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The Kamalamee Honours
 RT. REV'D.  MICHAEL ELDON
Bishop Michael Eldon 

On 8th August, 1931, Michael Hartley Eldon was born to Sidney and Rowena Eldon of Delancy Street, Nassau, the first of two children. His father, Deacon Sidney Eldon, was a committed member of St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church in Virginia Street, where he was catechist, cantor, vestryman, and chorister, and Michael often accompanied him on his duties around the church. For as long as anyone knew Michael Eldon, he wanted to be a priest. This was a calling that had been felt by his father and grandfather before him, but as men of colour in The Bahamas, neither of them was able to achieve that dream. As a child, he would hold services in his home, often with a congregation of one, his sister, Keva; and as his extended family was one which kept many pets, he made a point of holding funeral services whenever one of them died, complete with hymns, mourners, procession and interments.

His parents, Sidney and Rowena Eldon, were committed to the advancement of their children. He was sent in 1937, at some expense to both his parents’ pocketbooks and his mother’s pride, to Queen’s College, then notorious for excluding all but a handful of non-white Bahamians; there, he lost no time in distinguishing himself. Young Michael was somewhat of an athlete in his youth, distinguishing himself as a sprinter at Queen’s College; but his preference was for scholarship. He came first in every class, and rose to become Head Boy, earning a first in the Cambridge School Certificate in 1947.

His academic achievement did not stop with his success at Queen’s College. In 1949, thanks in large part to the guidance and support of T. A. Toote and A. F. Adderley, Michael went on to the University of Cambridge, and together with Mr. Adderley’s younger son Paul, he entered St. Catherine’s College, where he read Theology and Paul Law. After distinguishing himself with a First at Cambridge, he was offered places at several Oxford colleges, and he chose St. Stephen’s House, an Anglican Theological College, continuing to follow his vocation.

In those days, Bahamian students abroad did not return home until they had finished their studies. While at St. Stephen’s, Michael boarded during the holidays with Father Bartlette, Vicar of St. Saviour’s in the East End of London. These times made a deep impression on the young theology student, exposing him to both the hardships and the kindness of the people of the neighborhood and the commitment of his host to his parishioners’ well-being. These were lessons the young Michael brought home with him, and which he put into practice in the parishes he served in The Bahamas.

He returned to The Bahamas in 1954, and was ordained a deacon in Christ Church Cathedral on 22nd July, by the Rt. Rev’d. Spence Burton, S.S.J.E., Lord Bishop of Nassau and The Bahamas—17 days before his 23rd birthday and the canonical age for the diaconate (he was given a special dispensation for the ordination by the Bishop). He was sent to St. Agnes Parish as curate, where he served from 1954 to 1955. He was also appointed to St. John’s College, where he taught Mathematics.

On 10th August, 1955, he was ordained a priest, and sent as curate to St. Matthew’s Parish, where he was given charge of St. Margaret’s Church, Kemp Road, and St. George’s Church, Montrose Avenue, both then mission churches of  St. Matthew’s; he saw their establishment as parishes in their own right, and also served as Assistant Master of St. John’s College.

These early years as a priest in New Providence opened up a new world to the young Father Eldon. From the beginning of his curacy at St. Agnes with Father Milton Cooper, Michael developed solidarity with the Bahamian masses, and this expanded during his experiences at St. Margaret’s and St. George’s. From the beginning of his accession to the priesthood, it was clear that Michael Eldon was determined to make his pastoral calling his life. He saw a great need among the people for a full-time pastor, a shepherd whose whole being was focused upon the service of God, giving over the whole of his life to address his Bahamian congregants’ spiritual, moral and educational needs.

In 1962, Michael Eldon was appointed Parish Priest of Grand Bahama by Bishop Bernard Markham. At that time, the island was underdeveloped, and largely without resident priests. Michael served as priest for the whole island, travelling from west to east and back again, and establishing congregations as he went. He saw the need among the people of Grand Bahama for pastoral care, and he worked tirelessly to meet that need. In 1965 he was made Rural Dean of the Northern Bahamas, and in 1967 he was appointed Archdeacon of Grand Bahama. He made it his mission to build Anglican churches for the congregations he had established. While in Grand Bahama, too, he served as a teacher and probation officer, and became Chairman of the Grand Bahama Christian Council.

Archdeacon Eldon’s appointment came at a turning point in Bahamian history. The year 1967 was a watershed year, marking as it did the first time that a government made up of representatives of the majority of the people took office. At that time the entire world was changing in radical and profound ways. Territories hitherto colonised by foreign powers were being returned to their citizens. In The Bahamas, majority government came relatively late in the game. By 1967, most of the other West Indian colonies had already been given full independence, and the Anglican Church throughout the Province of the West Indies was already governed by men of colour and learning. The Bahamas lagged behind, and it was clear by now that Michael Eldon was destined for great things in the Bahamian Anglican Church. His appointment as Archdeacon of the Northern Bahamas at the relatively young age of 36 marked a commitment to prepare the church for the inevitable independence that was coming. In 1971, Michael Eldon was elected Bishop Suffragan of New Providence and was consecrated on St. John the Baptist Day (24th June) of that year. Just under a year later, at the Elective Synod in April 1972, he was unanimously elected the eleventh Bishop of Nassau and The Bahamas in succession to the Rt. Rev’d. Bernard Markham. Bishop Eldon became the first Bahamian Bishop of Nassau, The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

As Lord Bishop, Michael Eldon continued to practice the ministry that had made him so beloved in Grand Bahama—that of a shepherd tending his flock. His experiences in London, Bain Town, Kemp Road, the Valley, and Grand Bahama had taught him that one of the greatest needs in the Diocese was for people to establish a personal connection with their priests and pastors. As Bishop of the Diocese, therefore, he visited every parish at least once a year, including those in the southern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. In those days, long before regular airline service, getting to some of the islands posed a real challenge, especially given his very considerable girth. Nonetheless he would board the seaplanes and the dinghies that were required to access the various settlements, and think nothing of disembarking into the shallow waters to wade to the shore, as he very often had to do. In those parishes where even priests visited rarely, the presence of a Bishop—and a black Bahamian Bishop at that—

was unprecedented, and earned Michael Eldon the love and respect of individuals throughout the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, Anglican and non-Anglican alike. He made it a point throughout his Ministry to celebrate Christmas and Easter, the two most important Christian holidays, in some parish that did not have a resident priest; and he performed baptisms and confirmations throughout his Diocese for the same reason.

His presence was not only symbolic. Like many of his Eldon relatives, he was gifted with a prodigious memory; like his mother, he loved people. These two qualities together meant that he could identify every one of his parishioners by name, settlement, parish and pedigree. He loved the people he served and they loved him, and his visits throughout the islands provided him with some of his most precious moments.

His appreciation of the need to serve the whole Bahamas, and his deep love for his country, came together in a determination to indigenize the Bahamian priesthood and to ensure that every island of The Bahamas, if not each parish, was served by a resident priest. Like Canon Milton Cooper before him, he encouraged young Bahamians of all walks of life to enter the priesthood, and, inspired by his example, they did so. Under his leadership, Bahamian priests were trained, parishes established and churches built throughout the Diocese. Under his leadership, too, Anglican education grew and expanded. Ever the scholar, Bishop Eldon remained committed to education, and used his own means to provide scholarships for young Bahamians of promise. Under his guidance, St. John’s College, of which his father was a founding member, was developed and expanded; the parochial school of St. Anne’s, originally established by Father John Pugh and his sister to serve the community of Fox Hill was similarly supported and recognized; and Freeport High School and Discovery Primary School were also brought under the umbrella of the Anglican Central Education Authority. In recognition of this commitment, the drive leading to St. John’s was renamed Bishop Eldon Drive in 1996, Freeport High and Discovery Primary were together renamed Bishop Michael Eldon School in 2005, and the College of The Bahamas named its newest building the Michael Hartley Eldon Complex in 2006.

Bishop Eldon’s scholarship, commitment to education, moderation and wisdom were also recognized by the Government of The Bahamas when he was appointed Founding Chairman of the Council of the College of The Bahamas in 1975, where he served for twenty years, overseeing the development of the College from community college to four-year institution, and laying the foundation for its further expansion and its progress towards university status. In 1984, Bishop Eldon was created a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) by Her Majesty the Queen. In July 1996, he was honoured by the Government of The Bahamas with the award of The Bahamas Order of Merit (BOM).

After serving the Diocese for twenty-five years as Bishop, Bishop Eldon retired on 31st August, 1996, in some part due to the fact that his physical condition had deteriorated to such an extent that he was no longer able to travel around his Diocese and serve his people as he had done. He was succeeded by his fellow Bishop, Drexel Gomez, formerly Bishop of Barbados and soon-to-become Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies. Bishop Eldon continued to serve as Assistant Bishop until his final illness in 2005.

On 31st January 2005, Bishop Eldon was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Ten days later, on Ash Wednesday (9th February), he experienced a crisis, in the wake of which he slipped into a coma. Although he ultimately recovered to a limited degree, being able to open his eyes, understand what was said to him, respond to commands and show emotions, he was unable to communicate with those who visited him in any verbal way. He was cared for at home by his sister, Dr. Keva Bethel, and the private nurses of Nurses N.N.O.W. until 2008, after which he was moved to the Private Ward of the Princess Margaret Hospital, where he continued to be cared for by the nurses there.

On January 31st, 2011, families were summoned to his bedside at the Princess Margaret Hospital. Although he clung to life for seven more days, it was clear that he was failing, and he passed peacefully into the presence of his Lord at 12:50 on the morning of February 7th. He was beloved until the end, and was visited throughout his six-year illness by several of his former colleagues and parishioners alike, some of whom hailed from the Family Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and around the world, and who made it a point to see “Bishop” whenever they were in Nassau.

Instead of blood relatives, he oversaw the welfare of several young men of the parish, whom he regarded as his adopted sons; chief among them were Canon Delano Archer, who was brought under his wing in Grand Bahama and remained faithful until his death, and Father Tyrone McKenzie.

Written by: Nicolette Bethel