Brief Insights into the early work of the Methodist Deaconess Order in The Bahamas (Inception to Early 1960s)
By: Brian B. Beneby ©2020
As the work of the Methodist Church in Britain expanded throughout the Caribbean and West Indies region, women were very instrumental in the movement’s early beginnings. Francis Gilbert and Mary Leadbetter were early pioneers who assisted and encouraged Nathaniel Gilbert in his pioneering Methodist work in Antigua. Similarly, in the Bahamas women played an invaluable role in the fledgling Methodist movement. Accordingly, conjecture was rampant that the wife of Anthony Wallace affectionately referred to by Rev. William Turton as "Old Mrs. Wallace" played a leading role in the burgeoning Methodist society which met at her home in the Augusta Street area of Nassau, Bahamas (Bundy, 2015).
Ronald Aitchison suggests that all of the early group of deaconesses were initially from Great Britain, with the first being Sister Mary Morton, who had previously served in Jamaica. Moreover, while stationed in the Bahamas Sister Mary was known for her prolific writing, which was published in the Methodist Quarterly outlining special events, agendas, meetings, and programmes which were held in the local District.
Sister Eileen Hale a keen musician succeeded Sister Morton. Sister Hale was also known for the work she had initiated at the women’s prison which had been so successful that it was said that authorities treated her as an unofficial probation officer. Accordingly, it is well recorded that she had used the Deaconess House on Madeira Street, Nassau as a hostel for women prisoners on probation.
The first West Indian deaconess said to be stationed in the Bahamas was Sister Althea Jacobs, in 1961. It was noted that the Rev. Edwin L. Taylor in referring to Sister Jacobs, wrote in the Golden Jubilee Brochure of the Wesley Deaconess Order of the Caribbean and the Americas that: "She was quite young and placing her alone in the isolated Tarpum Bay Manse was indeed a test of her Christian conviction (Aitchison, 2003, p.126-127).
Sister Dora Dixon and Sister Jessie Kerridge were also active in the early Bahamian Methodist Diaconate ministry. Suitably, the focus of Sister Dixon’s work was at Rhodes Memorial Methodist Church, where she took on the work of visiting the woman's prison, and during the Christmas season, the ladies of Rhodes would prepare traditional Bahamian Christmas meals to take to the prison (Aitchison, 2003, p127).
Hence, one can note that distinct Missional role the early Deaconess played in the work of the Bahamian Methodist Movement.
Photo Caption: Synod 1960 (Bahamas District) Center Row: Sister Mary Morton, Sister Eileen Hale (Glasses) Back Row: Sister Jessie Kerridge
Reference: Aitchison, R. J. (2003). THE OVERSEAS MISSION OF THE WESLEY DEACONESS ORDER: Theological Aberration or Inspiration? Potchefstroomse Universiteit Vir Christelike Hoer Ondemys. https://repository.nwu.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10394/363/aitchison_rj.pdf?sequence=1
Bundy, D. (2015, April). THE AFRICAN AND CARIBBEAN ORIGINS OF METHODISM IN THE BAHAMAS. Methodist History Journal. http://archives.gcah.org/pdfpreview/bitstream/handle/10516/9747/Methodist-History-2015-04-Bundy.pdf?sequence=1