On any given day when you pass the quaint St Augustine’s Anglican Church sitting on the crest of Market Hill, St George, you may get a glimpse of an angel dressed in white.
That’s not a mere exaggeration. It’s how parishioners and residents describe the Priest-in-Charge Reverend Suzanne Ellis.
I was compelled to meet this “angel” and ventured out to the church to make my own discovery. And there she was, dressed in white indeed, with a broad, welcoming smile.
“Good morning,” she greeted. “Welcome to St Augustine’s, come in and make yourself comfortable,” she said, inviting me into her office.
Even before I sat, I received a gift—two pears. She had already begun to pass my “angel test”.
With gratitude, I proceeded to find out more about the friendly, generous priest.
“I am first and foremost a child of God. I am a mother, I am a wife and I am a friend. I am all of those things summed up in one as I serve God. That is who I am,” she said.
Reverend Ellis, who has been at St Augustine’s for the last eight years, describes herself as a simple Barbadian girl from the little fishing village of Silver Sands, Christ Church, where she happily grew up with her great grandmother.
“I grew up at a time when village life meant going for sand to decorate the house at Christmas time and putting it around your house, having a meal together, going for walks down Atlantic Shores, picking welts from the coast road. Those were happy days for me,” she said wistfully.
At the centre of her life was church. Her introduction to worship started in the Spiritual Baptist Church where her grandmother was a devout member.
“She would be at the door and she would have her hands up and she would sing Lead Us Heavenly Father. I remember all of the rituals. I remember the baptisms at Silver Sands.”
Reverend Ellis enjoyed the experience but was forced to make a drastic change after her beloved grandmother died and she went to live with her aunt who attended the Anglican Church.
“It was much of a shock to be truthful. I shifted from seeing a black minister in Archbishop Granville Williams to seeing a white priest. The service was very different, quieter, and it had a different order. Nevertheless, it was church and I enjoyed that. So I always would have enjoyed going to church. I can’t think of any time I felt I had to go to church or someone made me go church. I always wanted to go to church; it is just simply a part of who I am.”
Interestingly, it was in her carefree, youthful days that Reverend Ellis reflects that she met God .
“I was standing next to a house and gazing at the sky and I saw what we called as children ‘Shepherd’s Delight’. I do not know if people call it so now, but the sky had this purplish and orange hue as the sun was setting. And I stood in awe of this setting and I felt that there must be someone responsible for this setting sun. And I felt that there must be someone responsible for this, greater, bigger, and I was drawn in by this moment and I marked that moment as the moment that I recognized God as the creator.”
She remained a faithful member of the church but ministry was not her first calling. She first became a teacher—a profession she loves and still enjoys, as she teaches classes at Erdiston Training College and Codrington College.
“I enjoyed my years in the secondary school. I taught at Springer Memorial first and then Parkinson School. I still get a sense of joy when I hear ‘Mam’ or ‘Miss Ellis’.”
As much as she loved teaching, there was still a deeper calling to serve and while she had no Damascus moment like the Apostle Paul, Reverend Ellis enjoys nothing more than serving as a priest.
“It was just the continuation of a journey that began just outside the house that day when I felt God’s presence.”
Life as a female priest has been fulfilling, and her main aim is serving God and others.
“We are a small church but we are happy. We have a fellowship here that I am comfortable with and passionate about. We are not doing work only on the physical building or the plant but we are working on our spiritual building, the temple of God, and I am happy about that.”
It’s a peace that Reverend Ellis wants more Barbadians, especially the young, to discover and embrace.
She strongly believes the Church is relevant now more than ever.
“We remain a place of hope, we remain a place of love, care. We remain that place of refuge. So, they can come in and find here a safe place to come to bring their cares, their dreams, their worries and also to celebrate their joys. I believe that although people are finding other ways to perhaps live, as Christians we believe that the ultimate way of living and life is through Jesus Christ.”
This Independence, Reverend Ellis reminds Barbadians there is still hope, regardless of the challenges facing the country.
She is urging citizens to return to the good, old values that have made Barbados great.
“Those values of honesty, of truth, of caring, of sharing, of the community spirit, of that old village life. I am not asking to go back; we cannot, but I am asking us to reclaim those things that made us resilient and strong and independent and proud. Those characteristics that speak to the model of pride and industry, those are the things that I want us to reclaim and reaffirm and to live more passionately by. That is the Bajan spirit.”