History of St. Agnes Anglican Church
Established in 1841
Now celebrating its 180th year of establishment and 176th year of dedication, St. Agnes Anglican Church remains at the heart of the Anglican Diaspora in the Diocese, continuing with each change of leadership to be relevant to the times and to its congregation, many whose family lines stretch back as far as the Church’s itself.
When the Eleutherian Adventures first arrived in The Bahamas in the 17th century, there were among the pioneering lot two Anglican priests.
A number of Churches and Chapels were built, then destroyed by invading Spaniards or by French and Spanish conspiracies. At this time, A Garrison Chapel was in existence at Fort Nassau, which is the present site of the British Colonial Hilton.
Yet, the Anglican Church remained essentially an institution of the elitist establishment until 1841, when then Deacon Edward Jordan Rogers, of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), was placed in charge of Grant’s Town and began holding services at the old African schoolhouse at what is now Market and Cockburn Streets, a mere seven years after the Emancipation Act of 1834. It was this singular move that represented the church’s pastoral and evangelical response to the “New Bahamas” created by this Act.
Deacon Rogers, who served a year in the Out Islands, was later instructed to take his St. Agnes congregation to Christ Church when he had to return to England to be priested. He came back to The Bahamas and continued his ministry with the flock at the old African schoolroom. In 1845, Bishop Spencer of Jamaica, who had responsibility for The Bahamas, arrived in Nassau and dedicated the schoolroom as a Church.
Thus St. Agnes Church, in 1845, began officially its historic mission of service to God and Man in the “Over-the-Hill” heartland. From there, the Anglican Church’s popular outreach and appeal was to spread to every inhabited corner of New Providence. Rev’d Rogers, who also served as Chaplain to the Garrison and as pastor of St. Matthew’s, ministered to the flock at St. Agnes until 1847. Rev’d Rogers then returned to England where he lived another fifty (50) years.
After Rev’d. Rogers’ departure came Rev’d. Cannon William John Woodcock. His ministry was perhaps the most significant at the time, since it was through his drive and generosity that the Bain Town Free Day School (later renamed the Woodcock School) came into existence, thus extending the Church’s service to man in a very necessary and meaningful way.
Rev’d. Cannon Woodcock fell ill and died in November of 1851 in Governor’s Harbour Eleuthera and his remains were interred in the church and now lie in what is now the Church’s chancel. Woodcock was succeeded by Deacon Robert Swann, an English teacher who had been recruited in 1850 to serve in the growing Grant’s Town school system. As a young man, Swann came to The Bahamas as a Missionary. He later became a priest.
The next rector of St. Agnes was the Rev’d. James Hartmann Fisher. A native of Jamaica, Fisher succeeded Swann in 1856. Fisher holds the distinction of being St. Agnes’ longest serving rector. During his fifty (50) years as Rector, a plethora of changes were made at St. Agnes. Under Fisher’s watch, the new church on Baillou Hill Road was constructed with funds granted from the Legislature. Furthermore, he positioned the altar to the eastern-end of the Church and became the first priest to be called “Father”. Also during Fr. Fisher’s tenure, a Vestry was legally constituted, St. Agnes Cemetery was consecrated and a new Chancel and Lady Chapel were added to the Church. Fr. Fisher is celebrated as the “Father of Anglo-Catholicism” in The Bahamas and is largely responsible for introducing many of the Anglo-Catholic traditions still kept by St. Agnes today. Fr. Fisher is believed to have been the first rector of St. Agnes to get married while serving as rector. Fisher retired in 1906, dying four (4) years later on St. Mary Magdalene Day in 1910. His remains and that of his Bahamian-born wife are interred in St. Agnes’ cemetery.
Fr. Fisher’s successor was the Venerable Audley Joseph Browne, who was to lead the Church further into the 20th century when he was appointed rector on October 14, 1906. Browne was a gifted musician, organ builder, repairer and musical director. He installed the first organ in St. Agnes which replaced the harmonium. Browne was one of two (the other being Mr. Austin Destoup), who were instrumental in teaching St. Agnes’ longest serving Principal Organist, Percival Hanna how to play the organ. Browne served St. Agnes until 1925.
In 1925, Cannon Herbert George succeeded Archdeacon Browne as rector of St. Agnes while he was still headmaster of the Diocesan Western School in St. Mary’s Rectory. During his tenure, a violent hurricane descended upon New Providence on September 15, 1928. The hurricane wreaked violent destruction. The Church was hard-hit and had to be completely refurbished. In the interim, the church services were held at the old schoolroom and at the Woodcock School. The rebuilding of the Church was completed in May of 1929. Improvements included an enlarged nave, steel girders and graceful concrete hexagonal pillars dividing the main section from the side aisles. While Cannon George was rector, the decision was taken to build a rectory to accommodate him. He and his wife, the former Dorothea Colaman, became the first to occupy the new rectory, atop the hill on Market Street.
Cannon George Loran Pyform was one of the first Bahamian priests among a traditionally all-English clergy and the first Bahamian to be made a Cannon of Christ Church Cathedral (Nassau). Cannon Pyform became the first Bahamian to take charge of the flock at St. Agnes, where he served from 1936 to 1947. Pyfrom died in 1950.
Succeeding Cannon Pyform was Fr. (later Cannon) Milton Edward Cooper who became the first Black-Bahamian rector of St. Agnes in 1947. Father Cooper, a native of Exuma, was known for his strict approach and is credited by many Bahamian priests as the driving force that led them to the priesthood. Father Cooper became the first Black Cannon of Christ Church Cathedral (Nassau) in 1950. Cannon Cooper collapsed shortly after preaching a sermon at Evensong at St. Agnes in June of 1967 and died a short time after. Cooper’s final sermon is remembered for his quoting of the words of the popular hymn “O Jesus I Have Promised To Serve Thee To The End.”
Following Cannon Cooper’s term as rector came Fr. William Edward Thompson (later Archdeacon Thompson), who assumed the office of rector in December of 1967. Thompson, who was just 34 at the time, was the first “Son of St. Agnes” to serve as Rector and later became the second longest serving Rector, serving for 32 years (1967-1999). Father Thompson was instrumental in the development of the “Modern Bahamas” as the year 1967 ushered in a new political, as well as socio-economic landscape for Bahamians, especially those Bahamians of African-descent. Additionally, Thompson was personally responsible for funding the education of many of the young persons “Over-the-Hill”. While Rector, Thompson saw to completion the construction of the church’s steeple, parish hall and the installation of a new organ and choir loft. In 1999, after many years of service to Church, State and the common man, Archdeacon Thompson demitted office. Just a few months later, in May 2000, Thompson was critically wounded when he was shot in St. Agnes’ Rectory. Tragically, Archdeacon Thompson succumbed to his injuries one month later. Along with Father Woodcock (d.1851), Thompson is the only other former Rector of St. Agnes to be interred on the Church’s premises.
Father Simeon Patrick Johnson assumed the office of Rector in 2000, shortly after Archdeacon Thompson’s retirement, becoming the first person to become Rector in the 21st century. Born in Gregory Town, Eleuthera, Father Pat as he was affectionately called, was the third Eleutheran to head St. Agnes Anglican Church. The other two priests were Cannon George Loran Pyform who was born in Rock Sound and Archdeacon William Thompson who was born in Alice Town. Father Johnson was known for his true spiritual engagement and piety. Father Johnson’s sudden death on December 15, 2005, was an utter blow to the Anglican Diocese in The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands.
Immediately following Fr. Johnson’s death, Suffragan Bishop Gilbert Arthur Thompson, Brother to the late Archdeacon William Thompson and a “Son of St. Agnes” served as Rector Pro Tempore. This post he would hold until 2007.
On February 1st 2007, the Venerable Archdeacon Ivan Ranfurly Brown officially assumed responsibility as rector of St. Agnes Church. Archdeacon Brown became the twelfth rector and fifth Bahamian to head the historic Church in the Grants Town community. Brown, who had previously served as Rector of Christ the King Anglican Church, Ridgeland Park, was also a “Son of St. Agnes”. Under Archdeacon Brown’s leadership, the once carpeted Sanctuary was tiled, the Church’s Lady Chapel was rededicated and stained glass windows honoring Bahamian Anglican Priests were added in both the Lady Chapel as well as the All Souls Chapel. Archdeacon Brown served St. Agnes faithfully until his retirement in July 2019, after 12 years at the helm.
The Venerable Archdeacon Keith Nathaniel Cartwright is the latest priest and fourth “Son of St. Agnes” to assume the office of Rector at the historic St. Agnes Anglican Church. Archdeacon Cartwright was appointed Rector on October 1st, 2019 after serving twenty-one (21) years as Parish Priest at St. Christopher’s Church, Lyford Cay. Since becoming Rector, Archdeacon Cartwright embarked on a series of projects. These include, but are not limited to: the replacement of the louvers and repairs made to the church’s steeple, a complete renovation of the church’s sacristy as well as the Parish Hall and Kitchen. Just like many of his predecessors, Archdeacon Cartwright has continued the Church’s mission as it pertains to service to God and mankind in the Grant’s Town Community through St. Agnes’ Social Outreach Program. Scores of residents in the community have benefited from this program. Archdeacon Cartwright has shown many that the Church is not the edifice, but the people and the communities in which they have been erected.