead to build a new chapel at Bethesda (another rising village to which part of the Willoughby Bay population had moved), and to enlarge the building erected at Freetown in 1841, and used for worship on Sundays and for day-school in the week.
The present Freetown Methodist Church was dedicated to the Glory of God on October 6th, 1882. The Foundation stone was laid by the Rev. John Kenrick and the church was built and opened during the Ministry of the Rev. R. Rossall. Several renovations have been done to the church. The church’s roof was destroyed in 1995 by Hurricane Luis and a new roof was erected by the Mellon’s Family who are residents of Mill Reef. The church was rededicated on Sunday, 1st December, 1996. The ministers serving at that time were the Rev. Bonny Byron, the Rev. William W. Watty (former president of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas), the Rev. Harold Gill (former Superintendent of the Antigua Circuit). The Rev. Oral Thomas also participated in the service. The Sermon was preached by the Rev. Oral Thomas who admonished the Congregation to look at the Church, “as a place of Hope, a place where the Gifts of God are offered.”
In 2007, in preparation for the 125th anniversary celebrations, enhancements were done mainly to the
interior of the chapel. The minister at this time was the Rev Novelle Josiah. New banisters for the chancel area and front rail of the church were installed. In response to the expressed need for some enhancement to the front wall back of the pulpit, which members thought was bare, a cross and imitation pipes pattern were installed on this wall. The chapel (interior) was repainted and the floor tiled. The electrical was also redone with three (3) new chandeliers donated by the Stevens’ family installed. Additional light fixtures have since been donated and added in 2009. Also in 2007 the outside wall and stone work at the front of the chapel were installed. At that time three new pews for the choir seating were donated by the Joseph’s family in memory of their mother Ambersine Melita Joseph.
We have celebrated several anniversaries in the past. The sixtieth Anniversary of the Freetown Methodist Church was celebrated in 1942 during the Ministry of the Rev. Atherton Didier and Mrs. Irma Didier. The 100th Anniversary of the Freetown Methodist Church was celebrated in 1983 during the Ministry of the Rev. Moreland WilliamS. The officiating Ministers were the pastor, Rev. Moreland Williams, Rev. Edwin L. Taylor (former President MCCA), the Rev. Eric St. C. Clarke (former secretary MCCA) and the Rev. Franklin Roberts (former Superintendent Minister – Antigua Circuit).
On Sunday, 12th October, 2003, we celebrated our 121st Anniversary. In October 2007 we celebrated our 125th Anniversary with a whole week of activities that ran from 6th – 14 October, 2007, under the theme: “Freetown Methodist: Giving thanks and glory to God for 125 years of Christian witness.” Special speaker for the open air service who was invited to share in the celebrations was the Rev Carlwyn Greenaway. A Service of thanksgiving was held on Sunday 14th October. In attendance were the Reverends Charles Seaton (Superintendent), Novelle Josiah (Minister in Charge), Belinda Manswell-Daniel and June James and Rev Neville Brodie, who preached the sermon.
We are also pleased to report that this church has nurtured several ministers including the Reverends Accelyne Williams (deceased), Neville Brodie, Relis Martin-Riley and Carlwyn Greenaway. The preachers nurtured by the Freetown Congregation include Robert Saunders, Charles Stevens and Maitland Edwards (deceased), Glentis Wyre, Neville Brodie, V. Iothie Wyre, Relis Martin-Riley, Ulric Matthews and Carlwyn Greenaway. Wendell Samuel has since joined our ranks as Local Preacher.
Organists who have served include Melina Warner, Beryl Crump, Charles Stevens, Casilda Joseph, Veda Warner, Ethmee Wyre-Charles, Mervin Gore, Carson Freeland, Llewellyn Smith. Carson Freeland is our present organist. Church School Superintendents include: Cousin Liz Samuel, Vivian Saunders, Ms Bell, Mira Spencer, Lyda Matthew, Ismay Martin-Spencer, Iothie Wyre, Relis Martin-Riley, Erena Brodie-Greenaway and Rosita Edwards, who still continues to hold this post. Sextons who have served include: Mr Stevens, Charles Cochrance, William Lewis, Thomas Byam and kenelm Hughes. We are presently without a Sexton. We celebrate with our centenarian Irene Carlos who is 108 years old and is the oldest person living in Antigua.
The present Minister is the Rev. Nichola Barrett-Glasgow. The Congregational Stewards presently serving are: Maudlyn Brodie, Rosita Edwards, Lucina Nathaniel and Petra Armstrong. Care Fund Stewards are: Vernella Colbourne, Velma Nathaniel, Cheryl Peters, Cleota Brodie and Avonella Brodie. Property Stewards are: Lionel Walker, Verdalyn Parker and Lenora Joseph. The Standing Committees are led by: Rosita Edwards (Mission and Evangelism), Petra Armstrong with secretary Patrice Forde (Organization and Education) and Maudlyn Brodie with secretary Juliet Payne (Resources and Development). Patrice Forde and Cora Galloway serve as secretaries for the Congregational Council and Pastoral Council respectively.
Organizations that are functioning and their officers include: The Church School; the Boys’ Brigade with Captain Lionel Walker and Officers Dale Knight and Lucina Nathaniel; Senior Choir and Youth Choir which are directed by Cora Galloway; the Children’s Choir is directed by Maudlyn Brodie. The Youth Fellowship is led by Petra Armstrong; and the Young Adults Group by Patrice Forde; while the Cradle Roll Secretary is Paulette Browne.
We remember with profound gratitude the services of all the ministers who have served. We are also grateful to the ministers’ wives, the Stewards, the Class Leaders, the Organists, the Leaders of all our children, boys’, girls’, men and women’s organizations, the Sextons and all who by their attendance and participation at worship kept the Flame of the Methodist Mission alive in this part of God’s Vineyard. As we celebrate, let us give thanks to God for the vision of our forefathers. This Methodist Church has provided spiritual, educational and social nurturing to thousands of Freetownians. “We praise God for all that is past and trust him for all that’s to come.”