Christ Episcopal Church’s History
From the Bahamas to South Florida.
A tale of determination, strength and dedication.
Christ Episcopal Church was founded by a group of West Indian churchmen. It was a congregation rich in Bahamian culture, which helped to create 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 indicate 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. During this service, 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 and the Reverend G. I. Smith was the first official vicar, who was also serving St. Agnes.
The Christ Church congregation purchased a plot of land on the corner of Hibiscus Street and William Avenue for the sum of $25 where 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 following two years, Father Fuller and Father Dwight Cameron served as supply priests. The Reverend H. A. Parris came to Christ Church in March 1906 as Vicar and during the first service Rev. Paris presented, 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 Church.
Under Dr. Jackson’s leadership, another plot of land 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 School 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 opened four months out of the year for “coloreds.” Opened 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. Upon leaving Christ Church, Dr. Jackson moved to Homestead, Florida where he lived for a short time before his death.
In 1916, 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 School, 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. On May 25, 1930, Bishop Wing served as Celebrant at the church’s consecration service at which time, 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 next 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 colored 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 provided employment opportunities for a number of persons in the Miami area. Father Pollard played a vital role in establishing the school. After more than seven years of faithful service, Father Pollard passed away in 1945.