Wesleyan Methodist synod chairman David Atwood beside the plaque and the old jail window. Methodists Delasia Smith, centre, and Joan Van Putten, right, helped to celebrate Revd John Stephenson's life.  *Photo by Dale Lewis
Wesleyan Methodist synod chairman David Atwood beside the plaque and the old jail window. Methodists Delasia Smith, centre, and Joan Van Putten, right, helped to celebrate Revd John Stephenson's life. *Photo by Dale Lewis
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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9: Bermuda’s Methodist church has apologized for its segregated past.

Wesleyan Methodist synod chairman David Atwood made the apology at the weekend as the church rededicated a plaque in St George’s commemorating Methodist minister John Stephenson (pictured), who was jailed more than 200 years ago for refusing to stop preaching to slaves.

Mr Atwood said: “We find it would be impossible to celebrate this moment without also recognising and confessing that, as a church, we have in the past fallen short of the example set by John Stephenson and that of our gospel calling.

“We would therefore like to take this opportunity to recognise that we, the Synod of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Bermuda, did not continue Rev. Stephenson’s ministry to all — we did not follow his example in the way he followed Christ’s example.

“We allowed the sin of racism to enter our churches in the form of segregation and for this we are deeply sorry and offer our sincerest apology to our brothers and sisters and their descendants who were affected.

“To those who suffered the indignity of segregation and disenfranchisement, we offer our sincerest apology for the part we played in your suffering.

“That you were not able to worship as equals with your brothers and sisters, we apologise.”

Mr Atwood made the historic apology as the church held a service on Saturday to re-dedicate a plaque commemorating Irish-born Rev. Stephenson at the St George’s Historical Society Museum in the Old Town’s Featherbed Alley.

Located close to the plaque is the window grating from the old St George’s jail, through which Rev. Stephenson continued to preach even after he was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

Mr Atwood said: “In both his bold defiance of racist convention, as well as his refusal to allow the humiliating confines of his imprisonment to stop him from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, Reverend John Stephenson was the embodiment of and a living testimony to the dream of Methodism’s founder John Wesley that ‘the whole world is the church’s parish’.”

Mr Atwood added: “As we rededicate this plaque we would also like to rededicate ourselves to continuing Rev. Stephenson’s ministry to all peoples, irrespective or race, political affiliation, religion, gender sexual orientation or any of the categories that are sometimes used to divide or reject others.”

Rev. Stephenson arrived in Bermuda in 1799, the island’s first Methodist minister.

But his challenge to the racist culture of Bermuda brought him into conflict with the authorities and he was arrested in 1800.

He was jailed for six months and fined £50 for breaking laws on preaching to slaves and black free people alongside white people.

Rev. Stephenson left Bermuda in 1802 and the plaque paying tribute to his courage was put in place by the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1936.