Secrets of South Church Street – along the waterfront where James Arch and Sons Shipyard existed in the early 1900s – are revealed in my just-released book, ‘A Historical View’. The shipyard’s location is common ground with today’s Hard Rock Café and in proximity with the current George Town Church of God (Full Gospel Hall), the same organisation that Arch leased ground to in 1911 for its George Town congregation.
Familiar Cayman family names associated with the Church of God (Full Gospel Hall) are not limited to the Arches though, as the first pastor was William Mearns Coe, Jr. The Coe family was active in the mercantile business and William M. Coe served as a Justice of the Peace when George S. S. Hirst was Commissioner.
These early beginnings were the fruit of an American missionary, Richard Russell of Knoxville, Tennessee. He first ministered in the Bay Islands of Honduras but then was transported to Cayman, courtesy of Henry Arch, brother of James. By 1908, several congregations were official including George Town, Savannah and West Bay. Richard Russell served as the General Overseer, with the pastors being Coe, Hubert Coe, and Azariah Powery. Likewise, senior deacons, elders and deaconesses were James Arch, Thomas Eden, Elmy Ebanks and Cleora Powery. Additional congregations sprung up at North Side, East End, Breakers and Cayman Brac.
The beginnings were filled with hard work and hazard; long journeys by sea awaited Russell. Reportedly, it appears that he travelled by banana boat from Florida to Roatan, Bay Islands, and subsequently came over the waves to Cayman. He made several trips to these island ministry locations, with the last recorded trip being in 1931 from George Town to Tampa, Florida on the Noca.
Locals of the Church of God (Full Gospel Hall) had to face their own adversities in order to minister or attend meetings. Miles of canoe paddling in the roadless island, fighting hordes of mosquitoes with fire pans and brushes, walking the Seven Mile Beach, and wrestling with wicked men and Satan was included!
The fruit of Russell’s labour was seen in several Caymanians who became later generation pastors, such as James Arch, Leonidas Merren and Charles Glidden. Others were part of the church, including Billings Pouchie, Bothwell Smith, Chloe Eden, Raib Arch, Tidyman Ebanks, Luke Forbes, Lucy Watler, Carl Scott and Wilbur DaCosta.
Two men rose to top leadership rank. Fossie Arch served as the second General Overseer of the Church of God (Full Gospel Hall), beginning circa 1942. His jurisdiction included the Cayman Islands and the Bay Islands of Honduras. In 1971, Will T. Bodden assumed Arch’s role as overseer of the Cayman church, a position he held until 1990. He was also the editor of The Gospel of the Kingdom and published Cayman’s first newspaper, 1942-1987. Both men are on the Wall of Honour at Heroes Square, their names inscribed in granite along with 500 names of select Caymanians.
From start to finish – Richard Russell to Will T. Bodden and beyond – the Church of God (Full Gospel Hall) has enjoyed times of prosperity, endured hardship, and has experienced the highs and lows that come with life. Through it all, it still stands as an ancient Cayman landmark.
Curtis Edwards is an ordained Minister of the Gospel and serves as a missionary/evangelist in the Wesleyan tradition in Africa, Asia and America. He has authored seven books that draw on personal biblical knowledge and ministry experience. ‘A Historical View’ is available at www.amazon.com.