On 1 February 2007, the Venerable Archdeacon I. Ranfurly Brown officially assumed responsibilities as the rector of St. Agnes Church. He became the twelfth rector and the fifth Bahamian to head the Church in Grant’s Town, the heart of Over-the-hill, New Providence, Bahamas.
Now celebrating its 162nd year of establishment, St. Agnes 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 of whose family lines stretch back as far as the church’s itself.
Eleutherian Adventurers first arrived in The Bahamas, there were among that 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, present site of the British Colonial Hilton Hotel.
Yet the Anglican Church remained essentially an institution of the elitist establishment until 1841, when 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 St. Agnes flock until 1847, then returned to England, where he lived for another 50 years.
Rev’d William John Woodcock was the next rector, and his ministry was perhaps the most significant of the time, since it was through his drive and generosity that the Bain Town Free Day School (Woodcock School) came into existence, thus extending the Church’s service to man in a very necessary and meaningful way.
Rev’d Woodcock fell ill and died in November of 1851, and was succeeded as rector of St. Agnes 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 he came to The Bahamas as a Missionary. He later became a priest.
The next rector of St. Agnes (1856 – 1906) was Rev’d James Fisher, on whose watch the new Church on Baillou Hill Road was constructed with funds granted by the Legislature, positioned the altar to the eastern end of the Church, and became the first priest to be called “Father”. Under Fr. Fisher, a Vestry was legally constituted, St. Agnes Cemetery was consecrated, and a new Chancel and Lady Chapel were added to the Church.
Fr. Fisher was succeeded by Fr. Audley Joseph Browne, who was to lead the Church further forward in the new 20th century. He was a gifted musician, organ builder repairer and musical director. He installed the first organ in St. Agnes which replaced the harmonium. He served at St. Agnes from 1906 to 1925.
In 1925, Fr. Herbert George succeeded Fr. Browne as rector of St. Agnes while he was still headmaster of the Diocesan Western School in St. Mary’s Rectory.
During this time – on 15 September 1928 – a violent hurricane descended upon New Providence, wreaking widespread 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 by May of 1929. Improvements included an enlarged nave, steel girders and graceful concrete hexagonal pillars dividing the main section from the side aisles. The picture at left was taken in 1930.
Fr. Herbert George was ostensibly the first rector of St. Agnes to marry while being rector, and the decision was taken to build a church 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.
Fr. George Loran Pyfrom was one of the first Bahamian priests among a traditionally all-English clergy, and the first Bahamian to be made a Canon of the Cathedral. He also became the first Bahamian to take charge of the flock at St. Agnes, where he served from 1936 to 1947.