Bethesda Congregation

By Joseph N. Liburd

As I attempt to catalogue the events in the life of the Bethesda Methodist Congregation over the past (for me) 79 years, I do so with joy as I reminisce on those times which have contributed to my being who I am today. The support of the Church, home and people older than myself whom I may not even have known, made a substantial contribution. Those were good days . . .

When our family arrived in Dominica in May of 1931 the Superintendent Minister was Rev. Donald S. MacDonald, a Guyanese.   He was married with a son named Eardley.

I recall that the Sexton rang the bell at 8:45 every Sunday morning summoning members to worship at 9:00 o’clock. Rev. MacDonald’s worship services were always off to a rousing start.   Although I was only ten years old at the time, I remember that two of the hymns he chose most frequently were No. 31 – God reveals His presence and No. 678 – Lord of the worlds above.

I was positioned one day to hear him state that he was not going to allow Englishmen to come from Britain and preach better than he! The remark made an impact on this 10-yr old, but he was as good as his word, judging from the reaction of the older, more knowledgeable folk.

Sunday School at 3:00 p.m. was the high point of the day for juniors such as I was then. Miss Mary Trail was Superintendent and Classes were spread throughout the building, including the gallery! The Pipe Organ had to be pumped and one or two of the senior boys would assist the Sexton (Warner or Wade or…) with that chore, but they had fun. Teachers included Messrs. Alfred Yankey, E H Phillip, and others, and Misses Coralie Bellot, Enard Roberts, Selina Yankey, Isaline Yankey, Eileen Shillingford (Mother of the Speaker), Hilda de Ravariere, and others.  Over 120 children attended every Sunday and were instructed in Bible and Catechism, and good behavior.

The day closed with Evening Worship at 7:00 o’clock. It was not unusual to see an even larger attendance than in the morning!

In those days the Pipe Organ occupied the area where the Choir now sits. A set of Visitors' Pews faced the Pulpit where the organ now stands. In those days too, we had Organists beyond need: Mrs. Eva Didier (Rev. Didier's mother), Mrs. Mabel Bridgewater, Miss. Josephine Roberts (later Osborne), Mrs. Marjorie Branch (daughter of Rev. C. G. Errey), Miss Eileen Shillingford (occasionally), and Mr. Donovan Didier. So with the best collection of Hymns available and having been “Born in Song,” we were always making a joyful noise to our Lord.

In September 1936 came the Rev. W. A. Beckett, an Englishman who came to us from Montserrat.  He was a Scouter and was soon appointed Deputy to Mr. J. O. Aird, Island Commissioner and set about reviving the Methodist troop, the First Dominica Troop.

With the arrival of Rev. W A. Beckett (following Rev Fisher) a few changes took place, such as extending our knowledge of Hymns to include No’s. 32, 159, 410, 588, 689, 732 and others. The Evening Services were still well attended and the Sunday School remained on course. The Wesley Guild came into being and people of ages from 14 years upwards participated.

Mrs. Selina (mother) Yankey was chief organiser and used us young boys and girls in hilarious plays, while (Grandma) Didier was giving orders to all and sundry to ensure her comfort.

With Rev. Beckett it was not all work and no play.   He had brought a small printing press which the boys used to print the monthly message as well as other publications which he distributed.  Printing even extended to Christmas cards for his own use and envelopes.   There were also games such as darts, chess and golf (we dug a 9-hole course).   We observed that suddenly the darts began to disappear, so Eric Carrington and I planned to do something about it.

We sent the Rev. Minister to Wesley Guild as usual and hid under a couch waiting for the culprit.   He did come and as we pursued him, he flung darts at us but we caught him as he got to Virgin Lane and he was sent to Antigua to the place where youth were punished at that time.

A highlight of the year was the Sunday School “treat”.   In the begin­ning we used the Morne (Morne Bruce) and had some great times there. When that was no longer available we used Wall House (now developed), Check Hall, and Macoucherie beach, that is, in more recent times.

In 1937 Rev. Beckett organized a three-island Scout Competition (Montserrat, Antigua and Dominica) which was won by the Montserrat team through a Swim Race. Eric Carrington, Philip Potter and J N Liburd were on the Home Team. Representing Antigua was D C Henry who was later to become Superintendent here in 1957 and Chairman of the District some years later.

Another of the Home Team members, Phillip Potter, who was appointed Superintendent of the Sunday School at age 19; he later became the first 3-term General Secretary of The World Council of Churches. Other claims to achievement go to Rev. Atherton Didier, Chairman of the Jamaica and the Leeward Islands Districts, in succession; Rev. William W. Watty, Chairman of the South Caribbean and the South Trinidad Districts, in succession, after being Dean of the College in Jamaica.

I cannot forget that William Watty was still at school when he began preaching and with scant reference to his notes even from that time.  He must have ranked as the youngest ever on the Preachers’ Plan in this Circuit.

Then there was Eardley Castor, lacking in height but certainly not in vocabulary.  He too delivered a good sermon, which makes me recall the invitation by Rev. John Gumbs who came to us some years later for Eardley to deliver the message on Fathers’ Day at Basseterre’s Wesley Church in St. Kitts.  He did a truly excellent job and was highly commended.

I well recall it was Rev J. Davison who selected Juniors who showed promise of becoming Local Preachers. Among them was (now) Justice Albert Matthew, but like Jonah, they boarded other vessels to other destinations in which they have achieved. We praise the Lord for them also…

In those earlier times much more attention was paid to the Class Meeting which met immediately following the Morning Service. At that time the Class Meeting served its purpose much more than today; and all our exchanges, greetings etc were done OUTSIDE the Church building, unlike now.

The Wesleys would have rejoiced to see the Classes meet in those days – a far cry from what obtains today.   Let this be a summons to Leaders and members alike, since it is an integral part of our Church system.

The next period, 1954 through to 1969, saw the mantle of responsibility pass to Reverends A. W. Warren, D. C. Henry, F. A Roberts, J. D. Mitchell and G. D. Gordon.

With Rev. F. A. Roberts came his wife, Doris, who took charge of the Choir, which used to sit in the gallery.   Her friendly personality and ready smile endeared her to all and she brought added lustre to this period.  Under her direction the Choir continued to perform in the leading of Worship as well as recitals. We were once rewarded for our effort with a 'midnight sea-bathe' at the Hillsborough estate. At 10:00 o’clock we were still in the sea, enjoying a beautiful moonlit night.

When Rev. Gordon was delayed in taking up his appointment Rev John Mitchell was sent. He stayed about nine or ten months, during which time he was able to baptize their daughter - DOMINIQUE - with two members of the Church as Sponsors.

Most of us will recall the Gordons and their young family.   The Reverend Gordon was high-spirited and saw always one side, “the happy side” and his “trained –Nurse” wife Shirley followed the same path.

Some years later the Chapel needed urgent repairs and it was agreed that we would use the Anglican Church building during the period that ours would be unavailable. The hour of Service was therefore adjusted.

It turned out, after Hurricane 'David' struck in 1979 and did much damage, that the Anglicans would, in turn, be using Bethesda’s chapel while their building underwent the needed repairs. “How pleasant when brethren dwell…in unity.”

This recollection would be incomplete, perhaps unfair, if mention was not made of Sisters Joyce Bailey and Catherine Gale, both of whom taught at the Wesley High School and were also Preachers.  Sister Joyce, a Jamaican, exerted tremendous influence on the young women of the Church and in like manner, Sister Gale, familiarly known as “Cathie,” went beyond her teaching duties to become an ordained Minister of the Church.   We will ever be indebted to Sister Joyce for her wide-ranging contribution to the School and Church.

Over the years, much has happened, caused by the movement of persons from one Congregation to another, from one country to another.   All this is expected and Bethesda has benefitted from transfers from the East and North.   As we often hear on TV, “names too numerous to mention,” I will, however, make bold to name one of them, Sister Neva Edwards whose enormous contribution to the Church in general, is beyond question.

As Local Preacher, Class Leader, President of the Women's League, and so much more, she was one of the most frequently selected to attend Annual Conferences. The recitals she presented annually (which many non-Methodists still ask for because of their appreciation), will continue to linger with us until someone picks up the baton and attempts to fill the glaring needs which stare us in the face.

Here, too, I should not forget but continue to remember certain of the persons who, in their day, contributed very substantially to the work of, and in, the Church. Among these are: Sisters Gwendolyn Robin, Ada Elwin, Hyacinth Elwin (whom the folk at Marigot referred to as “our Miss Cynthie”), Selina Yankey, Alfred Yankey, Edith Bellot (as Organist and Choir Mistress) and many, many more who toiled unobtrusively, like Bro. Gifford Didier who took Preachers to Layou every Sunday.

Sister Edith Bellot-Allen continued the traditional high standard of Choir presentations.   Many of the selections which she introduced were of Jamaican origin. Some changes were also made to the physical arrangements for the Choir which was relocated from the gallery upstairs to the front of the Chapel in the area which formerly housed the Pipe Organ.

All these have gone before, either to the great beyond or to other shores, leaving us their clear examples to follow. We need more of our young people to commit themselves to the various Ministries within the Church.   Having read this article and given it some thought, admit to yourself that you could and should be doing more.  Who will answer the call?



If you think that you qualified for mention but was omitted, it was not deliberate, I assure you. I just did not remember!