The Wesleyan Holiness Church on Saba
by Will Johnon
In 1984 I had a correspondence with Pastor Williams of the Pilgrim Holiness Church. The letter was dated November 14th, 1984. At the time Pastor Williams was trying to get funding for repairs to the beautiful historic Manse in The Bottom. This correspondence will serve to introduce the history of this church on Saba and then followed by a part of the history written by Pastor Williams.
Dear Pastor Williams,
Enclosed please find a few documents, pertaining to the history of the Pilgrim Holiness Church on Saba. From the petition some facts can be obtained. Also herewith some other facts that I have found:
Dr. J. Hartog “DE BOVENWINDSE EILANDEN” -1964- (Translated from the Dutch).
“An inhabitant of Saba lost his home in the hurricane of 1898, and through a falling rock also lost his son. He joined the Free Gospel Mission, a sect resembling the Salvation Army, in search of consolation. This sect (denomination) worked in Antigua but had their headquarters in Barbados. This movement established itself on Saba. In 1902 they had a school there, but this was closed in January of 1907 due to the departure of the female teacher.
This denomination did not make much progress and when the missionary J.R. Mayhew departed on May 16th, 1909 it was announced that no other missionary would be coming out. The adherents then started looking to the United States for a similar religious direction, and on December 10th, 1909 James M. Taylor of the Faith and Love Mission arrived with a group of people. A certain Warner remained behind for the Gospel Mission. When the missionary C.S. Symth was succeeded in 1912 by Miss A. Coulter this denomination adopted the name of Apostolic Holiness Church, which in 1915 was changed to Pilgrim’s Holiness Church, when Sabans had learned to know this denomination in the United States and a missionary came to our island. The Pilgrim Holiness Church is practically limited to the United States, has a total of twenty thousand members, and came into being in 1896 through a separation from the Free Methodist Church in California.”
Also I found in the old records the church members of the Apostolic Holiness Church for the year 1930: Men 4, Women 29; Total 33. The other enclosed document will also be of some help to you. But I am sure what you have here will be of some help.
Sincerely, Will Johnson.
“The Wesleyan Holiness Movement on the island of Saba, started way back in 1913 under the name of “The Apostolic Faith Mission”. The Apostolic Faith Mission had its headquarters in the United States of America. This religious Movement was very effective in its outreach ministries. Hence, a large delegation of missionaries was sent to various parts of the world, including the Caribbean area.
In Divine Providence, one Mr. James M. Taylor arrived on the island of Saba on December 10th, 1909 with a group of people. It is reported that a religious group (Faith and Love Mission) pioneered work on the island from 1902 to May 16th, 1909. They did not make much progress; and therefore, had to depart. It was then in that same year 1909, that the Apostolic Faith Mission began negotiations with the Island representatives to have a religious work started on the Island. Having received permission to do so, pioneer work began in 1912.
The Apostolic Faith Mission was very instrumental in Christianizing many of the inhabitants on the island. The Missionary work on the island was very productive in spite of severe opposition at times. The missionary work started in the Windward side. Services were held in a rented building. It is reported that there were those who showed little or no sympathy for such religious gatherings. The word however, made steady progress until a church building was erected in The Bottom. This, the Apostolic Faith Church was built in The Bottom in 1919. The congregation was then pastured by Rev; J.W. Craig an American missionary.
On the 23rd April 1920, a resolution was passed and seconded, and agreed upon by more than sixty (60) members, followers, and adherents. The resolution was handwritten and addressed to His Excellency the Governor General on Curacao; petitioning His Excellency to officially recognize as an independent body this religious movement. His Excellency replied, and stated that he had no objections to officially incorporate the church under the laws of the Government of Holland.
In October 1922, the Apostolic Faith Church formed a merger with the Pilgrim Holiness Church. The merger came into effect, as a result of scriptural holiness that swept across the various denominations in the United States in the last half of the nineteenth century. The original purpose of the founders of the “Pilgrim Holiness Church” was to promote worldwide holiness evangelism that remained an indelible characteristic.
Pilgrim Holiness Church extended its work to: South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, England etc. and here in the Caribbean to St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba and Curacao among others. So influential was this movement that many diligent seekers were attracted to its faith.
At the completion of his term of office, Rev. Craig returned to the United States. It appears that difficulties arose in the recruiting of other missionaries to the Island to carry on the work. Hence, a native on the island, a Christian, with a burning love for Christ felt that God could use her to push forward the work on the island. She was Miss Irene Blyden. She was very effective in her role as a leader and a pioneer. She traveled to the United States of America and did her graduate studies at “God’s Bible School”. There she met Mr. Alfred Taylor, a native of Sandy Point, St. Kitts whom she married.
Upon their return from “God’s Bible School”, they were joined in Holy Matrimony in her homeland, Saba. They were later sent to the island of Nevis; and to this couple was born two boys and two girls. One of the boys (Dr. Wingrove Taylor) later became the general Superintendent of “The Wesleyan Holiness Churches” in the Caribbean. The other three children are residing elsewhere.
The Taylor’s work of evangelism was greatly blessed of God, and their names were acclaimed throughout the region. Their work on the Island of Nevis in particular, was so richly blessed and effective that even up until this day the mention of the name Sister Taylor or Brother Taylor speaks of nobleness. She was such a noblewoman, great in her personality, maternal to neglected children, that her dedication spoke volumes to those who remembered her. They both excelled in their earthly ministries until they were given their final call to join the blood washed already in the great beyond. The Taylor Memorial Wesleyan Holiness Church in Charlestown, Nevis is named after them both in honour of their services and dedication rendered here on earth.
The Pilgrim Holiness Movement proposed to form a merger with the “Wesleyan Methodist Church of America” on June 26, 1968. Before the merger in 1968 numerous negotiations were made to have a merger between the two churches. Many were the objections to the merger; and also the General Conference failed to muster a two third majority vote to form a merger. However, on the above date a merger was formed.
The Wesleyan Movement on Saba has over the years struggled and maintained its stability. In the face of much opposition and conflict, the church has given to the community a powerful witness of the saving and keeping grace of God. One of the main families who have been with the church these many years are the Smiths. Mrs. Ruth Smith especially was widely respected for her faith and her deep commitment to her church and her community.
Being the only evangelical church on the island, the church has tried over the years with the assistance of her chief shepherd, (Jesus Christ her Lord) has tried to be lights in the community. Because of the church’s stand for godliness and purity of life, many have sought and have found that the life of a Christian is the most satisfying and rewarding life to live. The island of Saba is one of the three islands grouped together to form a District. The other islands are: St. Kitts which is headquarters, Nevis and Saba.
Saba has been very privileged over the years, to have had a succession of missionaries and ministers. It would seem to the writer, that this beautiful island was specifically selected through divine providence, as a place to draw significant persons from around the world to represent Him (Christ) in a noble manner. There were several missionaries and ministers that labored on the island of Saba namely:
Rev. Beins from England who served for a period of time; Rev. Torton from the USA also served for some time. Rev. and Mrs. E.E. Phillippe from the USA. Mr. and Mrs. H. Spence, St. Kitts, Miss Pearson, Antigua. Miss Mason, Antigua. Mr. Thomas, Barbuda. Mr. Winter, Barbuda. Rev. and Mrs. H. Herbert, St. Kitts. Rev. and Mrs. O. Charles, St. Kitts;
In 1984 Rev. Williams expressed his concern about the state of the Wesleyan Manse. Regrettably the church did not have the funds the restore the old building and eventually it was demolished and replaced with a concrete building on the same property further down the road. The lovely old mansion was at one time the home of Capt. Will Simmons In his report the Rev. Williams said:” The Wesleyan Manse on Saba is over one hundred years old. It has served as a resting place for all the above mentioned names. It continues to be a significant dwelling house, for, so very often missionaries and ministers and visitors to the Island, and the manse is where they stay. As stated earlier, the Wesleyan Church is the only evangelical church on the Island. Therefore, whenever another evangelical organization or representative visits the Island, the Wesleyan church accommodates such. Hence, the manse becomes a temporary resort. The building, being so very old leads us at this stage to express our concern for the Manse.
The dwelling house is nicely built. It stands in the central part of The Bottom; and it is so uniquely designed that the visitor to the island cannot help but by noticing the building which so typically represents Saba’s culture. The building itself is very large. It has three large bedrooms, and a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and a study room. The architectural design is very beautiful, especially the interior with its beautiful carvings in the roof and to the sides. The concern then for this cultural and historical building, is that repairs would be done to it in order to preserve its beauty. The building itself is in very bad condition. It leaks in every room. The boards are quite rotten, due to constant rainfalls. Some of the boards in the floor are actually sinking; which is hazardous not only to its present inhabitants but also to visitors to the house. For the size of the building, it would be very costly to renovate the entire building. However, due to the bad condition of the building, it is felt that the most difficult areas be repaired. An estimated cost of the repairs would be fifteen thousand guilders. Hence the Pastor and members of the Wesleyan churches on Saba request the assistance of the foundation for the preservation of buildings to carry out some of the repairs to the building. As Pastor of the Wesleyan churches on the Island, the members and other concerned individuals in the community will be very grateful for the assistance granted. In hurricane George the church was severely damaged and Pastor Vernon Liburd did a tremendous job in repairing the damage and also at the same time he enlarged the church and the congregation has increased quite a bit since he has been on Saba.
Mrs. Annie L. Pamenter-Simmons gave a personal account of her participation in the Mission Church in an interview with Dr. Julia Crane: I was born and baptized an Anglican. I was a child about six years old when [my family] went over to the Missions, and from then on until I was married. It was the Christian Mission then. It changed its name so many times. I stayed in it all the time from then on until I was married, in the Mission Church. My eldest brother didn’t leave the church – neither one of the boys – but my brother used to be in the choir.
You see after my brother died the priest in charge of the church here – it was a native of Saba, and, of course, it was too bad – after we got the news of the boy’s being lost at sea, something he sent to tell my mother. A message came that she could buy a “salvation stick” from the Missions to heal her broken heart. I don’t know, but it was a hard time and sore time, especially from the man you thought was trying to lead you to God and to try to comfort you. A message came to tell her to buy a “salvation stick” from the people at the Mission to heal her broken heart, so after that we left the church. We went to the Mission entirely.
You see, the Missions were right there where they have the church. That whole piece of property where the Mission is belonged to my brother (Edward who died in 1960), left from one of the aunts, the brother that died here. So he used to keep a little store in the house that was here after he came from Bermuda, and then after he gave up the store the Missions rented the house. It was a nice house. They took down all the partitions, and they used to keep the services there. [Before that they used] just the old house there, and when they went St. Johns they would rent a house in St. Johns and the Windwardside. Then the family left the church up there, the Anglican Church, and went to the Missions and they died Missions, all of them.”