Bishop Martin Simmonds was born in Nevis, now lives in Ipswich, and was a compatriot of the late Bishop Sydney Dunn. His book, ‘Driven by Purpose’, tells of his early life in Nevis and St Kitts, where he committed his life to Christ as a young man; his time in Anguilla as a missionary, and his arrival in the UK in 1960, when he settled in Ipswich, establishing one of the first, if not the first, ‘Black’ church.
Keep The Faith caught up with Dorcas Marshall, Bishop Simmonds’ daughter, who shared her father’s amazing memories that are reflected in his book.
Bishop Martin Simmonds is part of the generation that came from the Caribbean in 1960, and established churches against the backdrop of emotional, economic, social and psychological challenges of the Windrush era.
Dorcas Marshall tells of her father’s early experience of Britain in the East Anglian dock town of Ipswich. Unlike the cities which had received large numbers of immigrants into the UK, the demographics of this area consisted of Caribbeans who had left their wives and children back home, with the intention of returning once they’d accrued enough money.
He found gainful employment in the large engineering firm, Cranes, whose workforce he describes as “resembling an advert for the United Nations”. His weekly income of £6 covered rent, tithes, remittances back home for his family, paying off his loan for his travel to the UK, and the balance for a ‘pardner’ scheme. When this didn’t cover his commitments, he would cut hair to supplement his income.
Much of this can be read in his book, ‘Driven by Purpose’, an inspirational, excellent read, which he penned in his twilight years. Writing his autobiography was a lifetime ambition that she had the pleasure of supporting.
He writes of his early life in Nevis and St Kitts, where he committed his life to Christ at the age of 15, and entered the ministry soon afterwards. He speaks avidly of the alien environment of the UK: the cold weather; sharing a home with immigrant tenants of various nationalities; the lack of Caribbean food; the use of public baths; getting used to swedes and parsnips, but also of the longing to be joined by his wife, Ethlyn, and his two daughters, who had remained in St Kitts until a year after his arrival.
Their marriage is now over 60 years strong, with seven children and multiple grand- and great-grandchildren.
Although his intention was to stay in the UK for only three years, he remains a senior Bishop in the Bethel Apostolic Church UK, and a real pioneer of the apostolic movement in Britain. He started the first Black-led church in Ipswich, and humbly quotes being proud that the “large, White congregation felt comfortable with a Black man in charge”.
Dorcas says her father was introduced in 1961 to Bishop Sidney Alexander Dunn (founder of the Bethel Apostolic churches in the UK) by the late Bishop Carr and the late Bishop Saunders, who suggested the two work together. The late Bishop Dunn became his spiritual father, sharing a sincere, cordial, faithful relationship until fairly recently, when four of the five Bethel Church Bishops sadly passed away, leaving her father as the last remaining lead compatriot of that establishment.
She recalls a stable, secure, disciplined childhood centred on God, family, people, church and education. As a principled parent, he involved her and her siblings in all aspects of church and home life, which was never dull. “Dad was an entrepreneur and innovator, with a strong ability to write.”
Every quarter, he would research, write, design, print and stitch the Sunday School publications for the Bethel UK churches, and as children they would sort, compile and fold each page as part of a human ‘conveyor belt’. Dad steered other household activities, including planting and harvesting a large vegetable garden and allotment, batch-freezing, bread baking, syrup and ginger beer making, sewing, and still engaged with the children by playing Scrabble (and other board games) and reading. At that time, he had made the decision not to own a luxury television until the late 70s, when her eldest sister appeared on Songs of Praise.
Her father is a preacher, an academic who jointly pioneered the Centre for Black and White Christian Partnership in Birmingham. He has an MPhil in Theology, and a Diploma in Pastoral Studies. Bishop Dunn endorsed his vision to establish the Bethel Institute for Biblical Study (BIBS), and Bishop Simmonds became its first Dean in 1994, an institution that continues to equip men and women for the ministry. As well as establishing and pastoring several churches across the world, he is a qualified marriage guidance counsellor and a broadcaster, who established radio stations in his native country, Nevis.
Although he no longer preaches, due to declining health, until recently, he steered as Bishop within the Bethel churches in the UK and beyond. In 2014, he handed the pastoring of the local church in Ipswich to her brother, Pastor Nathan Simmonds.
Dorcas concludes that, thankfully, the legacy of vision, tenacity and stamina – typical of the Windrush generation – has been extended to the children of the 50s and 60s, like herself, propelling them to fulfil lives that achieve and exceed many of their dreams.