Reverend Robert L. Colebrook looks back at images of the historic St. Paul’s Baptist Church, now known as The New St. Paul’s Baptist Church, and marvels at where it started and what it is today as the church prepares to celebrate its 93rd year on Sunday.
“Our church was not a rich church,” said Colebrook. “We started out with poor people in the inner city and I think we have accomplished much. I am proud just to know where we came from,” said the leader who was elected pastor after his father, the late Rev. Samuel Colebrook.
As he looks to the future, Colebrook said he envisions a church in which people cultivate more love.
“My greatest concern is to stand up and fight against greed and selfishness. We should give service to others to empower others. When we empower others – we become empowered. And I see everything as an investment. I see myself as an agency investing into others because many people invested into me.”
Holding up Dr. Philip Rahming, who taught him at the Jordan Prince William School, Colebrook spoke to his days as a “naughty boy” who acted like a “spoiled kid”. He said Rahming taught him discipline.
“He [Rahming] was a decent person who spoke to me kindly and did not expect nonsense from me. I decided to respect him and learned something that day.”
Colebrook said he was raised in a “rough area” and had two sides to him – the bad side when he met with the bad boys, but that inwardly side where he really loved doing good and had to pretend to be bad.
He gave his life to the Lord at an early age after a car crash in the late 1960s.
“I crashed into a tree and I actually experienced the ‘taste of death’ – and I just cried to the Lord and said I’m dead.”
The professional musician recalled asking God to give him another chance.
“After I was delivered out of that crash, I gave my life to the Lord.”
Colebrook had his trials and tribulations through the years and recalls being in a “backslidden condition” in November 1981, when he said he heard the Lord speak to him, telling him to follow in the footsteps of his father who left a legacy of spiritual excellence and perseverance.
“I knew that I was chosen from then.”
Colebrook studied theology at the American Baptist Theological Seminary, in Nashville, Tennessee, like his father. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in biblical theological studies and a minor in humanities.
He likes that he did not receive the church on a “silver platter” and that he was voted in as pastor.
With a focus on nurturing and teaching, he works with each ministry within the church, but is known for his passion for the church’s music ministry where his influence is evident.
He also has a strong belief in the empowerment of members was his ordination of a number of people. Colebrook is credited with training and working with the late Reverend Emmette Jonson, as well as reverends Kenneth A. Bain, Sharon Colebrooke, Tonia Colebrook, Lunnon Gibson, Dr. Dolly King, and Christopher A. Strachan.
“When I first met the church, I met the church with few people who could lead and I vowed that I would spend my life training – and that’s what I did. I feel good when I see people around me learn what I taught them about conducting service, preaching skills, and what to say and not to say.”
As the church, located at Blue Hill Road and Bias Street, celebrates its 93rd anniversary, Colebrook said their aim moving forward is to continue to be a beacon of guidance and salvation for not only the congregation but each person that enters their doors.
“Although we have accomplished so much, there is still so much more ahead for us to achieve.”
At the helm, nine-plus decades in, the pastor said leading a church is a “great responsibility” and not something anyone should get into unless they are called. He said leading calls for dedication and commitment. And that even he has had moments when he questioned himself and whether he was indeed living his calling and purpose.
“If I experience a bad day, and bad days come, that would be the time that I would question. But what I’ve learned and from other people’s experience in the ministry, I am expected to go through suffering. But I’ve learned to take the licking and keep on ticking. I’ve come to realize that suffering is a part of life. And when people come to me with their problems and tell me how broken they are because of their problems, I rejoice within myself, because I know my problems are little in comparison to others.”
The church was organized on August 7, 1929, by the late Rev. Henry Richard Higgs. St. Paul’s first church service was held in the home of Higgs located on Billmoor Corner and Blue Hill Road. At times, the congregation worshipped on the site now known as the Southern Recreation Grounds. After several weeks, the congregation rented a building at the corner of Quarry Mission Road and Nassau Street where they remained for several months. They also held service in a building that was once a bar on Market Street, before opening the doors to its current location. Church records indicate that they worshipped at six locations before their present location was purchased on July 10, 1931. About the time of the property’s purchase, Colebrook’s late father came to New Providence from Mastic Point, Andros, and joined St. Paul’s Baptist Church.
As the church’s membership increased and outpaced the edifice, the building was added to.
It was under Rev. Higgs that a larger facility was to be constructed. Higgs acquired the building materials but was unable to complete the work as he died on December 29, 1942.
The building was completed and dedicated in 1945.
The late Colebrook served under Higgs as superintendent of the Sunday school and president of the Baptist Training Union. Encouraged by the late Enoch Beckford, Rev. Colebrook, with his contemporaries, the late Rev. R.E. Cooper, Rev. Harcourt W. Brown and Rev. E.C. Grant, left Nassau in 1936 and enrolled as a student at the American Baptist Theological Seminary. He graduated in 1939 and shortly after graduation and ordination on May 23, 1939, returned home and continued his service at St. Paul’s serving as assistant pastor until 1943 when he was inducted as pastor following Higgs’ death.
Colebrook held meetings at the Southern Recreational Grounds which encouraged and help facilitate electorate for majority rule. During his administration, the original building was completed and dedicated in 1945. Additional property was later purchased, and the current building was erected and dedicated in March 1971.
Rev. Dr. William Thompson, president of the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention (BNBMEC), during his presidency, introduced the name “The Historic St. Paul’s Baptist Church” to represent the fact that on the eve of the election for majority rule, during the early days of the 1960s, the Black candidates vying for leadership in Parliament assembled at the church to pray and encourage each other, especially the electorate hungry for majority rule for the people, by the people.
During the early 60s, the late actor Sir Sydney Poitier visited the church where he made a brief speech. And in 2000, on the occasion to save Clifton Cay, the church was made available to the Coalition to Save Clifton Cay to hold a religious service. At the service, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. addressed the Bahamian people.
The church flourished over the years and out of St. Paul’s came the first president of the BNBMEC. The late Colebrook was the founder and first moderator of the Morning Star Association of Churches. Higgs, the founder, was the first Baptist missionary; and he took the gospel to the Family Islands.
According to St. Paul’s records, many of today’s prominent Baptist ministers began their ministries in St. Paul’s – Reverends Simeon Hall, Mitchel Cooper, Austin Saunders, Joseph Thompson, Octavius Brennen, Eugene Butler, and LeRodney Rolle.
Colebrook died on April 18, 1987 at the age of 77. Rev. Octavius Brennen, associate minister of St. Paul’s, was asked to act as interim pastor until such time as a pastor could be elected. Brennen died on January 30, 1988 and St. Paul’s was left without a pastor.
The deacon board took charge of the church and it was decided that the church would accept nominations for the pastorship. Colebrook was elected pastor, and has been in the preaching ministry for over 40 years, having pastored for 34 years. He is the moderator of the Morning Star Baptist Association and ministered at the Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee. He is married to the former Tonia Humes and is the father of three children – Robert Lerond Jr., Bobbeth and Torianne.