“…and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18b)
So begins the brief history offered by the proud members of the Wesley Methodist Church in downtown Panama City, Panama.
Just last month, on July 20, 2014, we joined in the joyous celebration of the 106th Anniversary of this small but wonderfully historic church with significant roots for the Silver People in Panama. The celebration was well attended by leaders and representatives from the other Methodist churches in the city and in the former Canal Zone townships and we were treated to a wonderful expression of fellowship through song, dance and a stirring sermon delivered by the Reverend Cidael Calixte.
We were also treated to a triple tribute for three remarkable seniors who have seen a lot of history through their more than nine decades of walking with Jesus- Sister Emerita Yip de Grifo, Brother William Smith and Sister Alice Gladys Douglas reflect a living testimony to their faith.
The following history of the Wesley Methodist Church was included in the anniversary programme and we considered it important to share it here on our Heritage page for the benefit of all our readers who are keen to stay abreast of their own spiritual legacy.
“The Wesley Methodist Church on 16th Street East in downtown Panama is the fulfillment of the dream of a group of ardent Methodists who had migrated to Panama from the West Indies during the time of the construction of the Panama Canal. William and Adina Pierce rented a room on “H” Street East to hold worship services along with Eliza Gooden, Mother Douglas, Augusta Hinds, and Christina Phipps. In 1884, the Reverend Thomas Geddes was appointed by the Jamaica Methodist Conference as the first Pastor of the growing congregation.”
“On the 30th of May, 1908, the Reverend M. Britton King and the Reverend Clifford Clarke marched with their congregation from the Warehouse- la Aduana- (the former site of the Municipio) which they were using as a Church, and laid the cornerstone of the present Wesley Methodist Church. Among those who laid stones were Miss Mara Francis and Mr. W.E. Price. From then on, the work developed.”
“The roof, erected by a local builder, was designed in England. The Altar and Pulpit arrangements were designed by the Reverend R. E. Wade, and the doors and much of the furniture were made by Mr. Henry Harewood, Local Preacher and Circuit Steward for many years. The Women’s League donated the tiling of the floor.”
“The building next door, the Geddes Hall, was named in memory of the Reverend Thomas Geddes and the upstairs section served as the Manse for the ministers. In 1980, during the pastorship of the Reverend Alford Alphonse, the Scouts, Troop 12 was offered the basement to be used as their office and to hold their meetings. In 1985, under the pastorship of the Reverend Dr. Lesley G. Anderson, the building was restructured and renamed: the John Wesley Educational Center (JEWC) and the upstairs became the District Office.”
“The first Panamanian to serve as Chairman and Pastor at Wesley was the Reverend Dr. Ephraim S. Alphonse. Following him were the Reverend Felmin Cockburn and Reverend Hilton S.D. Airall. Of the local ministers, the Reverend Dr. Alford Alphonse introduced Stewardship; the Reverend Dr. Lesley G. Anderson restructured the Geddes Hall; the Reverend Luis V. Veagra D. began the bilingual services, and as a result, in 1992, the Reverend Mario E. Nicolás B. instituted the 11:00 a.m. Spanish services, which have continued till today, giving fruits, and are very well enjoyed by all. To the Glory of God.”
By the way, to respond to a question asked by one of our readers last year, the large cement cross that once graced the roof of the church was damaged several years ago after some severe weather and it was decided to remove it all together from the church edifice. The large pipe organ, however, although damaged by time, humidity and lack of resources to restore a fine instrument of this kind, was retained in its original place as a legacy piece, though it cannot be played any more, and is appreciated by all who visit.
The Church, in fact, has a continuing fund-raising drive this year for the restoration and beautification of the outside of its edifice which needs some remodeling and painting. You are all welcomed to contribute to this fund so that Panama City may keep this beautiful church as part of its historic legacy.
We hope to continue to follow the progress of Wesley Methodist Church and keep reporting to you as their tireless work with its members and with the youth is worthy of praise and support.