160 years of mission and ministry
By Wendella Davidson
April 23, 2006
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The church on Smyth Street, Werk-en-Rust in the City, traces its rich history back to 1838, the year of the full emancipation of slaves and the period when British Guiana was constituted as Archdeconry within the Diocese of Barbados
The neo-gothic structure that once stood alone in the Werk-en-Rust ward, had its genesis in a request for assistance to build a chapel in the area. The request was made in 1839 by Rector of St. George’s, Mr. Lugar, to Archdeacon Parry of Barbados, through Archdeacon William Piercy Austin of Guiana.
The request was favourably considered and earned the support of the Society for the Probation of the Gospel.
Efforts were made to procure a suitable site for the erection of the proposed Chapel and on October 7, 1845, a building known as the `The Dutch Theatre’ was licensed for use, pending the completion of the new Chapel. The building was renamed St. Philip’s Hall and the last service was held there on June 21, 1846.
One June 28, 1846, St. Philip’s Chapel was erected on Lot 28, where St. Saviour’s Church now stands and was consecrated on April 28, 1881 by William Piercy Austin who had become the first Bishop of Guiana on St. Bartholmew’s Day, August 24, 1842, the day the Church of Guiana was elevated to the status of Diocese.
On November 5, 1846, the Reverend Richard L. Weber who may be regarded as the founder of St Philip’s, was licensed as curate of St. Philip’s Chapel where he served for 20 years.
As St. Philip’s Chapel grew in membership and outreach, the building proved to be inadequate and proposals were made for the construction of a church building.
Among the proposals was for a plot of land in Werk-en-Rust, purchased in 1797 by the Court of Policy for use as a burial ground for the town of Stabroek and which was discontinued following a 1863 following enactment which gave the “Governor and Court of Policy the powers to dispose of the site as they might think fit, by grant for public or ecclesiastical purposes.”
It was in accordance with that enactment that “a portion of the land was granted in 1865 to Incumbent and Church Wardens for the construction of St. Philip’s Church to commence immediately.
The church was built at a cost of about $59,000, half of which was met through voluntary subscriptions.
St Philip’s Church was licensed on April 28, 1867, held its first service on May 1, 1867 and due to the remaining half of the debt only being liquidated in early 1881, the building was consecrated on April 28, that same year.
On August 24, 1874 the Governor and Court of Policy made a further grant to St. Philip’s Church permitting them to occupy the entire piece of land in the ward of Werk-en-Rust known then as the Werk-en-Rust burial ground. This approval was assented into law on November 22, 1875.
In 1946, parishioners of St Philip’s celebrated the centenary of the establishment of St. Philip’s Chapel and in 1967 the centenary of St. Philip’s Church.
The former lone church in the area is now surrounded by a cluster of other prominent churches among them, Trinity Methodist, Providence Congregational, St Andrew’s Kirk, a Seventh Day Adventist Church and a Unity Church.
During its 160 years of mission and ministry 132 priests are on record as having officiated at St. Philip’s,among them Reverends Webber, William Pheely, Charles Foskett, Hugh Worledge and Thurston Riehl, currently the serving minister at Christ Church, Waterloo Street.
Among the many choiristers were Cecil Kilkenny, retired Director of Prisons, Peter Phillips and Hollingsworth.
The first marriage ceremony of 6, 310 done to date was a union between Samuel Green and Antoinetta Gritten in 1852 with Reverend Webber being the marriage officer.
A total of 12, 539 funerals and burials, the first being Elizabeth Savory in 1846 and which was also conducted by Reverend Webber. More than 22, 700 baptisms and 20,760 confirmations were held at the church.
Like many of the Anglican churches in the Diocese, St Philip’s managed a school - the St. Philip’s Primary School - and in accordance with the statues, the manager was the serving priest.
This arrangement was however discontinued in the 1970s as per a mandate by the then Government in power. However to the credit of these churches, all such school have maintained the name of the church to which it was associated, hence St Phillip’s Primary and St Sidwell’s Primary, among others.
This significant occasion of St Philip’s Parish Church will be marked by week of celebrations themed `Preserving our Heritage’, starting on April 30 with a Thanksgiving Service starting at 09:00hrs.
Other activities are a St. Philip’s Day, a gift day in church; community service day activities by both the youth group and committee members; a panel discussion; a games day and a social gathering on the St Philip’s Vicarage lawns on May 6, 2006.