Christ Episcopal Church of Coconut Grove


An Historical Timeline of Christ Episcopal Church

A group or West Indian churchmen started Christ Episcopal Church, a congregation rich in Bahamian culture which lends itself to Coconut Grove’s unique historical background. The early years of Christ Church were ministered by the clergy of Trinity Church. 

Baptism of Christ stained glass in Christ Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)

On March 24th, 1901, the first meeting of the founding families was held at the home of David and Rebecca Clark on Charles Avenue. Records show that the following people were present Mr. & Mrs. E. W. F. Stirrup, Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Roberts, Mrs. Lula Reddick, Mrs. Catharine Anderson and Mr. Azariah Sawyer. Four children were baptized at that first service. 

Bishop William C Gray visited Miami on December 20th, 1901 and officially organized the mission congregation known as CHRIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH. Mr. David Clark was appointed lay reader. The Reverend G. I. Smith was the first official vicar, also serving St Agnes. The Christ Church congregation purchased one lot on the comer of Hibiscus Street and William Avenue for the sum of $25. A church was built of Florida pine wood for the sum of $600. In September 1904 when he visited Miami, Bishop Gray celebrated the first service in the new edifice. During the next two years, Father Fuller and Father Dwight Cameron supplied as priests. 

The Reverend H. A. Parris came to Christ Church in March 1906 as Vicar. During the first service conducted by him, four candidates were presented to Bishop Gray for Confirmation. In October 1910, Dr. Charles Percival Jackson, who had been doing missionary work in Jupiter, Florida, moved to Coconut Grove and assumed the work as Vicar of both Christ Church and St Stephen’s. 

Under Dr. Jackson’s leadership, another lot was purchased where the church now stands. The old wooden church became the Sunday School Building. In 1912, the new edifice was built becoming the first permanent church structure made of stone. 

Dr. Jackson’s tenure at Christ Church was also noted for the relocation of St Alban’s Industrial School from Key West Florida to Coconut Grove in 1911. Miss Agnes Scott a white missionary and nurse from Key West who had been directing the school, also worked with Dr. Jackson to establish St Alban’s in the wooden building that housed the Sunday School. St Alban’s held classes for nine months out of the year for colored children, unlike public schools which were only open four months a year for “coloreds.” Open to children of all denominations, the school provided academic education, music and Bible study, as well as training in the trades, such as home economics, needlework, and furniture repair. 

When Dr. Jackson left Christ Church, he moved to Homestead, Florida where he lived for a short time before his death. Father Benjamin Soper became part-time priest of Christ Church in 1916. He, too, continued the work of Miss Agnes Scott at St Alban’s, developing the parochial curriculum in 1917. Before his resignation, Father Soper was instrumental in moving the school to the Douglas Road property owned by Miss Scott Father Irving served the church after Father Soper resigned. 

In spite of frequent turnover in the laity and other problems, Christ Church progressed. The Reverend John Samuel Simmons was appointed the first resident (and first African-American) Priest of Christ Church. He served for 18 years, focusing his administration on Sunday School attendance and Bible Study classes. This period of time was marked by a continuous flow of Caribbean immigrants to the South Florida area. The membership grew from 100 communicants to 502; Father Simmons presented 253 persons for Confirmation, and 472 for baptism. 

Interior of Christ Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)

In 1926, a tropical hurricane completely destroyed both the church and the parish house. Led by Father Simmons, this growing church family worked to restore the parish house while still subsidizing St. Alban’s School (where all services were held during the fund-raising period). By 1950, the restoration project was completed, and the church’s edifice, as we know it today, was finished. Father Simmons, a devout teacher and priest resigned his position in the spring of 1937. 

The Reverend Theophilus Boyden Pollard, a West Palm Beach resident became the second African-American Vicar at Christ Church. He was an eloquent preacher and an excellent educator. Under his leadership, the church’s sanctuary was enlarged and redecorated. After more than seven years of faithful service. Father Pollard passed away in 1945. 

Father Theodore Roosevelt Gibson came to Christ Church on the first Sunday in October, 1945. The Gibson ministry left a legacy, not only for the leadership of Christ Church, but also, for the quality of life in Dade County. Father Gibson’s influence in getting the City of Miami to pass an ordinance requiring all property owners in the City to install inside water and sanitary facilities, was just one of a string of civic accomplishments he achieved for the people of Miami. His political struggle to have equal rights for all people, effectively changed the way Dade citizens are educated, enjoy their leisure time, purchase and maintain real estate, follow zoning restrictions and ride public transportation. Father Gibson became one of the most outstanding leaders in South Florida, extending his ministry to the people of the entire community, as well as the members of his own congregation. 

Historical figures stained glass in Christ Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)

In the nearly thirty-six years he pastored Christ Church, Father Gibson did much to improve the church in every respect He instituted the Vestry as a governing body of the parish. He persuaded the Bishop to designate a parcel of land for the express purpose of building a nursery school and kindergarten (also named St Alban’s) for the children of the community. He purchased as much property surround the Church as possible, eventually building a rectory, new parish hall, multi-purpose room, and an office for the Rector. (In fact the “coffee hour” was begun as a fundraiser to help defray indebtedness created from modernizing the church property.) Always intent on beautifying the facilities and grounds. Father Gibson encouraged his members to purchase memorial windows and doors, pews, hymnals, and other church furnishings. 

A devoted clergyman, Father Gibson also challenged the Episcopal Church by leading the way for Blacks in leadership positions. Appointed Canon in 1968, he was instrumental in getting Blacks appointed to the Diocesan’s powerful Standing Committee. He was the first to appoint women as lay readers and chalice bearers in Southeast Florida; and he inspired two young men from the congregation to enter the ministry. The Reverend Austin R. Cooper, Sr., and the Reverend Percival George Brown. In September 1982, after thirty-five and a half years service to Christ Church, Father Gibson passed away. 

In April, 1982, after months of negotiation, the Reverend Ronald N. Fox was selected as the second rector to continue a leadership role steeped in tradition. He came to Miami from Raleigh, North Carolina where he served as Chaplain of St. Augustine’s College. 

Within months of his arrival, he worked with members of the congregation to raise enough funds to air condition the sanctuary. Father Fox further improved the church’s facilities by modernizing the light fixtures in the sanctuary, adding a marble wall to the altar, converting the rectory into a second location for St. Alban’s Nursery, and installing a fence around the entire church grounds. 

Father Fox established and directed an area “food bank” and was instrumental in helping to secure the land, and building for more than a dozen homes for low-income Coconut Grove residents. 

Wanting to improve the church’s internal communication and involve more members in the active life of the church. Father Fox encouraged the establishment of more church organizations and created a Parish Council. He left Christ Church after ten years of service to work with the Bishop of Southeast Florida as the Canon for Youth and Social Concerns. Father Fox spent ten years as rector at Christ Church. 

The Reverend Father Bernard M. Griffith became the 3rd Rector of Christ Episcopal Church on November 1, 1994. Father Griffith, originally from Barbados, West Indies, relocated to Miami from New Rochelle, New York. He became a part of a church family that was founded by Bahamians and has expanded to include members from other islands of the Caribbean. 

Father Griffith brought with him nearly twenty years of service as an ordained priest and a ministry of community activism equal to that of priests and rectors before him at Christ Episcopal Church. During his tenure, he has enhanced the worship service by providing a choral Eucharist each Sunday morning, and conducting celebratory masses for all church holidays. Commensurate with that he has tripled the size of the choir and improved their singing performance. He has revived the Parish Council, refocusing its mission to concentrate on Christian Education, Liturgy and Worship, and Mission and Evangelism (including outreach). Father Griffith has also professionalized Vestry operations and overseen the purchase of real estate property adjacent to the church. In addition to Sunday worship services, his regular schedule includes visits to the sick and shut-ins, meetings with retirees, healing services and a weekly noon-day service. 

Father Jonathan G. A. Archer became the 4th Rector of Christ Episcopal Church on August 1st 2013. Father Archer, a Bahamian, relocated from Long Island Bahamas. 

Father Archer came with over twelve years of service in the ordained ministry, as well as ten years experience as a trained teacher and guidance counselor in the Bahamas. 

Building on the foundation of his predecessors, Father Archer has focused specifically on empowering and equipping the lay people of the church to be more active and take up their rightful place in the worship, life and governance of the church. Using his construction and technological background and experience, he has also sought to upgrade many of the systems, practices and structures of the church. 

As we celebrate 117 years of the presence of Christ Episcopal Church, we thank God for all who have labored to cause it to be what it is today, and pray that we might always be true to the God who calls us to His service! 

Martin Luther King Jr. stained glass in Christ Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)


John William Bailly  14 January 2022

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