Wesleyan Holiness Church celebrates centennial

The original structure of the Wesleyan Holiness Church in The Bottom was built in 1919.

The Bottom, Saba – The Wesleyan Holiness Church celebrated its centennial anniversary with a special service on Sunday, January 21. During the service, which counted on the presence of General Superintendent Reverend Joel Cumberbatch from Barbados and District Superintendent Reverend Spencer Watts from St. Kitts, Commissioner Rolando Wilson announced that the church building of 1919 in The Bottom has been placed on the official monuments’ list.

Congratulating the Wesleyan Holiness Church and its members with “this great milestone,” Commissioner Wilson said that 100 years was a “very long time.” “We are grateful to God that we are all here together to celebrate this centennial. It has not been an easy time,” he said, referring to the ordeals that the church and the community have gone through in the past 100 years.

Wilson remarked that he grew up in this church, just like St. Maarten Minister of Education and Culture Wycliffe Smith, who was also in attendance at Sunday’s centennial anniversary service. At the end of his short address, Wilson presented a letter of the Executive Council of the Public Entity Saba that officially puts the church building on the monuments’ list to Pastor Vernon Liburd. The news was very much welcomed by the more than 150 persons who attended the service.

The centennial anniversary service was attended by several dignitaries, including Island Governor Jonathan Johnson (right), Commissioner Rolando Wilson (second from right), former Commissioner Will Johnson (fourth from right) and St. Maarten Minister Wycliffe Smith (sixth from right).

Minister Smith remembered his young years at the church which in the past was called the Pilgrim Holiness Church until the merger of the Pilgrim Holiness Movement with the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America in 1968. Smith spoke of the close-knit relations between his parents and the church and he said that even his first name was the suggestion of the local pastor.

“I was dedicated, saved and baptized in this church, and I preached here as well. This church helped me to shape my life and guide me through life. For 70 years it has been my lighthouse and I am very grateful to the church for that.” Smith left Saba at the age of 12 to continue his education in St. Maarten where he later preached at the New Baptist Church.

There was elaborate attention for the history of the Wesleyan Holiness Church during the service. Pastor Liburd read a highly interesting contribution of Saba historian Will Johnson. 

Apostolic Faith Mission

The Wesleyan Holiness Church started out as the Apostolic Faith Mission in 1909. After receiving permission from the local authorities, the pioneer work started in 1912.

The Apostolic Faith Mission was very instrumental in Christianizing many on Saba, and the missionary work, which started in a rented building in the Windwardside, was very productive despite the severe opposition at times. In 1919, a church building was constructed in The Bottom under the guidance of Reverend J.W. Craig, on land that Edward Simmons donated.

In 1922, the Apostolic Faith Mission formed a merger with the Pilgrim Holiness Church. Saba-born Irene Blyden stepped to fill the void when Rev. Craig returned to the United States. Blyden married Alfred Taylor of St. Kitts and were later sent to Nevis where Sister Taylor did great work. The Taylor Memorial Wesleyan Church in Charlestown, Nevis is named after Irene Taylor-Blyden and her husband Alfred Taylor.

The Wesleyan Movement on Saba has over the years struggled, but managed to maintain its stability, in the face of much opposition and conflict. Being the only evangelical church on Saba, the church has served as the light of the community all these years. Saba is one of the four islands that makes up the St. Kitts district. The other two islands, besides St. Kitts, are Nevis and Anguilla.

Commissioner Rolando Wilson (right) hands over the letter with the decision of the Executive Council to place the Wesleyan Holiness Church on the monuments’ list to Pastor Vernon Liburd.

Hurricane George

By 1996, the church was in a state of disrepair and funds were raised for repairs, but then Hurricane George hit in 1998, severely damaging the church and rendering it unusable. A complete restoration was necessary. Renovations started in January 2000. The rock structure was compromised and needed to be reinforced to preserve the original structure.

Under the guidance of Pastor Liburd, the church was rebuilt and expanded, and the congregation increased. The renovation was a herculean task and there were many setbacks, but in April 2005, services could resume in the church. In July 2006, the sanctuary was rededicated. During the passage of Hurricane Irma, the roof suffered damage and the wooden shingles were replaced with galvanized sheets.

General Superintendent Rev. Cumberbatch delivered the feature address. He thanked everyone who served on Saba for doing a “tremendous job” and congratulated the congregation on this historic event. He called on the people to keep fighting for the greatest cause, the Kingdom of God. Congratulating Saba on this milestone, District Superintendent Rev. Watts said that Saba and its people were better off thanks to God, and that he looked forward to the next 100 years.

Sunday’s service was attended by representatives of several denominations, including the Anglican, Roman Catholic and the Seven Day Adventist churches on the island. Island Governor Jonathan Johnson attended, as did Island Council Members Vito Charles and Eviton Heyliger, former Island Governor Sydney Sorton, and former Commissioners Will Johnson and Roy Smith. Volunteers gave the church a fresh layer of paint earlier this month.

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