By Sister Felicity Aymer – daughter of Sawcolts Congregation
Thou God of truth and love
We seek Thy perfect way
Ready Thy choice to approve
Thy providence to obey
Enter into Thy wise design
And sweetly lose our will in Thine
There are only two Methodist Churches in the parish of St Mary, They are situated in the villages of Sawcolts and Bolans. The congregatations were establish during the time of slavery by missionaries of the Methodist Society from United Kingdom, who, on travelling around the island, found that the Moravians had already established schools and churches in the villages of Jennings and Old Road. The Sawcolts Methodist Church was built between 1840 and 1846 by recently emancipated slaves on land given by an estate owner, one Mrs Byam, of England.
The original owner of the estate comprised the village of Sawcolts, originally known as Sawcotts, was one Colonel John Sawcolts, Captain of the Militia 1706, Justice of the Peace (JP) 1718 and Member of the House of Assembly in 1713. It encompassed the areas from John Hughes to Bendals and included the now defunct village of Hamilton as well as Belvedere and the Body Pond area. Some members of the Sawcolts family were born, baptized and married in Antigua. Some were also buried here. Subsequently, the estate was purchased by the Government of Antigua and, in later years, different portions have been sold to local nationals.
English Methodist missionaries preached originally in the village of Sawcotts at the site of the “Still House,” one evening and, encouraged, returned the following evening. Here they conducted a Temperance Meeting in a house in a room upstairs while rum was being prepared in the cellar downstairs for shipping to St John’s and overseas. During this Meeting, “spirits” were so fervently denounced that a number of slaves were converted to Christianity. A Society was formed, Methodism was born in Sawcolts. Services were held regularly and eventually the Church was built on the land which was offered for sale. It was donated to the Methodist Missionaries by one Mrs Byam, a wealthy English woman and herself, an estate owner. The mill processing the sugar cane remains and can be seen at the back of the church.
The present chapel was completed in 1846. It is a stone edifice, built after the abolition of slavery. It is basically the original building. The arches over the windows and doors are decorated with bricks originally from London and hold the keys to the building. There was a small bell tower which, regrettably was damaged and finally collapsed during the passing of Hurricane Luis in 1995. This bell was always run especially on Sundays to remind and summon the congregation to worship. There was also a beautiful towering roof which was, unfortunately, so badly eaten by termites, that it had to be replaced with a lower but very strong rood in 1987. The original wooden floor was also termite ridden and was subsequently replaced by a stone floor. The building is referred to as “the fortress” as it is still used as a safe hurricane shelter.
The building was used for worship on Sundays and for school during the week until 1963 when the Government school, John Hughes Primary School was built. The original structure has since been modified to include a vestry and bathroom facilities. New, more comfortable pews have been installed.
It is interesting to note that, concomitantly with establishing churches, the missionaries generally established schools, so that the congregations, predominantly slaves and their descendants, could be literate and so lead in the maintenance of “Sabbath/Sunday School,” bible study, class leadership, lay preaching and other activities of the church. This was the means by which the life of the Methodist Society/denomination was/is maintained in a time of few ordained Methodist ministers who were only able to visit the churches every six to eight weeks.
In addition to running the day school in the church building, regular Sunday church services were held at 11am and 7pm as well as afternoon Sunday School and midweek open air services not far from the church building and east of the cemetery. Benches, desks and other equipment used for day school were therefore stacked away on Friday afternoons so that the building could be prepared for Sunday worship services.
Children attending the day school came from the actual villages of Sawcolts, Hamilton, Bendals, Belvedere and John Hughes. The bell would be rung to remind them and so could be heard by the parents and children of the time for school beginning at 9am. A meal of rice porridge was served daily to all children at around 11am. The head teacher of the school was housed in the adjacent building to the church.
The Methodist Congregation of 1846 appointed the Rev Jesse Pilcher of England as the minister in charge of the churches on the southern side of the island namely English Harbour – the Baxter Memorial, Bethesda and Sawcolts Congregations. The Church at Sawcolts has been pastored by English ministers for over 100 years. The last English minister to serve there was the Reverend Gordon James from 1967 to 1969.
Since Antigua gained its independence in 1981 and, with the establishment of the Conference of the Methodist Churches in the Caribbean and the Americas, Ministers appointed are predominantly from the Caribbean. The first such minister to pastor the Sawcolts Congregation was the Reverend Derrick Sonaram of Guyana.
The present minister, 2011, is the Reverend Andrine Jennifer-Joseph of Dominica. She is ably assisted by Congregational Stewards: Boris Teague and Casroy Charles Jr; Property Stewards: Boris Teague, Casroy Charles Jr, Ruben Burton and Wycliffe Francis; Care Fund Stewards: Miriam Mannix and Winefred Smith. The Standing Committees are led by: Boris Teague (Mission and Evangelism); Mavreen Teague with secretary Geneva Charles (Organization and Education); and Casroy Charles Jr with secretary Lynette Smith (Resources and Development). Geneva Charles serves as secretary of the Pastoral Council.
The current organist is Ms Lucinda Southwell of English Harbour. Church School Superintendent is Mavreen Teague while Cradle Roll Secretaries are Mavreen Teague and Velma Muraine.
Sawcolts Congregation is a relatively small congregation of approximately 150 members. The Sawcolts Congregation is known for its warmth and zeal in worship, love and friendliness towards visitors. Sons and daughters who have made significant contributions to the life the Congregation include Charles Richards, Octavia Philip, Sydney Chambers, Joseph Frances, Keithley Dover, Dolly Thomas, Beryl Mills, Mary Moore and Perpetta Peters.
Grateful thanks to: Geneva Charles, Casroy Charles, Daisy Messiah, Hastings Richards and Winifred Smith for their assistance in the preparation of this article. Reference also to: A Voice from the West Indies by the Rev John Horsford, 1856.