From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodist mission board takes on Bermuda church

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Mon, 3 Jun 2002 15:03:10 -0500

June 3, 2002       News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212) 870-38037New York

By United Methodist News Service

Mention the island of Bermuda and most Americans think immediately of a
popular cruise ship destination, full of pink sand beaches.

But the island's ethnically diverse population, including Bermuda-born
nationals of African, Caribbean, European and Portuguese descent, also
supports more than 100 places of worship that represent some 30 faith

Among those churches is Marsden Memorial United Methodist Church, a
predominantly black congregation in Smith's Parish that sometimes draws
visitors from the nearby Pink Beach Cottage Colony and Marriott Castle
Harbour Hotel. The Rev. Joseph F. Whalen Jr. is pastor to its 96 members.

For more than a century, Marsden was part of a circuit with Centenary
Methodist Church, a predominantly white congregation. The fellowship between
the two groups is continuing, but the official relationship ended last
September when Marsden discontinued its affiliation with the United Church
of Canada and became a mission church with the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries. Most of the other Methodist churches on the island are
affiliated with the UCC.

Marsden was welcomed as a mission church during a special worship service at
the Board of Global Ministries' April meeting in Stamford, Conn.

Whalen said his congregation is impressed by the global witness of the Board
of Global Ministries. "Our hope is that, in some small way, we too may
demonstrate our obedience to Christ's mandate by raising the UMC banner of
ministry to others on our island of Bermuda," he told United Methodist News
Service in late May.

Marsden has a relationship with the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference
and is supervised by the Rev. Edwin Ankeny, Baltimore North District
superintendent. "I wish every church and every pastor was as enthusiastic as
they are and doing the ministry that they're doing," he said.

For example, the weekend that the district superintendent visited Marsden to
help the members organize themselves as a United Methodist congregation,
Bishop Felton May of the Baltimore-Washington Conference was calling for
prayers for the churches in Zimbabwe. All of the conference's nine districts
have projects in that African country. Marsden took up an offering and sent
Ankeny home with $1,000 toward a Baltimore North project to raise the roof
on a church. "That said a lot to me about where they are in ministry," he

Although the congregation has supported local agencies assisting the
disabled, the homeless and those suffering from AIDS, Whalen noted that the
church has lacked its own project. "We are greatly challenged by Bishop
May's compassionate activism in providing leadership to the various
endeavors of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, especially the Saving
Stations," he said.

A history compiled by Marsden church shows that, from the beginning,
Methodist preachers sought out people of color on the island. The first, the
Rev. George Whitefield, preached a special sermon to a black audience during
his two-month stay in 1748. More than 50 years later, in 1799, another
pastor, the Rev. John Stephenson, was fined and later imprisoned for six
months for breaking a quickly passed government law forbidding missionaries
to preach to black people.

Because of his imprisonment, Methodist ministers had a difficult time
getting into Bermuda. Finally, in 1808, the Rev. Joshua Marsden - whose
portrait hangs in the church named for him - was appointed by conference to
go to Bermuda. He lived with a free black man, Daniel Mallory, and his four
years of work in St. George's Bailey's Bay and Hamilton helped break down
social barriers.

The Marsden congregation, which includes many direct descendants of families
that lived and worshipped in Tucker's Town, had its beginnings when the Rev.
John Crofts arrived in Bermuda in 1830. His preaching circuit included
Tucker's Town, a section of St. George's Parish whose residents were
primarily people of color. Within five years, the Tucker's Town Methodist
Society, with accompanying Sunday school, was formed. For 30 years, the
members worshipped in a small wooden building known as "the Schoolhouse."

When the Rev. William Ryan arrived in 1860, he helped the worshippers
establish a building fund, and the cornerstone was laid at the end of 1861
for a small stone chapel. Around 1869, the Tucker's Town chapel was added to
the Bailey's Bay Methodist Circuit.

In the 1920s, however, the Bermuda government's plan to develop luxury
tourist properties in Tucker's Town forced residents to sell their homes and
relocate elsewhere on the island. Most moved to Smith's Parish, and
Methodist trustees made an agreement with the Bermuda Development Co. Ltd.
to construct the current church, which was named after the Methodist
missionaries. The old schoolhouse and chapel in Tucker's Town still stand
but are private residences. The congregation's old cemetery is considered
sacred ground within the Mid-Ocean Golf Course.

Marsden received its first black minister when Whalen, then affiliated with
the African Methodist Episcopal Church, arrived on Sept. 1, 1999. 

But in recent years, Marsden's members had been troubled by their
affiliation with the United Church of Canada, particularly its theology
allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers and the freedom of
ministers to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies in churches affiliated
with the UCC.

By following the rules governing disaffiliation, as defined by the Wesley
Methodist Church Act of 1930, Marsden officially separated itself from the
UCC last August and celebrated its entry into the United Methodist fold the
next month. According to a June 27, 2001, article in the Bermuda Sun, the
governing body of Wesleyan Methodist churches in Bermuda gave its blessing
to the move since the congregation had followed the prescribed procedures. 

Marsden initiated contact with the Board of Global Ministries in 2000, and
discussions about the congregation's formal affiliation occurred in June
2001. The church unveiled its new sign with the official United Methodist
cross and flame insignia on Oct. 14. 

# # #

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