Clifton Congregation

(Compiled and Collated By Brother Clifford Wallace - Clifton Congregation)

From an historical perspective, Clifton was one of those estates owned by a white female plantation owner named Mrs. Wallis. Fortunately for the residents of this Village she was said to be a staunch Methodist from one of the Counties in England. The slaves on this estate were said to have been treated better than slaves on estates elsewhere. They were allowed their free Sunday worship in the open air using shade trees as shelter. They were also sometimes allowed to congregate around the steps of the Great House at a place which up to today is called YARD. The slaves owned by Mrs. Wallis were also allowed to make their own gardens, the produce of which were used for local consumption and to give in exchange for other basic needs.

Research, investigations and interviews with the older folks of the village have revealed that after the death of Mrs. Wallis in 1771, long before the abolition of slavery, in her last Will and Testament Mrs. Wallis bequeathed the estate to her only son who at the time of her death was away in England. The Will went on further to state that in the event her son did not return to Clifton the estate should be passed on to the descendants from generation to generation.

Fortunately for the inhabitants, her son never returned. For many years his whereabouts were unknown and to this day the people's descendants were and are still predominantly Methodist because they believed in the same teaching and doctrine of their former owner. They also owned the estate.

After the death of Mrs. Wallis and the abolition of slavery, different denominations and religious groups began to spring up, but the majority of the residents remained predominantly Methodist and still kept the faith. YARD became the final resting place or burial ground for them. It must be noted that all during slavery the Methodist Church and its doctrine existed and was proclaimed without walls.

Early during the twentieth century, around 1899-1900, the local people took a decision in which it was agreed that the time was right for some kind of permanent structure to be erected where Divine Services could be held. As they mobilized, they continued their Worship in the homes of individual members. One of the houses in which such Services were held was owned by one Willie Belle, a very staunch member. This house is still in existence and is now the dwelling place of the Morvan family. We can safely say that Methodism has been in existence in Clifton for over 100 years. Among the outstanding persons who volunteered to pioneer the work of the Methodist Church in this village was Brother Obed Anthony from Portsmouth. It is reported that he visited twice weekly to conduct Services both in open air and at other times in the homes of members. As there were no motorable roads, Ordained Ministers as well as other Lay Preachers from outside the village did not visit on regular basis.

Church records pertaining to this particular village show that the first Ministers ever to visit and to conduct Divine Worship were Reverends Belboda and Johnson. This was in 1900. To get to Clifton from Portsmouth they had to travel part of the journey on horseback and the rest by boat rowed by two faithful members in the persons of Skeffie Wallace and Japhet Belle.

Having seen the zeal, commitment and dedication displayed by the Lay Persons and all other members alike, these two youthful Ministers set about the arduous and tedious task of erecting a Chapel in which regular and more organised Services could be held.

Construction through self-help and to a lesser extent some paid labour of the first ever Chapel for Clifton got on the way in 1909. The new completed Chapel was dedicated in 1910 and great was the zeal and enthusiasm of the members at this solemn function. It was really a dream come true.

The work in this new section of God’s Vineyard continued untiringly. Much of the pastoral work was to a very large extent shouldered by Bro Obed Anthony, the faithful Lay Preacher from nearby Portsmouth. After a few years in existence, unfortunately, disaster struck the building. The hurricane of 1930 devastated the building completely. The salvaged wreckage was shared among the members who had to revert to walking the five mile track to Portsmouth every Sunday and sometimes during the mid-week for Prayer Meeting, Bible Study and Divine Fellowship. This, although tedious, the people enjoyed doing well and faithfully. They were committed and dedicated.

This routine continued until May 1959. Through the unflinching and persuasive effort of the late Rev. A.E Moffet and the entire village, the Methodist community together with the rest of the Circuit, the late Rev. Donald Henry who at that time was the Chairman of the Leeward Islands District, was invited to lay the corner stone for the construction of yet another Chapel. The building once again was built through the self-help effort by members from the other Congregations within the Circuit, organized local work teams assisted in the construction. The picture below is what the Chapel looked like. It measured thirty feet by fifteen feet.

It must be pointed out that this structure, although built of concrete, didn't have one bit of steel. However by the providence of God it was able to withstand many a natural disaster, particularly hurricanes. As time went by the building began to get into a state of disrepair all because of the lack of proper engineering skills with which it was constructed. After a while it reached a stage where once again the building became too unsafe for Worship. The members then sought and received permission to use the school's auditorium for Worship on a weekly basis.

The Synod of 1987 granted permission for the raising of funds and later to embark on the construction of yet a third Chapel on the same site as the previous two. Demolition work of the old structure took place on Saturday January 16, 1993. With continued assistance from our other local counterparts and both financial and physical help received from work teams from the USA and more particularly from the state of Tennessee, actual construction work commenced in earnest on February 15, 1993.

The members anxiously awaited the completion of this new Sanctuary. It was a two floor building, adjacent to the main road. The upper section, which houses the Divine Worship area, was completed in August 1995.

The dedication ceremony which attracted a very large cross section of the Christian Community took place on November 12, 1995. The main celebrant at this function was the Rev. Livingstone Malcolm the then Chairman of the Leeward Islands District of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and Americas (MCCA).

The lower section or basement as we call it has also been completed. In there are facilities for housing a preschool and other church activities. In this section there is also a kitchenette. It has also been identified by Government as a hurricane shelter for the area.

Methodism has had its share of positive influence on the lives of its members and by extension the village on a whole. Through the Church's Ministry and Witness there are two fully accredited Lay Preachers and two Lay Preachers on trial in the Clifton Congregation, one of whom has recently completed his written exams and is now available for his accreditation service.

The Church at Clifton can also boast of having produced a wife for one of our Ordained Methodist Ministers in the person of Rev. Raymond Neilly, now stationed in the Bahamas District. Besides producing persons for the laity, the Methodist Church at Clifton has also through its influence and emphasis on its moral values been able to produce persons who hold prominent positions in our Dominican society. Among them are Policemen, Teachers and Principals of Schools, Nurses, an Education Officer and workers within the hospitality sector. At present there are persons from within the Church membership undergoing studies at University at the level of Masters Degree. The Church also has one member seconded to an education position overseas.

However, in spite of all the challenges with which the Church is faced, it continues to be the most predominant in the Village. It must be noted that there are visible signs that the current membership has become very lukewarm, and is not as active, dedicated and committed as it used to be. Another dilemma which seems to be confronting the Methodist Church at Clifton is that our small membership is getting much older in age whilst the younger membership does not seem to be increasing.

In spite of all this the hope and prayer to God is for all members to recommit themselves and to aspire to rekindle that spiritual flame which once upon a time brightly shone in this part of God’s Vineyard. The members must endeavor to keep the torch of Methodism burning bright so that in spite of its smallness, with firm commitment, renewed dedication and the abandonment of all signs of lukewarmness, the growth, stability and continued existence will be guaranteed.

This is being said against the background of scriptural references, that believers know that with God, everything and anything is possible provided believers are prepared to take Him at His word.