The presence of the Anglican Church can be traced from the early beginnings of Bahamian History. The Eleutherian Adventurers after 1647 made the first settlement of the English after these islands had been more or less abandoned by the Spaniards who had eliminated the early Lucayan population. It is said that the Eleutherian Adventurers included two Anglican priests, Stephen Painter and Nathaniel White, who had left the church. In 1670 the Bahamas was granted to the Lord Proprietors of Carolina by the English Crown. Among the requirements of this Grant was the establishment of churches in the islands. Christ Church Cathedral dates from 1670.
On April 12, 1731, Mr. William Guy, a missionary from South Carolina, visited the Bahamas to administer to the spiritual and sacramental needs of the inhabitants.
Mention has also been made of Thomas Curphey, the garrison chaplain, who was subsequently ordained by the Bishop of Gloucester to the diaconate and priesthood between 1721 and 1723. In residence was a Reverend Halton who caused Governor Elias Haskett (1700-1702) some concern. Reverend William Smith of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel was the first missionary of S.P.G. sent to the Bahamas and arrived in 1737.
As stated earlier, the presence of the Anglican Church in The Bahamas can be traced to the earliest English settlement but it was in 1729, with the arrival of the first Royal Governor, Woodes Rogers, that the church was established by law. According to Rogers’ Royal Instructions, the Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson (1723 – 1748) became technically Bishop of the Bahamas. On September 6, 1734, the entire Bahamas was erected into one parish of Christ Church. In 1768, St. John’s Parish was created a second Parish which was made up of Harbour Island and Eleuthera. This can be attested to by visiting the Parish Church of St. John at Harbour Island dating back to the early eighteenth century. The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (formerly the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) was in those early days generous in providing missionaries, priests especially from 1733 – 1807 and from 1836 until modern times. In addition, the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and Dr. Bray’s Associates contributed generously to the building up of the Church in The Bahamas. In 1824 the Diocese of Jamaica was created and The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands were incorporated in this Diocese. An Act of The Bahamas Legislature of 30th January 1826 recognized the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Jamaica, Christopher Lipscombe, over the clergy in the Bahamas. Bishop Lipscomb visited the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands four times in 1826, 1830, 1834, and 1839. The Bahamas was elevated to an Archdeaconry in 1844 by Aubrey George Spencer, second Bishop of Jamaica who also appointed the Rev. John McCammon Trew as Archdeacon in the Bahamas. The Archdeacon lived in The Bahamas from 1844 to 1857, when he returned home to Ireland. Bishop Spencer visited the Bahamas five times in 1845, 1847, 1848, 1850, and 1852. The Lord Bishop of Kingston, Reginald Courtney, was the last Bishop from Jamaica to visit The Bahamas as Diocesan.
The people in the Bahamas were not satisfied with the occasional visits of the Bishops from Jamaica added to which was dissatisfaction over the decision of Bishop Spencer in 1850 in regards to the Burial Ground Controversy. Bahamians began to see the need for a bishop of their own. In 1848, The Turks and Caicos Islands seceded from the Bahamas and later came under the jurisdiction of Jamaica, although remaining under the Archdeaconry of the Bahamas. On 4th November 1861, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands became a separate diocese. Dr. Charles Caulfield, the successor of Archdeacon Trew was consecrated the first Bishop of Nassau, in Lambeth Palace (The London Residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury) on November 24, 1861. The new bishop arrived in Nassau in May 1862 and Nassau by Letters Patent became a city. The Letters Patent were proclaimed with much ceremony on the steps of the public buildings by the Provost Marshall and were read in Christ Church Cathedral in the presence of a large number of parishioners and government officials on 17th June 1862, in the Cathedral. Six priests took the oath of allegiance to their bishop. Unfortunately, the first bishop of the diocese died prematurely in September 1862 of Yellow Fever. He was succeeded by Addington Robert Peel Venables (nephew of Sir Robert Peel).
In spite of setbacks from time to time, The Church has continued to be a tower of strength to the Bahamian Community.
Since its creation as a Diocese in 1861, The Diocese has intensified its ministries of pastoral care and education in conveying its mission in these islands. From its earliest years, the church has established primary and secondary schools. The latter ones continued until the early years of the 1930s.
During the episcopacy of Bishop Spence Burton S.S.J.E., The Diocese returned to the field of secondary education after a lapse of many years. A diocesan high school called St. John’s College (After the Patron Saint of the Diocese St. John the Baptist) was established in 1947. This was followed a few years later (1955) by St. Anne’s High School which started out as a parochial venture under Canon Pugh. There are two other schools – Bishop Michael High School at Freeport, Grand Bahama, and St. Andrew’s Junior High at Georgetown, Exuma.
On 24th June 1971, Michael Hartley Eldon was consecrated Suffragan Bishop with the title Bishop of New Providence. Less than a year later on April 20, 1972, the Diocesan Synod unanimously elected Michael H. Eldon as 11th Bishop of Nassau and the Bahamas including the Turks and Caicos Islands and the first Bahamian Bishop of this Diocese. Similarly, on 1st September 1996 the Rt. Reverend Drexel Gomez, former Bishop of Barbados, succeeded Bishop Eldon as Diocesan Bishop. Bishop Gomez, who had been Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese prior to his elevation, became the first Bahamian to be elevated as Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies on October 20, 1998.
Bishop Laish Boyd was elected Coadjutor on June 29, 2006, and became Diocesan Bishop on January 1, 2009.
To date, this Diocese has had thirteen diocesan bishops. There have been two Suffragan Bishops, the Rt. Rev’d. Michael H. Eldon and the Rt. Rev’d. Gilbert A. Thompson. Two other Bahamians have been elevated to the episcopacy: the late Donald Knowles, Bishop of Antigua, and the Rt. Reverend Cornel J. Moss, Bishop of Guyana.
During these hundreds of years, the clergy and missionaries of this scattered Diocese have ministered to all and sundry, high and low in all sorts of circumstances and some have been in perils of the deep and lost their lives providing the gospel to our Bahamian people.
The Anglican Church in the Bahamas has been integrally involved with the life of the nation since its inception. Imitating the English model of the Crown as head of national life which included church and state, Royal Governors have forwarded the development of the political, social, cultural, and educational life. The English clergy have assisted the Governors and Parliament in cultivating ordered societies based on Christian principles and the rule of law. The Book of Common Prayer which contained a moral code of conduct through its Catechism dictated the duties of man to God and his neighbour. The priests and educated Anglican Catechists and Lay Readers were in the vanguard of instructing the citizenry in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Schools were established by the Church in the eighteenth century in order to enable students to enter English Universities. Other schools were introduced for instructing white, persons of colour, and black-free persons. Some children of slaves also attended. Bear in mind that this is long before there was any Board of Education, Ministry of Education, or any other formal educational effort organised by the state.
Members of the Anglican Communion have always been at the forefront of the total life of the community by providing teachers, doctors, musicians, athletes, lawyers, politicians, nurses, and carpenters, and in the sharing of many different talents and skills. The early priests and the present ones are still in our schools – Government and Church – in continuing the tradition of education. Many Anglican politicians in both Chambers continue in making contributions to national life. So it is also with many of our top-ranked and other civil servants and persons all over the private sector.
We have produced leaders in the Arts and Culture. Our Junkanoo development to the present stage was greatly influenced by Anglicans. The Charges made by our Bishops at the opening of Synod and other directives still help to direct the course of our nation.
We can rightly say that the Anglican Church in The Bahamas and in The Turks and Caicos Islands has been true to its calling and mandate as given to us by our Lord and Saviour himself: ” Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I give you”. Matthew 28:19-20.
From the 1860s to 1900, Addington House was the residence of the Anglican Bishops of Nassau, and the hill on which it stands became affectionately known as ‘Bishop’s Hill’ (or ‘Bishop Hill’ as we say in Bahamian). The House with its private Chapel has seen joy and sorrow, prosperity and adversity. It has suffered the ravages of hurricanes and been the venue of glittering hospitality. The house has now been completely restored to serve as the offices of the Central Administration of the Diocese of The Bahamas and The Turks and Caicos Islands.
The original house was probably constructed between 1800 and 1820 and was apparently owned at one time by the Commander of Fort Fincastle, which was situated on the higher ground immediately to the South. It is said that the Chief Justice of The Bahamas lived there until the early 1860s.
The Venerable Dr. Charles Caulfeild The First Bishop 1861 – 1862
In 1861 Queen Victoria designated The Bahamas a Diocese of the Church of England, and the then Archdeacon of The Bahamas, the Venerable Dr. Charles Caulfeild (who spelled his name ‘ei’ rather than ‘ie’), was named the first Bishop of the new Diocese. Sadly, Dr. Caulfeild died of yellow fever within a few months of his arrival back in Nassau after his consecration as a Bishop in London. He was described by the then Governor as “a Prelate who, during his brief Episcopate, had endeared himself to the members not only of his own flock, but of every Christian society in the city.”
The Right Reverend Addington Robert Peel Venables The Second Bishop 1864 – 1876
By the time Bishop Caulfeild’s successor arrived in Nassau, the question arose as to where the new Bishop should live. The choice for bishop had fallen on the Reverend Addington Robert Peel Venables, a member of a powerful and wealthy family. (Sir Robert Peel, who has twice served as Prime Minister of Great Britain, was the Bishop’s uncle and guardian). When the Venables arrived in Nassau early in 1864 they lived at first in rooms above a shop in Bay Street, but when the Chief Justice’s residence became available, Bishop Venables purchased it out of his own considerable resources.
In memoir of Bishop Venables published shortly after his death by Canon W.F.H. King we read concerning this house,
Here five of his children were born, and here three of them died. Here also it was that the Bishop displayed, when at Nassau, a constant and unvarying hospitality. Indeed the house was seldom without guests of one kind or another. Missionaries and their families en route from England to some distant part of the Diocese, clergy on visit to Nassau on business, or at synod time, or some broken-down missionary on sick leave from his out island parish, made the house their home as long as they were pleased to stay; while the inhabitants of Nassau generally, with visitors from America, Officers of the Army and Navy, and others, found the Bishop’s hospitable doors always open to receive them with a cheery and courteous welcome from their kindly host. [Voice of the Church, April 1986, p.8]
Bishop and Mrs Venables lived in the house for the rest of their time in Nassau. Bishop Venables’ Episcopate was marked by the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of England in the Colony and also by tension over the introduction of changes in the ritual and services of the Church. All this took its toll. In June 1876 the Bishop became ill and went Hartford, Connecticut for medical treatment and died there later that year at the early age of forty-nine. The Bishop’s wife and young children inherited the house and agreed to sell it to the Diocese of Nassau for 800 pounds to become a permanent residence for the Bishop of the Diocese.
The Right Reverend Francis Alexander Randall Cramer-Roberts The Third Bishop 1878 – 1885
In honour of the late Bishop Addington Venables the house on Bishop Hill was renamed Addington House, and became the home of the next Bishop, the Right Reverend Francis Alexander Randall Cramer-Roberts and his wife. Bishop Cramer-Roberts’ period in Nassau was a peaceful time after the turmoil of Bishop Venables’ tenure. Although he achieved much in consolidating the work of the Church, it was also a period of sadness. It is said that his first wife and all their children died here and when his second wife became ill in May 1885 Bishop Cramer- Roberts resigned the See and returned to England.
The Right Reverend Edward Townson Churton The Fourth Bishop 1886 – 1900
The Right Reverend Edward Townson Churton, who was Bishop from 1886 to 1900, followed the Cramer-Roberts family at Addington House. ‘The Lord Edward’ as Bishop Edward Churton came to be known, arrived in Nassau in March 1886, after having been ship wrecked on the voyage out. In April of that year he wrote how he had brought the Priest from Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera to Addington House so he could receive care in a serious illness. The sick Priest was the Reverend Henry Shuter Crispin whom the Bishop describes as “one of the best and most valued of our clergy”. Fr. Crispin died seven weeks later. Edward Churton was a scholar who brought a new level of intellectual leadership to the Diocese. He was also tireless in his work in building up the Churches in the Family Islands.
The Right Reverend Henry Noris Churton
The Fifth Bishop
Bishop Edward Churton’s wife passed away in 1890, and his younger brother the Reverend Henry Noris Churton, who was already a widower, came to Nassau to assist his brother in the work of the Diocese. He became Archdeacon of The Bahamas and treasurer of the Diocese. The older brother resigned because of illness in 1900, and the younger brother eventually succeeded him as the fifth Bishop of the Diocese. Bishop Henry Churton only lived in Addington House by himself for a little over a year as in January 1904, he was tragically drowned while trying to get from a Confirmation Service on Ragged Island to his yacht, the ‘Message of Peace’.
The Right Reverend Wilfred Bird Hornby The Sixth Bishop 1904-1918
One of Bishop Edward Churton’s friends was the Right Reverend Wilfred Bird Hornby, the Bishop of Nyasaland. Hornby visited the Churtons in Nassau in 1899 and visited many of the islands to assist Bishop Edward Churton who was already in poor health. When Henry Churton died, Bishop Hornby, who was already known and loved by many in the Diocese, was elected the Sixth Bishop. He took up residence in Addington House in 1905 and lived here until his retirement in 1918. It is thought that the two buildings to the east and west of the main house were probably built around the turn of the twentieth century. If this is so, then it was possible that either Bishop Edward Churton or Bishop Hornby was responsible for those additions.
The upper story of the East Building for many years housed the Diocesan Library, known as the Addington Library. The period of the First World War was a difficult one for the Diocese of Nassau, as there were a number of vacant parishes. Bishop Hornby had already brought a group of Anglican Nuns from the Community of St. Peter in Yorkshire to teach and assist in pastoral care, and this helped to ease the shortage of clergy. Bishop Shedden, wrote in 1927
Bishop Hornby’s memory is still loved and revered in Nassau. No Bishop has ever fulfilled the duties of hospitality more thoroughly than he, and the Saturday afternoon parties [at Addington House] at which he instructed the gentlemen of Nassau in the art of playing quoits are still fondly remembered. He is spoken of as the most popular Englishman who ever came to the Bahamas… [Ups and Downs in a West Indian Diocese, p.166-7]
The Right Reverend Roscow Shedden The Seventh Bishop 1919-1931
The Right Reverend Roscow Shedden and his sister Miss Evelyn Shedden were the next occupants of Addington House. Fr. Shedden had been selected to replace the Reverend G.H. Brown, who had been elected by the Diocesan Synod but had died in the terrible influenza epidemic of 1918 before he could be consecrated. At the time of Shedden’s consecration as Bishop, he was the youngest Bishop in Christendom. The Sheddens took up residence in November 1919.
Although his time in Nassau was beset by squabbles about ritual and vestments, Shedden was a popular figure in The Bahamas, and he did much to encourage young Bahamians to consider a vocation to the priesthood. In 1929, the worst of a series of severe hurricanes hit Nassau, and Addington House was badly damaged. The upper storey of the east Building was completely destroyed, resulting in the total loss of the Addington Library, and the main house sustained serious damage.
The Reverend John Dauglish The Eighth Bishop 1932-1942
When Bishop Shedden retired in 1931, the Synod elected a former Royal Navy Chaplain, the Reverend John Dauglish to succeed him. Bishop Dauglish moved into Addington House in 1932 and his mother lived with him for the first four years of his time in Nassau before she passed away. Bishop Dauglish is remembered as an efficient administrator and one who was not afraid to speak out passionately on moral issues.
In 1942 he resigned to take up the position of Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The SPG, as it was usually known (now the USPG), is the Missionary society that has done so much over the years to support and encourage the work of the Church in The Bahamas.
The Right Reverend Spence Burton The Ninth Bishop 1942-1961
The only American to serve as Bishop of Nassau, the Right Reverend Spence Burton, took up residence in 1942. Bishop Burton was a monk of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and was the Superior of the American branch of the Order. He had already served as Suffragan Bishop of Haiti. Although he was unmarried, the tradition of open hospitality continued at Addington House and many people especially remember his encouragement of Bahamian clergy.
In 1955, H.R.H. Princess Margaret, attended a Mass in the Chapel of Addington House during her visit to Nassau. As a religious, Burton disliked the comfort of the Main House and usually slept in Spartan conditions in what remained of the East Building, which henceforth became known as Burton Lodge. Often one of his dogs shared the lodge with him. During this time, the office of the Bishop’s secretary was also housed in Burton Lodge.
The Right Reverend Bernard Markham The Tenth Bishop 1962-1972
The last English Bishop of Nassau was Bishop Bernard Markham who lived at Addington House from 1962 to 1972. The house was re-roofed and refurbished during his time. The West Building became the administrative center for the Diocese and the upper story was used as a conference room.
Markham was an anti-colonialist who did much to prepare the Church and its people for the coming of independence. He encouraged vocations to the priesthood among Bahamians and was dedicated to deepening the spiritual lives of the clergy and laity.
The Right Reverend Michael Hartley Eldon The Eleventh Bishop The First Bahamian Bishop of Nassau 1972-1996
It was said that Bishop Markham’s “crowning achievement was that a Bahamian succeeded him in the See of Nassau and The Bahamas”. The first Bahamian Bishop (and eleventh Bishop) of Nassau and The Bahamas was the Right Reverend Michael Hartley Eldon. Bishop Eldon and his mother, Mrs. Rowena Eldon lived in the House until 1990. The Reverend John Taylor has written of Bishop Eldon,
Anyone acquainted with Bahamian history knows of the flowering of Bahamian-born Anglican clergy during Bishop Eldon’s Episcopate. The Holy Spirit used his intellectual gifts, energy and charisma, to inspire vocations to the Sacred Ministry as never before in the Diocese. From one parish after another, he sent men to Codrington College, Barbados, and other theological seminaries. [Booklet in honour of Bishop Eldon’s 70th Birthday, p.201]
The tradition of hospitality at Addington House continued under Bishop Eldon and guests during this time included previous Archbishops of the Province of the West Indies, the Most Reverend Alan Knight and the Most Reverend Cuthbert Woodruff. However, by 1990, it was found that there were serious structural problems developing, which made it unsuitable as a residence and Bishop Eldon moved to other accommodations.
The Most Reverend Drexel Wellington Gomez The Twelfth Bishop The Second Bahamian Bishop of Nassau 1996-2008
Addington House was then occupied in turn by the Youth Department of the Diocese and by the Anglican Central Education Authority. Then, under the leadership of the Most Reverend Drexel W. Gomez, the decision was finally taken to embark on a major restoration programme and this began in earnest in 1999. It was decided that this would be undertaken as part of the Diocese 2000 and Beyond Programme that had been inaugurated in 1998. This Programme seeks to revitalize seven basic ministries of the pay people of the church as well as provide material improvements and an endowment for the Diocese.
The Reverend Colin Saunders, who is an architect as well as a priest, was asked to supervise the restoration project. After careful consultation with both the Ministry of Works and the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation, it was agreed that Addington House is a significant historical site, of great value to both the Anglican Church and the Bahamian Nation.
It was determined that the restoration would be undertaken in such a way as to preserve, as far as possible, the historical integrity of the complex. Wherever feasible materials and finishes were as close as possible to the original, so that doors, windows, hardware, etc., match those used in the period of the original construction.