Zion East & Shirley Streets
Established 1835 – Baptist Missionary Society – London
180 years of Christian Witness
“Firm, Focused And Faithful On A Goodly Heritage” Psalm 16:6
After pastoring the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Port Maria, St. Mary, Jamaica, the Rev. Joseph Burton came to The Bahamas in 1833 having been shipwrecked on the southern Island of Great Inagua. On learning of Baptist presence on New Providence, he attached himself to and served as a minister at the Bethel Baptist Church, Meeting Street. Being led by God and under the auspices of the Baptist Missionary Society of London in April of 1835, he built a chapel and the name Zion Baptist Church was given. This site would prove vital as the Evangelistic Ministry of this local assembly evolved.
Upon the recall of Rev. Burton in 1838, Zion had four British sponsored pastors namely: Rev. T. Lever, 1838-1840; Rev. Henry Capern, 1840-1856; Rev. John Davey, 1856-1878, and Rev. Daniel Wilshire, 1878-1891. It was during the pastorate of Rev. Henry Capern that other churches were established under Mother Zion. Rev. Capern pioneered the work in the freed villages in New Providence – Gambier, Adelaide and Fox Hill while penetrating some of the major Family Islands namely: Eleuthera, Inagua, Cat Island, Exuma and Grand Bahama. Rev. Capern is also to be credited for urging the Baptist Missionary Society to finance schools for freed blacks and former slaves. Some twenty – two schools were established, but by 1851 these schools were turned over to the Government of the Bahamas, thus becoming Public Schools.
Zion’s history would be marred eventually by a split. It was during the tenure of the Rev. Daniel Wilshire that Zion lost all three New Providence churches namely, Mt. Carey in Fox Hill, Zion in Gambier and Zion in Adelaide. It was out of this split that Salem Union Baptist Church and Union of Churches were formed on Parliament Street, with Rev. Wilshire as the first Pastor and Superintendent. Subsequent to this split, Zion experienced a degree of instability having six (6) pastors between 1891-1919. Pastors who served were: Rev’s Joseph Laroda, 1891-1892; Francis Moon, 1892 (just a few months); Charles A. Dann, 1892-1905; Walter M. Jones, 1905-1908; Charles A. Dann, 1908-1917, and H. F. Dann brother of Charles Dann 1917-1919.
A wind of change and peace came to Zion when in 1919 Rev. Hercules Rolle, a native of Cat Island was appointed to serve as Pastor and Superintendent by the Baptist Missionary Society of London. Rev. Rolle served for five (5) years. In 1924, he was succeeded by Rev. John H. Pool, a native of Trinidad. Rev.
Pool’s tenure ended in 1926.
It is interesting to note, while the Baptist Missionary Society tried to secure another Pastor for Zion, a second son of the soil Rev. A. C. Symonette, Pastor and Superintendent of St. James Baptist Church and Society, served as interim pastor for one (1) year, 1926-1927. He was succeeded by Rev. Leonard Tucker, who is to be credited for officially severing ties with the Baptist Missionary Society, thus making Zion Baptist Church and Convention autonomous entities. Rev. Tucker served from 1927-1930.
Once again the wind of change blew in Zion, when on March 18th, 1931 the people of this local Assembly in a radical move, called Rev. Talmage Sands, a native of Eleuthera and an ordained Methodist Minister, as the first ’elected’ Bahamian Pastor. Rev. Sands’ ministry would forever change the landscape of Zion. Like Rev. Capern, he had a missionary spirit, as he pioneered and strengthened the work on Many Family Islands. He did not think it too great a risk to sail on small boats and wrestle with boisterous waves. During his pastorate, quality educational opportunities were secured for many, especially persons interested in the ordained Ministry. Men like Rev. Dr. Philip Rahming, Rev. Peter Hall and Rev. Charles C. Smith, benefited from theological training at Calabar Theological College in Jamaica. Rev. Sands’ wife, Sis. Dora Sands took the Sunday School Ministry to new heights, while nurturing many of the young girls. It was on Resurrection Sunday 1970 after thirty-nine (39) years of qualitative and yeoman service, Rev. Sands retired from the pastorate of Zion. He was called from labour to reward in 1983 at the age of 80.
For the second time in the Church’s history, the people elected and called a Bahamian Pastor. Rev. Charles Clifford Smith II, son of a Baptist Pastor and native of Cat Island, who was pastoring Mt. Moriah, to Zion. Rev. Smith was a competent biblical exegete and a dynamic preacher. He fortified the Zion Convention and led in the establishment of Mission churches in New Providence and Grand Bahama. Education and training were high on Rev. Smith’s agenda, so he encouraged Rev. Peter Pinder and Rev. Dr. B. W. Davis and saw to it that Zion East and Shirley Streets financially facilitated the formation of Rev. Charles Clifford Smith III and Rev. T. G. Morrison at United Theological College of the West Indies in Jamaica.
In 1989, while in the height of his Pastoral Ministry, Rev. Smith suffered a heart attack which seriously altered the execution of his Pastoral duties. For the first time in Zion’s 154 years, the office of the President and General Superintendent was removed from the Pastor of Zion East and Shirley Streets. Rev. Samuel Greene, Pastor of Zion Yamacraw was designated and elected President and General Superintendent. It was clear that Rev. Smith needed help, thus the two associate ministers, Rev. Dr. Wilton Strachan and Rev. Norris McDonald along with Rev. Clifford Smith III, assisted in the work at Zion. On February 16, 1999 after waging a gallant fight, Rev. Smith was called from labour to reward; he was 59.
Upon the death of Rev. Smith another painful chapter in Zion’s history unfolded. Some members questioned and challenged the office of the President and General Superintendent thus leading to the Church and Convention being carried to court. Needless to say, the Eternal God who Superintends the affairs of the Church ensured that God’s Sovereign and Perfect Will was accomplished. During those turbulent interim days, Zion was ably led by Rev. Dr. Wilton Strachan and Rev. Norris McDonald, Interim Pastor and Assistant Pastor respectively. After the court’s ruling, Zion and the Convention were vindicated, but a new congregation was formed by those who interpreted the ‘Will of God’ differently.