Who we are
CHRIST EPISPCOPAL CHURCH HISTORY
A group of West Indian churchmen started Christ Episcopal Church, a congregation rich in Bahamian culture which lends itself to Coconut Grove’s unique historical background. The early years of Christ Church were ministered by the clergy of Trinity Church.
On March 24, 1901, the first meeting of the founding families was held at the home of David and Rebecca Clark on Charles Avenue. Records show that the following people were present: Mr. & Mrs. E.W. F. Stirrup, Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Roberts, Mrs. Lula Reddick, Mrs. Catherine Anderson and Mr. Azariah Sawyer. Four children were baptized at that first service.
Bishop William C. Gray visited Miami on December 20, 1901 and officially organized the mission congregation known as CHRIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH. Mr. David Clark was appointed lay reader. The Reverend G. I. Smith was the first official vicar, also serving St. Agnes. The Christ Church congregation purchased one lot on the corner of Hibiscus Street and William Avenue for the sum of $25. A church was built of Florida pine wood for the sum of $600. In September 1904 when he visited Miami, Bishop Gray celebrated the first service in the new edifice. During the next two years, Father Fuller and Father Dwight Cameron supplied as priests.The Reverend H. A. Parris came to Christ Church in March 1906 as Vicar. During the first service conducted by him, four candidates were presented to Bishop Gray for Confirmation. In October 1910, Dr. Charles Percival Jackson, who had been doing missionary work in Jupiter, Florida, moved to Coconut Grove and assumed the work as Vicar of Christ Church and St. Stephens.
Under Dr. Jackson’s leadership, another lot was purchased where the church now stands. The old wooden church became the Sunday School Building. In 1912, the new edifice was built, becoming the first permanent church structure made of stone.Dr. Jackson’s tenure at Christ Church was also noted for the relocation of St. Alban’s Industrial School from Key West, Florida to Coconut Grove in 1911. Miss Agnes Scott, a white missionary and nurse from Key West, who had been directing the school, also worked with Dr. Jackson to establish St. Alban’s in the wooden building that housed the Sunday School. St. Alban’s held classes for nine months out of the year for colored children, unlike public schools which were only open four months a year for “coloreds.” Open to children of all denominations, the school provided academic education, music and Bible study, as well as training in the trades, such as home economics, needlework, and furniture repair.When Dr. Jackson left Christ Church, he moved to Homestead, Florida where he lived for a short time before his death. Father Benjamin Soper became part-time priest of Christ Church in 1916. He, too, continued the work of Miss Agnes Scott at St. Alban’s, developing the parochial curriculum in 1917. Before his resignation, Father Soper was instrumental in moving the school to the Douglas Road property owned by Miss Scott. Father Irving served the church after Father Soper resigned.
In spite of frequent turnover in the laity and other problems, Christ Church progressed. The Reverend John Samuel Simmons was appointed the first resident (and first African-American) Priest of Christ Church. He served for 18 years, focusing his administration on Sunday School attendance and Bible Study classes. This period of time was marked by a continuous flow of Caribbean immigrants to the South Florida area. The membership grew from 100 communicants to 502; Father Simmons presented 253 persons for Confirmation, and 472 for baptism. In 1926, a tropical hurricane completely destroyed both the church and the parish house. Led by Father Simmons, this growing church family worked to restore the parish house while still subsidizing St. Alban’s School (where all services were held during the fund-raising period). The National Council appropriated $10,000 to Christ Church. These funds came from “undesignated legacies.” By 1930, the restoration project was completed, and the church’s edifice, as we know it today, was finished. The church was consecrated on May 25, 1930. Bishop Wing was the Celebrant, and Father Simmons presented a class of fifty candidates for confirmation. Father Simmons, a devout teacher and priest, resigned his position in the spring of 1937.
The Reverend Theophilus Boyden Pollard, a West Palm Beach resident, became the second African-American Vicar at Christ Church in 1937. He was an eloquent preacher and an excellent educator. Under his leadership, the church’s sanctuary was enlarged and redecorated. The Diocese of South Florida released funds to Christ Church so that St.Alban’s Industrial School might be reconditioned to house the Works Progress Administration’s (W.P.A.) homemaking project. This would benefit the Negro people of the community. Christ Church provided the building, equipment, and materials needed, while the W.P.A. appointed, supervised and paid the teaching staff. The training that was afforded by this project met an urgent local need and placed a number of persons in employment in the Miami area. Father Pollard was an important instrument in setting up the school. After more than seven years of faithful service, Father Pollard passed away in 1945.
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