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The Diocese of Antigua.

English Church Mission to Ponce, Porto Rico, West Indies.

By William Walrond Jackson

From Mission Life, Vol. III, Part 2 (new series) (London, 1872), pages 495-498.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2006


Antigua, W.I., 12th May, 1872.

MY DEAR SIR,--One of the results of the events which have been passing in Spain during the last three or four years is that her colonies, hitherto sternly closed against any worship but that of the Romish Communion, are now thrown wide open to the ministrations of our Church, and to the preaching of a purer faith. I believe that the accompanying sketch from the pen of one of the excellent clergymen who have assisted me in responding to the remarkable call from the Protestants settled in Porto Rico will be read with interest by their fellow Christians in the United Kingdom; and it may be the means of attracting to our undertaking not only some contributions towards it, but also an offer of service from some able and devoted young clergyman willing to occupy this encouraging field. He should combine with the gifts obviously necessary for success in so important a work a facility in mastering languages, as the ability to minister in Spanish, after some residence there, will be an essential qualification for enlarged usefulness. He will be dependent entirely on voluntary support; but in a community of successful merchants, and after the generous spirit which has been evinced, I feel he may safely calculate on a stipend of £400 per annum at the least.

I am about myself to minister to the newly-formed congregation in Ponce early next month, and hope to be able to furnish you with further information of our proceedings, if it will be acceptable to you readers.

Yours, my dear Sir, very faithfully,




Free toleration in religion being now granted to the Protestants in Porto Rico, our Church has entered in at the door, which seemed, in God's Providence, specially opened in Ponce, the second city of the island. In this city there are a great many foreigners; and other circumstances combine to make it the most eligible spot for establishing ourselves. Besides this, the inhabitants had already moved in reference to the spread of the Gospel among them. The Rev. W. O. Allan, of the Reformed Dutch Church in St. Thomas, visited Ponce, and preached there. But he saw that the desire of most of the Protestants was to [495/496] have an Episcopal Church. Feeling that it was the most likely form of Protestantism to unite members of different sects, as well as to attract Roman Catholics, he, with a large heartedness as rare as it was noble, urged upon the Protestant people of the town to put themselves in communication with the Bishop of Antigua.

This was done by a Committee, which had been formed among the leading Protestants; but the Bishop of Antigua was unable, from unavoidable circumstances, to obtain a clergyman for the work. Some time, therefore, elapsed; but at last, as no man was available for the post, the two clergymen in the Danish Island of St. Croix, Rev. J. C. Du Bois, Rector of St. Paul's, and Rev. C. J. Branch, Rector of St. John's, offered to visit the town of Ponce alternately, as often as their own extensive duties would allow them. To this plan the Bishop of Antigua, their own Diocesan, readily consented, undertaking also to go to Ponce himself as soon as possible after one visit from each of them. The Rev. J. C. Du Bois, as the senior of the two Rectors, went first. He arrived in Ponce on the 3rd of January in this year, and was very kindly received by Messrs. D. Basanta, H.B.M. Vice-Consul, P. J. Minville, U.S. Consul, T. Salomons, W. Lee, F. Finlay, T. Dodd, and other leading Protestants of the place.

The day after, Mr. Du Bois called on the Corregidor, the chief civil authority in the town, and explained the object of his visit to Ponce. He was assured of full toleration and liberty to exercise his ministry in all respects.

Deeming it of importance to make the services as attractive as possible from the very beginning, Mr. Du Blois succeeded in forming a choir, who were able soon to learn the Te Deum and other chants, as well as many hymn tunes; and the loan was secured of a large and fine harmonium of ten stops, which has since been given by Mr. Gilbee, an old Protestant gentleman.

The first services were held in a large house of W. Lee, Esq. Our first public worship was on Epiphany morning. The next day there were two public services, at 9 a.m. and 7.30 p.m.; Mr. Du Bois preaching in the morning from Exod. xxv. 1, 2, 8. He says in a letter to the Bishop, "I shall never forget the attention which was shown by the whole congregation during the services and sermon, or the feeling of joy and thankfulness which was exhibited at the conclusion of the service, when I left the desk. Some actually embraced me; and one old English gentleman threw his arms around me and sobbed like a child."

A Committee of three, answering to a vestry, was then elected, to transact all the secular business of the future church; by the unanimous vote of the congregation, the British and American Consuls and Mr. Salomons were chosen.

[497] The first Committee, mentioned before, had set on foot a subscription list for building a church, but it had been lying a long time without any action having been taken on it. It was therefore renewed by Mr. Du Bois. Mr. Lee headed it with £200, Mr. Salomons followed with £100, and so on, till, in a short time, the sum of £840 was subscribed. It was then decided to order an iron church, which, when erected, should be dedicated to "The Holy Trinity."

Next followed the donation of an eligible spot of land, given by a firm of German Lutherans, Messrs. Wiechers, Eckermann, and Suarez. The land given is 82 feet front by 150 feet deep.

Mr. Allan had before this performed a marriage according to the Presbyterian form; but Mr. Du Bois, while in Ponce, solemnised a marriage between two Lutherans (Danes), according to the rites of our Church,--the first ever so solemnised in the Island of Porto Rico. He also administered the Holy Communion, privately to an aged and infirm gentleman. He again preached on the evening of Wednesday, 10th January, and left the next day.

Another very important step taken by him was the appointment of eight lady collectors, who were authorized to receive monthly subscriptions and donations towards a fund for the support of a permanent clergyman, from Protestants, or any others willing to give. In this way a good nucleus will be formed for the maintenance of the clergyman, who will, Mr. Du Bois and Mr. Branch are both convinced, will be liberally supported.

In about six weeks after Mr. Du Bois's return Mr. Branch was able to visit Ponce. He had occasion to see how essential it is that a clergyman should be resident on the spot as soon as possible. The interest excited by Mr. Du Bois's visit had not ceased, and Mr. Branch was received, as his predecessor had been, with great warmth and affection. But no definite steps had been taken since Mr. Du Bois's departure. Mr. Branch was able, while in Ponce, to get the title deeds of the promised land actually signed, and to have a little more than £100 additional promised to the building fund. Of the whole amount promised, £700 was paid while he was in Ponce. It was therefore decided at once to order from Messrs. Morton and Co., of Liverpool, an iron church, to seat 350 people. Mr. Lee, a man devoted heart and soul to the cause, offered to send the order by the then going mail, and he himself responsible for any amount required over and above what was collected, besides his own subscription. His son, T. E. Lee, Esq., undertook to collect all the promised subscriptions, and did actually get in the £700, above mentioned, in two or three days.

Mr. Branch had five services during the eight days of his stay, preaching first from 2 Cor. iv. 5. He describes the attendance at the services as good, and the interest and attention most encouraging.

[498] Mr. Branch had the happiness of performing the first Protestant baptism ever administered in the Island of Porto Rico. Two children were baptized: one the child of poor people, the other a daughter of one of the leading merchants.

The chief Romish priest in the town had, some two weeks before Mr. Branch's arrival, made a formal complaint to the Corregidor against the collection of subscriptions by the ladies, on the ground that it was illegal to raise money by subscription without authority. But when the case was laid before the Captain-General at the capital, he sent a telegram, directing the priest to desist from any molestation of the Protestants of the place. This telegram was translated to Mr. Branch, when he called on the Corregidor, Colonel Berres. It informed the latter functionary that he was to see that Protestants had entire liberty to do or leave undone anything they pleased, either as regarded their worship, their building, or anything else connected with their faith.

The story of this work cannot but interest Churchmen, and, indeed, all Protestants. The people of Ponce need help; and any contributions to aid their work in any way will be gladly received by F. Finlay, Esq., treasurer of the Church there; or by the Bishop of Antigua, who is enlarging his already extended and scattered diocese by taking in Porto Rico. Any clergyman desirous to offer himself to do the work of the Lord and His Church in Ponce, a field truly "white already to harvest," should put himself in communication with the Bishop without any delay. It is the earnest prayer of the two clergymen who have visited the place that the Great Master may soon have a faithful servant labouring there. A man of conciliatory and attractive manners, one of some power in the pulpit, and, above all, of deep and earnest devotion to the work of the ministry, is needed.

The feeling of the Spaniards in the place towards the work is entirely favourable. Even the common people now see that English Churchmen are not, as their priests taught them to believe we were, "Judeos," Many thought until lately that we denied the doctrine of the Trinity, and even of the Divinity of our blessed Saviour. Many Roman Catholics of the upper classes attended the services during the visits of both clergymen, and expressed themselves highly delighted at the mode of conducting our services, and at the earnest, devotional character of them.

Verily, "a great door and effectual is opened." God forbid we should any of us let it close through our apathy!

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